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Preserving Reunions

There are many ways to ensure a special place for reunions in the lives, hearts, memories and history of members. This section outlines just some reunion preservation ideas and we invite you to e-mail us your special ways of preserving and celebrating your reunion.

Is there an epidemic of memoir fever?
Many Americans are scrambling with video cameras, tape recorders and other high-tech tools to chronicle family histories before the memories are gone. When relatives share their histories, think how fascinated you are. Then, watch the children’s faces as they, too, find it intriguing. That look of astonishment on your kids’ faces means it’s time to make sure you record the stories for them to enjoy later.

Best-selling memoirs like Tom Brokaw’s The Greatest Generation, Frank McCourt’s Angela’s Ashes and the wonderful Having Our Say: The Delany Sisters’ First 100 Years have fueled the fire. Memoirs don’t have to be difficult-to-read genealogy but rather can employ all manner of new media. Ordinary folks are becoming writers and moviemakers by publishing their works in limited quantities for current and future generations. These are generally parochial efforts of interest to extended family members.

Baby boomers hearing, learning and appreciating their parents stories of the Depression and World War II can be very interesting (true) tales. Everyday life stories can produce eye-opening experiences. Children will be amazed to realize what things cost as little as 50 years ago and how people lived without TV, DVD players, CDs, microwaves, computers, video games and many other things we now take for granted.

Like reunions, memoirs maintain a connection among generations and are an antidote to anonymity. Your grandchildren and their grandchildren will know you through memoirs. Tell it like it is, be a good listener and you can make an immortal collection of memories. EW

  • There are many ways to incorporate memoirs into your reunion.
  • Read stories from them.
  • Use them to create re-enactments of ancestors’ lives.
  • Sell copies to help finance your reunion.
  • Make them a permanent part of your reunion or family archives.

Living trees help preserve reunions
Trees are a prominent theme, logo and design idea for reunions and can also be used in different ways. Living trees as prizes make memories but are lovely only for members who have a place to plant them. A small tree in a pot that can be put on an apartment balcony or terrace works well if there is no earth in which to plant one. Cuttings or grafts for those clever enough to know what to do with them can extend a family's connections even further.

Karen Naedler, Hopatcong, New Jersey, reports that her Cousin Connection Reunion awards a "family tree" to the person who selects the number closest to the count of peanuts in a large fish bowl. The tree is growing and suitable for transplanting in October (when they have their reunion).

The 147 attendees at the Navy Destroyer USS Ingersoll reunion each donated $1.00 to plant 147 Blue Spruce Trees at Snowmass, Colorado, as part of the Plant-It-2000 Program. This idea works well for any type of reunion: plant trees in the name of grandchildren, ancestors, fallen comrades and deceased classmates.

Margurite Tibben reported that her Skinner/McQueen Family Reunion planted and dedicated a tree to her parents, Bill and Leona Skinner, in the park where they held reunions for nine years. They chose a Liquid Amber to commemorate autumn, a favorite time of year for both parents. A plaque in red granite imbedded in a stone reads "The Family Tree, Its Roots an Ancestry, Its Limbs New Generations." Skinner grandsons dug the hole and placed the plague.

How do you incorporate trees in your reunion?

Restoring heirloom photos
Laurie Thompson reports that damaged, faded, irreplaceable photographs can be saved. Storage of your valuable heirloom photos in a dark acid free environment will slow the deterioration process but nothing can stop it. New methods of restoration can reprint images. The original fragile photo is scanned. Then, in a labor-intensive, digital restoration process, the image is converted to a film negative and printed. Your original remains intact.

Thompson, who restores heirloom photos, offers a free evaluation and estimate if you send a copy of your damaged photo to Imagination Studio, 2812 Tanglewood Dr, Sarasota FL 34239; 941-922-9553.

Hiring a photographer?
Here are some basics for hiring a reunion photographer.

  • Ask around. Get recommendations and check albums of friends and relatives. Ask how their photographers were to deal with. Check for complaints with the Better Business Bureau.
  • Meet the photographer. Spend time with the person who will be photographing your reunion. See his/her actual work. Discuss his/her approaches and requirements.
  • Compare prices. Packages vary in size and cost. Try boiling them down to comparable terms by dividing total costs by the number of photos you'd get.
  • Hire the photographer. Make sure the person you met is specifically named in your contract as the photographer.
  • Be realistic. Get the package that suits your reunion.
  • Sweat the details. Make sure the contract spells out everything you're getting, the total cost and when you can expect to get the photos. Use a credit card for protection.
  • Stay in touch. Call occasionally to make sure the photographer is still in business.

