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Family Reunions

‘Tis the season for family reunions. We’ll look at the health and significance of those extended family get-togethers.

It is high summer, and we are smack dab in the middle of family reunion season. If you look, you will see it in parks and big backyards. Lots of kids. Lots of cousins, aunts, uncles, grandparents and great grandparents. Second cousins and third cousins and people who can’t even explain their relationship exactly, but know they’re – somehow – family.

Not every family does it, but many do. You may be headed there right now. Anticipating the stories, the potato salad, the old family jokes and tall tales.

This hour, On Point: We are family. We’re looking at family reunions now.

– Tom Ashbrook


Rick Bragg, Pulitzer Prize-winning writer and journalist, professor of writing at the University of Alabama, author of two best-selling memoirs, “All Over But the Shoutin’” and “Ava’s Man.”

Edith Wagner, founder and editor of Reunions Magazine, a quarterly publication for family, school, class, and military reunion organizers. Author of “The Family Reunion Sourcebook.”

Dawn Braithwaite, chair of communication studies at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and senior fellow with the Council on Contemporary Families.

Ione Vargus, founder and institute administrator of The Family Reunion Institute at Temple University, dean emerita of the School of Social Administration at Temple University, doctorate from the Heller School at Brandeis University for Social Policy and Management.

Listener Stories

These are just a few of the many story submissions we received. See more families stories.

McDonald Family

The first-ever McDonald family reunion, with 360 attendees. (Courtesy of Angela Johnson- Dorsey)

The first-ever McDonald family reunion was held in 2012 and had over 360 attendees. (Courtesy of Angela Johnson-Dorsey)

 Angela Johnson-Dorsey on planning a mega-family reunion:

In August 2012, I was the reunion planner the first-ever reunion for the 20 children of Thomas McDonald, my great-grandfather, in Fayetteville, NC. My great-grandfather was born a slave in southeastern NC. He had approximately 20 children with two different wives and has nearly 500 living descendants. The reunion we had in August, was the first attempt to bring together the living descendants. We had over 360 attendees, in total.

An event of this size never would have been possible if it hadn’t been for social media. We automated as many processes as we could as much as possible. We created a Facebook page with a special site to provide reunion updates. We also established a reunion site with another company that allowed us to handle online ticket purchases. The great thing about this is that we were able to increase attendance simply by allowing people to purchase their tickets online. Approximately 30%-40% of our attendees used online option for making their reunion arrangements.

Peters Family

The 2013 Peters family reunion, celebrating their 40th reunion. (Courtesy of Oliver Peters, Jr.)

The 2013 Peters family reunion. (Courtesy of Oliver Peters, Jr.)

Oliver Peters, Jr. on his family’s 40th reunion:

Our 40th reunion was a huge success. 39 people attended this year, staying in 8 townhome units at The Waterways on Smith Mountain Lake.

A lot has evolved since that first reunion. Evening meals are still shared together, but our family now gets divided into 5 “groups.” Each group is responsible for providing one evening meal for everyone. You bring the beverage of your choice and we will provide the hors dourves, main meal and dessert. Each year we also rent a ski boat from the local marina. Here the “heads of households” divvy up the cost of the boat for the week, while the younger, 3rd generation (late teen, early 20s) kids pay for all the gas. One family member brings all the water skis, tow ropes, etc, another brings all the sports equipment (football, bocce ball, Frisbee, Volleyball) while still another brings the past years “memories.”

There are four large photograph type books that contain a written history of each reunion. Who attended, what was served for meals, as well as pictures from each year, including 39 years worth of group pictures. There was also a DVD created which chronologically shows the reunions by way of pictures and movies (super 8 up to digital). Now with the digital age all around us, all of the original pictures, video’s, letters, and newspaper articles have been scanned and up loaded to a web storage site for all to see whenever they want.

