the Ancestry Daily News
by Michael John Neill – 7/18/2002
Speaking at the Family Reunion
I'm not usually related to everyone in my audience, so
it was not my typical speaking experience.
While I have given many presentations, the last time I spoke at a family
reunion was when I was a high school freshman. It has been several years
since then. A few months ago, my great-aunt asked me to make a brief
presentation at the annual Ufkes family reunion in Carthage, Illinois. As
I've traveled hither and yon to speak, I decided I'd better do it (grin).
The Ufkes family has been having reunions for over fifty years.
I know I'm not the only family genealogist who has been asked to make a
presentation at their family reunion. These suggestions are only suggestions
and not meant to be a comprehensive list, but rather a means to get you
started and hopefully generate additional ideas. Readers are welcome to send
additional suggestions for a possible follow-up column.
Keep It Simple
Three hours spent listing every family member from 1600 until the present
would likely bore even the most diehard genealogist, let alone the "typical"
family member. Consequently, I did not simply read a descendant report
generated by my genealogy software (although having one handy is an
excellent idea). I tended also to only list the year of events, wherever the
actual date was not crucial. Rare is the person who will remember every date
that comes out of your mouth and sometimes too much detail is just too much
for a spoken presentation. The actual dates of events should be in your
genealogical database should anyone need them.
I only mentioned specific dates when they were necessary for the flow of the
story. In my case, the date of the immigrant's arrival in the United States
coincided nicely with the date of a letter he wrote back to relatives in
What Equipment Will I Have?
The location of the reunion and the amount you can afford to spend on your
presentation will significantly impact the type of presentation that can be
made. Chances are your family reunion will not be held in a conference
center with the latest in audiovisual equipment at your disposal. Mine was
held in a local church hall where fortunately I could use an overhead
projector and a screen (which I brought myself).
A reunion being held outdoors will require even greater flexibility. Your
presentation at the family reunion should be about interesting family
members in their family's past and not about your "speaking debut." Do not
assume you will have any equipment at your disposal. If the event is being
held in a church or other facility, find out what type of equipment they
will have and whether or not you can use it.
It is always an excellent idea to find out specifically the size of the
screen. You might be surprised to learn that many of those small screens
used to show home movies in the 1950s are still around. They do not work
well for transparencies. However, your presentation doesn't have to be very
technical. There is a good chance you will have to give your presentation
with minimal audiovisuals, and even some charts drawn on poster board can
help to make your point.
For my presentation, I made overhead transparencies of some family documents
trying to focus on the more "interesting" ones. Also, realize that not
everyone will be as interested in each document as you are and that death
certificates with gruesome causes of death are best left in your files and
not splashed on a screen for everyone to view after lunch. I also had a few
"stripped" down charts from my genealogy software program. The family group
charts used to illustrate the family's children only included names, years
of birth, and spouses and used the largest size of print I could. Charts
showing the direct male ancestral line (to illustrate the origin of the
surname) were constructed in the same fashion.
I also made enlarged photocopies of a few key documents in the family's
history. In my case, the passenger manifests of several family members were
items of high interest. A chart showing the first several generations of the
original progenitor's descendants may also be helpful to illustrate how
various family members fit in. It may not be possible or practical to show
everyone's relationship on one chart. Family members were also interested in
the World War II 4th Draft Registration Cards I had obtained for several of
the sons of the immigrant ancestor and in the will of the first Johann. I
left my original copy of my documents at home and took copies with me. For
purposes of illustration, a spare set of photocopies can be put in
inexpensive plastic sheets and placed in a three-ring binder for viewing.
This is an excellent idea if you are not able to use any kind of screen
display. The binder and sheets also makes it easier to keep the copies clean
and prevents them from blowing all over the family farm or picnic area (if
that's where your reunion is being held).
Avoid Nameless Terms
The reunion I spoke at was for the descendants of my
great-great-grandfather, Johann (John) Ufkes, an 1869 immigrant to the
United States. Every family had a John and a Henry. While done to honor past
family members, it occasionally confuses those living in the present. My
great-grandfather was not everyone else's great- grandfather, nor was my
uncle everyone else's uncle. I avoided the use of "great-grandfather,"
"aunt," etc. where possible and where it wasn't respectful. Consequently, I
tried to include as many clear references as I could, using "John the
immigrant," "John son of John the immigrant," etc. It was a little
cumbersome, but it cut down on the confusion.
My presentation went smoothly and there were no problems. However, there are
some warnings that were brought to my attention by a few fellow genealogists
before I made my presentation.
Depending upon your family's history, there is the possibility that your
presentation will evoke a negative response from a family member. If there
are known "problem areas" you may wish to avoid them in your presentation or
not include specific details. Think carefully before you read verbatim the
complaint from great-uncle Charlie's 1920 divorce. There may also be other
family members in the audience who do not agree with you on certain family
relationships, especially in the early generations of the family where
records may be more scarce. You should have reasons for your conclusions and
it may be necessary to "agree to disagree" on certain topics. The reunion
should not turn into a fight and hopefully your presentation will not bring
about a re-enactment of the Hatfield-McCoy feud.
Don't Want To Share?
There is a good chance you will be asked to share some of the information
you presented with other family members. If you really do not want to do
this, reconsider making the presentation in the first place.
You speech is not being graded and your English teacher is not (usually) in
Copyright 2002, MyFamily.com. Used by the author on his website with
Other genealogy articles by Michael