Come to a family reunion sometime. A block down from the Ward House is the old homestead where the patriarch lived with one of his two families not many years ago. In his lifetime he ran the village store and housed and fed itinerant Indians and raised up a numerous progeny by his two wives…
One of [the family’s] most regular wanderings is the annual reunion, and they will come a long way for it. They stream into town by car, on foot, by interurban railroad, some bringing chocolate cakes, some ice cream, some sandwiches, some potato salad or punch. They shake hands, they slap backs, they goo at new babies, they marvel at the growth of the children in the last year. They gather in little knots and talk under their breath about how bad Joe is looking, and about how his wife could do a lot better for him than she does. They kid the girls and talk about the peach crop and holler a welcome as new arrivals fill the Ward House.
Despite Wallace Stegner’s charming snapshot of times long past, “Family Reunion…” from his book Mormon Country, family reunions and their close relative, the family association, are not limited to Mormon families. Extended families gather regularly all over the United States and world, coming together in small and large gatherings.
The purpose of a family association is generally to coordinate research, collect family information and documents, and publish family histories. In 1971, the IRS ruled that family associations qualify for 501(c)(3) status and advised associations to file applications for not-for-profit status, rather than operating off the books. (Rev. Rul. 71-580, 1971-2 C.B. 235)
In 2001, the Directory of Family Associations cataloged approximately 6,500 associations across the United States, but it has not been updated since. The closest online resource is the Directory of Family Associations and Organizations, which lists about 550 associations. In the United Kingdom, the Federation of Family History Societies helps support family associations and local history societies.
The most comprehensive online list of Mormon family organizations is on Wikipedia. (Mormon Family Organizations.) Most of the listed associations are for pioneer-era families from the Intermountain West, but there is no particular reason why just Daughters of Utah Pioneers-eligible families should be listed, except that they often have enough interested descendants to staff an organization.
If done right, family websites can be a useful resource for genealogists and historians.
A Successful Family Association Website
Here are the features a family website should have, with examples of each.1
1) A simple, uncluttered, well-designed home page. This page should identify the original ancestors and their children with links to the additional content on the website. A good example is the Winslow Farr Sr. Organization.
2) Comprehensive family information.2
(a) Information about the family organization. (Belnap Family Organization.)
(b) Genealogical data. Living persons should never be listed in online genealogical databases. (Jared Pratt Family Association.)
(c) Information on the family’s origins. (Knaphus Family Organization.)
(d) A reliable list of each original family member with dates. This is particularly important in these days of online family trees when additional family members are regularly added to family trees with one mis-click of a mouse. (Alexander F. Macdonald Family.)
(f) Family pictures. (George and Ann Prior Jarvis Family.)
(g) Collections of documents. For example, here is a Redd family will. Note that the will is transcribed and has the source listed. The only thing that would improve it would be a picture of the original document. (John H. Redd & Elizabeth Hancock Family Organization.)
(h) DNA research. (John D. Lee Family.)
(i) A list of past and upcoming family reunions (This is an unusual example: The Osmond Family.)
3) Contact information for the webmaster and anyone who is currently working on the family history or genealogy. (Jared Pratt Family Association.)
4) A source of funding to keep the website up indefinitely, preferably the family association.
Three Additional Notes
Second, since many personal websites tend to go belly-up over time, it is a good idea to print out or publish your genealogical and historical information and donate it to an organization like FamilySearch to make sure it will be permanently preserved. Here are the guidelines for donations to the Family History Library. (Gifts, Donations, and Loans to FamilySearch.) Historical documents of interest to the Church such as missionary journals and pioneer accounts can be donated to the Church History Library. (See “Gifts and Donations” for contact information or leave questions below.) Other items that should be preserved but are not of interest to the Church can be donated to a local university archive.
Third, another way to preserve family information is to add sources, pictures, discussions, and stories to FamilySearch Family Tree. Here’s a tutorial on how to add sources and discussions: In Which We Bid Farewell to NewFamilySearch and Welcome Family Tree.
Do you know of any additional family associations that should be added to the Wikipedia list or Directory of Family Associations and Organizations? If so, go ahead and add them or note them here and I’d be happy to add them for you.
Do you have memories of family reunions or experience with family associations? Please do share some of your memories or experiences, good or bad.
The picture of the reunion invitation is from the NYPL Digital Gallery. The picture of the skit at the Pugsley family reunion at Lagoon Amusement Park in Farmington, Utah, 1940, is from personal family collections. The found image of a family gathering is from Flickr, courtesy of Lost Gallery.
- Since this is a Mormon history blog, these examples are taken from the list of Mormon family associations, but could as easily come from other websites such as Alden Kindred of America, The Tefft Papers, or the National Society of the Washington Family Descendants. [↩]
- There are few reasons not to share all historical family information online. First, in many cases, the more information you share, the more information people will send in return. Second, if you plan to publish a family history, the chances that you will receive any financial benefit or even cover your costs are slim, so genealogy is something that’s best done as a labor of love. Third, it’s better to get all the information out there so all your work doesn’t disappear and have to be duplicated by someone else. One caveat: a possible reason not to share all family information may be to preserve certain sacred experiences or patriarchal blessings within the family. However, the real effect of not sharing this information with others is that it will eventually be lost, rather than preserved. [↩]
- Please make sure that the women in the family are remembered along with the men. If any woman doesn’t already have a history, go ahead and write one. [↩]
- Keepapitchinin is a WordPress blog, hosted on a separate web host. My personal blog, TheAncestorFiles, is a Blogger blog hosted by Google. For many good examples of genealogy websites, see Family Tree Magazine’s annual list of Top Genealogy Blogs. [↩]