Cook-Goings-McGraw Family

The 2013 Cook-Goings-McGraw family reunion in Buffalo, N.Y. (Courtesy of Daisy Stroud)

The 2013 Cook-Goings-McGraw family reunion in Buffalo, N.Y. (Courtesy of Daisy Stroud)

Daisy Stroud on planning her family’s reunion:

I planned this year’s “Coming Home,” Cook-Goings-McGraw Family Reunion held in Buffalo, New York last weekend July 19th – 21st, 2013. Sixty-five direct descendants of Al and Susie-Bolton Goings along with a host of extended family and friends attended.  My goal for those three days was for each of us to love on one another like it may be our last time to do so. To this end, I prayed and asked the family to join me in celebrating one another and maintaining a spirit of unity, love and fellowship as a family and that our reunion be a time of remembering, rejoicing, recreating, renewing, but most importantly connecting and reuniting! It was all of that and more.

Our reunion activities included a pre-reunion fish fry for early arriving attendees on Thursday and the official meet-and-greet, family picnic, late night bowling, Sunday worship, tour of Niagara Falls and semi-formal family gala. For the occasion a souvenir reunion book and family directory was created which included a narrative of six generations of Al and Susie Bolton-Goings family history.

Un Family

The 2013 Un family reunion in Orlando, Fla. (Courtesy of Tom Yi)

The 2013 Un family reunion in Orlando, Fla. (Courtesy of Tom Yi)

Tom Yi on the history and traditions of the Un family:

Our family immigrated to the United States in 1972 from South Korea. Slowly, my parents sponsored family members to join us in the U.S. At one point we had 14 people living in a 4-bedroom, 3-bath, 2-car household. We survived (smile) and now we are a family of 3 generations comprised of Koreans, Americans, Vietnamese, Chinese and Laotian.

The original reunion was to celebrate our 20th year in the United States … Since then we have had family reunions at major life events, i.e. weddings, graduations and the like. Another occasion for a reunion is called Hwangab. This is the 60th birthday of an elder. In the past, living to the ripe old age of 60 was a great feat in Korea. Not so much in the U.S. but we still keep this tradition. For each elder that attains the age of 60, their children organize and plan the reunion.

Knaus Family

The 2013 Knaus family reunion in Minnesota. (Courtesy of Elizabeth Knaus)

The 2013 Knaus family reunion in Minnesota. (Courtesy of Elizabeth Knaus)

Elizabeth Knaus on activities at the Knaus family reunion:

A few weeks ago we traveled for a class reunion and also gathered together with my husband’s family. Then we crossed the South Dakota border for a reunion with my side of the family in Minnesota. Some of the activities included: making a list and grocery shopping together, meals, church, parade, thrift store, swimming pool, hiking, flea market, public fire works show, boutique shopping, tubing down Fish Hook River (it was a hit, so we did it 2 days in a row), bon fire (my husband calls them bond fires) … Photography was an on-going process and we’ve created lasting memories to share with each other.

From Tom’s Reading List

AARP: Affordable Family Reunion Tips: “Summertime is family reunion time! Seeing the entire clan at a family reunion can be a lot of fun, but it can also get pretty pricey. And you definitely don’t want anyone in the family to feel uncomfortable or not attend because of the cost. Here are some tips for keeping it cheap, and keeping it fun.”

The Grio: The Do’s And Don’ts Of Family Reuntions: “A sense of belonging, a thirst for knowledge and love are reasons why families everywhere make annual pilgrimages throughout the United States and abroad to reconnect with kinfolk. Some 82 million Americans will participate in family reunions this year, according to Budget Travel Magazine, which notes that 44 percent of leisure trips taken by African-Americans include family visits.”

The Grio: 5 Rules For A Happy Family Reunion: “I saw a sight I hadn’t seen since before her massive aneurysm and brain surgery nearly 12 years ago: My 60-year-old mom dancing to Robin Thicke, fingers snapping, smile lighting up the room, walker pushed to the side, having a ball at our family reunion.”

