Written by Diane Haddad, unless otherwise noted.
When planning a family reunion, it’s always good to think about details such as any mementos or souvenirs you’d like to create ahead of time, whether to remember the reunion or for attendees to take home.
Here are some ideas for both types of keepsakes. Some will do double-duty as activities to keep folks busy and talking during the event:
1. Family thumbprint poster
Make a family thumbprint poster for each person to add his or her unique mark. You would need the blank tree, colored ink pads, and baby wipes so people can wipe off the ink. A printable blank tree is part of our collection of downloadable worksheets.
2. Family cookbook
A family cookbook, consisting of recipes handed down and relatives’ new favorites. You could have contributors send recipes ahead of time and paste them into a Word document to print and share, or have people bring recipe cards you can collect, copy and share. Or go fancier and create a cookbook on a photo book website. Most sites let you share your photo project so others can order copies for themselves.
3. Family tree quilt
A quilt made of squares contributed by each person or family is a popular family reunion keepsake idea. You can request families make their own and bring it to the reunion, or create the squares as a planned family reunion activity. You would need fabric markers or paint and cloth squares, and a handy person to sew them all together later on. You could auction off the quilt to raise money for next year’s reunion (and then the winner could bring it back to be auctioned again for another relative to keep for the year). If you want families to be able to take something home, you could have them create two squares, one for the quilt and one to keep and frame.
You might even make multiple quilts. While quilts are typically embroidered or appliquéd, modern materials and technology have broadened the scope of quilt making, making it possible even for non-stitchers to make a quilt. Color copies can be printed onto heat-transfer material (commonly used for making T-shirts) and ironed onto fabric. Many copy shops that handle photocopy transfers can also apply the images to fabric. Or you can use textile paints (which are machine washable); we recommend painting on natural fibers. Check art, craft and fabric stores for new products and ideas.
Beverly McManus of San Francisco believes that a quilt definitely helped strengthen family bonds at her recent reunion. “My mom bought materials for a quilt that had a mountain/big tree theme, and all my aunts and cousins quilted it in one morning,” she says. “Then we sold raffle tickets to everyone, the proceeds of which helped cover some of the reunion expenses. The best mementos we took home, though, were inside of us — the happy smiles that linger each time we remember this summer’s opportunities to renew friendships up in the mountains.”
4. Family scrapbook
A scrapbook, with pages created by each family (ask attendees to bring their family photos). You can scan the pages later to share.
5. Reunion autograph album
An autograph album, with the signature of each reunion attendee.
6. Ongoing photo album
An ongoing album with photos from each reunion, which a designated person could keep, update with new photos, and bring back each year.
7. Group photo
A large group photo, like this one. You can have reprints made for each person, or email digital copies (if a professional photographer takes the shot, be sure to get his or her permission first).
8. Family history interviews
Have the children interview their grandparents and record it, or have someone write down the questions and answers on an interview form. You can create a video or compile the forms into a book to share.
9. Family t-shirts
T-shirts are inexpensive, practical and—with the right design—fun. They also quickly identify who’s in your group: “My aunt insists on having a family reunion every year on Labor Day weekend at a crowded Kentucky state park,” says Laurel (Hoskins) Harper of Louisville, Ky. “We were continually having the problem of non-family members crashing our reunion and eating our food. Because the Hoskins family is so huge, I don’t know half the people. We started doing family t-shirts and asking everyone to wear them so that nobody can pretend to be a distant cousin and eat without paying.”
One idea is to host a family contest to design the reunion t-shirt. Ask for entries and display all designs on a website or in a family newsletter and ask family members to vote for the best one. The benefit is that it’s personalized and it’s not like everybody else’s. It doesn’t have to be a professional design. What kids come up with is often better than a pro’s idea.
Tips for ordering t-shirts
If you’re including the cost of T-shirts in registration, you’ll need to know everyone’s sizes. Send your family members order forms at least six months before your reunion. Ask for payment in advance, and order a few extra shirts for people who didn’t order early.
Allow plenty of time for delivery of imprinted items. Some companies demand payment up front; others accept orders payable by invoice. Save money by omitting the year or other nonessential information on personalized items: You may have shirts left for future get-togethers.