Family reunions are portrait time
J.R. vanLienden
Family reunions are great times to make family portraits.

Photographing a large group, however, has many inherent problems. You must keep everyone's attention and have all eyes looking at the camera. Barking like a dog (some of us will do anything to get others to look at us) serves this purpose well. Many times getting a group to say "cheese" works, but "hi!" (tell them to keep their teeth closed) and "shucks" are better.

Smile for the birdie
Soft warm smiles are better than big cheesy grins so ask everyone to shake like a dog, relax and then smile pleasantly keeping attention toward you. Ask persons not in the picture to stand directly behind you so if people look at them, they'll still be looking at the camera.

Let there be light
Lighting is crucial. Avoid sun that makes big shadows across faces. It is unflattering, and film doesn't see details like the human eye. The sunlight is behind subjects just after noon till about three o'clock, but open shading from a building shadow or a tree works better.
My favorite light comes just before sunset. Warm color makes everyone look nicer if the light does not create shadows. The soft light just following sunset is perfect for shadow-free, even illumination, but it's fleeting so shoot fast.
Today's cameras with built-in flashes work well if the sun is to subjects' backs, and you use the back-lighting mode. Back-lighting gives subjects more dimensions as light comes over their shoulders.

The three-legged one
Tripods may be cumbersome to use but a lifesaver if you want to make bigger prints from your photographs. The tripod steadies and prevents movement that would be more apparent on enlargements. The more you enlarge, the more once subtle little imperfections show up. You may also improve images by using a cable release. This bit of extra work pays off in finer outcomes.

Fashion is important
Proper clothing can turn a picture into a portrait. Mixing solid colored clothing with the background eliminates distracting colors and puts attention back into people's faces. One of the easiest ways to keep clothing from having to many distracting styles, colors and patterns is to have everyone wear commemorative t-shirts. If all the shirts or tops are the same color, attention is forced back to faces. It looks incredible. If you have different solid colors in the same tones for each family, it defines each family and looks fantastic. When I photograph families, I like them to wear long sleeves and pants, to keep flesh color mainly to the faces.

Choose place carefully
Where you choose to take the picture is important. Minimize background distractions. A good rule of thumb is to have a simple background without too many colors or distracting patterns.
To see areas that will stand out in the background, close one eye and squint with the other. Don't try this standing on one leg - you might fall down. If it stands out when you squint, it will stand out in your picture. People will block a lot of the background anyway.
Position everyone so you can see their faces. Get them to relax. Place some people in front on the ground sitting up or leaning on one arm. The next row should be sitting on chairs, rocks, or stumps to get them a little higher. The third row should stand to the side and back of the seated row. Keep individuals and rows very close.
Shoot lots of film. These images will be with you for the rest of your life. If it is in your budget, hire a professional photographer and be sure you get great pictures.
Good luck and keep smiling.

About the author
J.R. vanLienden and his wife Darcy own and operate Masterpiece Portraits ( in Sarasota, Florida. They specialize in outdoor portraits, many of which are created on Florida's Gulf Coast beaches where they claim to have the whitest sand in the world.

Tips for making memory booklets
by Richard Hane
Custom booklets for any occasion.

1. Plan early! To estimate the cost of each booklet, approximate how many booklets will be ordered and how many pages you’ll need for each. Add a few dollars to the price and use the books for fundraising. Then you’ll know how much to charge each member.
2. Before or after? If you want booklets ready for the reunion, you need to collect photos, personal information and money before the reunion. If you plan on making a booklet after the reunion, set up a table at the reunion with order forms. Only booklets made after the reunion can include photos from the reunion.
3. Quality counts! Many reunions have some kind of booklet. Someone on the committee gets stuck pasting, typing, copying and stapling. Often, the end product is not as nice as you’d hoped. Why not get them done professionally? Customized booklets can be ordered for as little as $18.62 each.
4. Choose the right booklet-making company. Sometimes booklets are part of a larger package where you must use the booklet maker's or other event planning services photographers. Other companies specializing in making booklets can use your photos or photos from a photographer you choose.
For information about memory booklets contact 270-559-9639,

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