From the Ancestry Daily News
  by Michael John Neill 7/18/2002

    Given Name(s) Last Name

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 Germany.

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.

Additional Suggestions
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.

Have Fun!
You speech is not being graded and your English teacher is not (usually) in the audience.


Copyright 2002, Used by the author on his website with permission.

Other genealogy articles by Michael John Neill