The Cleveland Plain Dealer: Family Reunions Preserve The Past: “For years, the reunion was our way to preserve our connection to the past. Now it’s our way to solidify our connection to the future … Family is more than DNA, more than who we used to be, more than we can imagine we will become.”


“Family Reunion” by Plank Road Publishing

“We Are Family” by Sister Sledge

“Family Reunion” by The O’Jays

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  • northeaster17

    Family reunions are great. Of course nothing ever goes wrong. Right?!… Ha!… Still love em.

  • Shag_Wevera

    My inlaws spend a week together in two rented A-frames in “up north” Wisconsin. Fish fry, stock car races, swimming, games, and lots of time to sleep and read. It is a little slice of heaven on earth. It keeps the family close when on a day to day basis we spend little quality time together.

  • ToyYoda

    We just had a family reunion two weekends ago!

    It was my “Grand Family” that wanted to have the reunion. So that would be my Grand parents, aunts and uncles. We would meet once every 4 years and now every 2 as member from the original family are starting to pass away. Family member from around the globe would fly to an agreed location.

    We had an off scheduled reunion just for my grand father. At the reunion we knew he didn’t have much time, and you could tell he knew it too. He gave a moving tearful speech at the reunion. And a month later he passed away.

    I don’t know how long these reunions can continue. There are now only 2 members of the remaining grand family. And the reunions have gotten so large at times, I don’t feel like its a family anymore, but a convention. Sadly, I think the run of reunions will soon end, but it was beautiful while it lasted.

  • Kaitlin Heatwole

    My memory of family reunions are the gatherings of my great grandparents’ descendants. These were far too big to know everyone — my grandfather was the third oldest of eleven — and the 400 family members, all Mennonites, ranged from very conservative to relatively liberal, with all of the accompanying variety in clothing, transportation, and lifestyle. Some people arrived by horse and buggy, some by minivan — and all the kids played together in the playground. I imagine that there were tensions among the older generations, but for me as a child it was a time of playing and great food.

  • 65noname

    too bad that your sentimentalizing of rick bragg, who himself attempted to sentimentalize living off a diet that is killing americans wholesale, didn’t include all of his history, that is, that he was suspended from the NY Times for faking an article by writing it as if he was actually present and had done the reporting first hand even though he had actually sent an (unpaid) intern in his place.

  • curtcpeterson

    My father was what Swedes call “a difficult man”. He didn’t speak to most of his extended family for over thirty years. In 1986, at my mother’s funeral, three elderly aunts asked me to organize the first family reunion. I happily agreed.

    “Will your father come?”, they asked.
    “I’m sure he will”, I assured them.
    “Then let’s wait until he dies”, they said, and walked away.
    In 1993 the same three aunts approached me at his funeral.

    “He’s dead now. We can have the reunion. Will you still organize it?”
    I agreed, and the family has since begun to get to know each other at several reunions. Two summers ago I met my first cousin for the first time I remember. He is eighty-one and I am seventy. Reunions can be a successful “intervention” regarding family divides.

  • https://www.facebook.com/kyle.rose Kyle Rose

    I will take the friends I choose any day over the relatives I was born with. Any day.

  • Roberto1194

    Any occasion for nuclear and extended family communication is a great thing in that these days! Families are far too ‘busy’… or distracted.. or dispersed…
    -good for self understanding, appreciation of others (not entirely others), emotional connection and regulation…
    Before individual (ego focused) psychotherapy became predominant; there was/is a more comprehensive way to think about emotional maturity, understanding, and well-being as derived from family. Particularly “Family Systems” theory developed by Dr. Murray Bowen, and some others.
    Interrelationships and compassion so much needed for all!

  • Eric B.

    does anyone know what music was playing as Tom cut to a break early in the program? It was a bluegrass tune with several women singing chorus – it was beautiful. The most likely song from the Playlist above is [“Family Reunion” by Plank Road Publishing] but I can’t seem to find it. Thanks.

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