Phyllis Hackleman in Reunion Planner (Clearfield Company) suggests some questions to ask when ordering shirts or other souvenirs:
- Are there charges to screen artwork?
- Are there extra charges for more than one color?
- Will the manufacturer guarantee colors? Does it cost extra?
- Who pays shipping charges? How much are they?
- Who pays UPS repacking charges, if incurred?
- Will the manufacturer share a proof before production to verify that it’s the product you want?
- Will you be obligated to pay for an overrun of more than the exact number you order?
10. Family wall calendar
A family calendar with birthdays and anniversaries marked, and perhaps important dates in family history. You can download calendar templates from the internet at sites such as this one or use the ones available with your word processing software.
11. Plants from Grandma’s garden or tree seedlings
Hand out plants from Grandma’s garden. You could root cuttings ahead of time, then distribute them in small flower pots.
Hardy tree seedlings or plantings in containers marked “Family Tree” are another idea that could outlive the assembled group. Ask each family to plant their seedling in a prominent location around their home; you can even create customized plaques to place in the ground near the tree. Then, for generations to come, you will truly have your family tree nearby.
12. Gift baskets
Do you want to provide a little bit of this and a tad of that for your reunion? Do it with a basket. You can include goodies such as homemade candles, personalized pocket planners, pens and wine glasses. Personalize the items with your family name, the date of the reunion and the city and state of the hosting family.
Baskets are especially great for people traveling from out of state. Good ideas for baskets include local tourist information and maps, an itinerary of events, and coupons for local merchants and businesses. If there’s a gift-worthy product handled by a family member, check on a volume discount. Cherry jam from Cousin Suzie in Michigan, mini-bottles of bourbon from Uncle Jack in Kentucky, chocolate bars from Aunt Martha in Hershey, Pa. — you get the idea.
Make the basket a reusable part of the gift. They don’t have to be from Longaberger, but look for discounts on durable baskets (especially after Easter) at discount retailers.
13. Small trinkets
If you’d like every family member to have a small trinket to take home following the festivities, and you’d prefer something more creative than a Hanes Beefy-T, here are some inexpensive ideas:
- An imprinted photo album. Keeping on the photographic theme, a photo album imprinted with the event name makes a handy way for your reunion to live on in pictures. You can find these at Hallmark and other gift and card outlets.
- A Christmas ornament related to the family reunion theme.
- Small clocks, watches and other timepieces. A practical way to remember what a wonderful “time” you had at the reunion.
- Keychains. Something that everyone will use. Available in all shapes and sizes.
- Mugs and more. From coffee to beer, there’s a mug for every occasion. Imprint your family’s name, or come up with a slogan or piece of art or family colors.
14. Commissioned family song
Musicians are available to compose and personalize a song that has special meaning to your family, which you can distribute copies of. Of course, if there’s an aspiring composer in your family, have him or her write the tune.
15. Personalized soda or water bottles
All the fun is sure to make your family thirsty. Provide them with their own, personalized soda or water bottles. You can design your own label with lettering, pictures and graphics.
Tips for ordering family reunion keepsake souvenirs
- If you’re including the cost of t-shirts in registration, you’ll need to know everyone’s sizes. Send order forms at least six months before your reunion. Ask for payment in advance, and order a few extra shirts for people who didn’t order early.
- Allow plenty of time for delivery of imprinted items. Some companies demand payment up front; others accept orders payable by invoice. Save money by omitting the year or other nonessential information on personalized items: You may have supplies left for the future.
- Phyllis Hackleman in Reunion Planner (Clearfield Company) suggests some questions to ask when ordering souvenirs:
– Are there charges to screen artwork?
– Are there extra charges for more than one color?
– Will the manufacturer guarantee colors? Does it cost extra?
– Who pays shipping charges? How much are they?
– Who pays UPS repacking charges, if incurred?
– Will the manufacturer share a proof before production to verify that it’s the product you want?
– Will you be obligated to pay for an overrun of more than the exact number you order?
Some of this information appeared in the August 2000 issue of Family Tree Magazine. Updated: August 2021