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by Miryelle Resek

Not all of us are lucky enough to have our family members reside in one area. Sometimes they’re states or even continents away! With so many miles, responsibilities, and factors separating us, it’s often difficult to gather together as a family.

So what should one do?

In his 2016 RootsTech presentation, Joseph Richardson offered a solution: host a virtual family reunion.

“One of the powerful advantages of a virtual family reunion, or this kind of a virtual event, is that you can re-experience it over time,” says Richardson. “When I have a normal, on-the-ground, traditional family reunion, we experience it. We’re done. If we’re lucky, somebody remembered to take a picture or two, and we can share the picture. But it’s over, and we can only remember.”

Virtual family reunions are a way to overcome the roadblocks that come with planning traditional reunions, such as cost, timing, and distance. By connecting virtually, family members can still interact with one another and share stories from the convenience of their home or office.

Richardson pointed out that virtual reunions aren’t necessarily meant to replace traditional ones; after all, there are things you can’t do virtually that you can do in person. Rather, virtual reunions should be approached with a completely different strategy.

“To have a successful virtual event it’s best to re-conceive it as something different, not just an imitation of some on-the-ground, traditional, everybody-get-together family reunion,” said Richardson. “It’s something new, it’s something different, and when you look at it that way, you discover some really interesting benefits.”

These benefits include:

  • Interacting regardless of not being in the same area.
  • Meeting at different times using online tools.
  • Preserving the experience for the future.

For example, by using Skype, Richardson was able to interact with his family while he was away in India. He was able to show them a bit of the country, culture, and diversity as it was happening and could hear and answer the questions his family had in real-time, helping them experience what he was experiencing.

Tools Available to Help with Virtual Reunions

Skype is a free tool that helps with virtual reunions, but there are other meeting tools, such as:

Some of these are free or have free versions, some are inexpensive, and others are quite expensive. However, Richardson noted that by viewing the tools as an investment, you’ll find that they cost less than a traditional family reunion.

Another advantage of virtual family reunions is the option to preserve them for future generations. Many of these online get-togethers can be recorded and stored online or in the cloud to watch in the future (or to show those who were unable to make it to the reunion). For example, storing Skype calls will allow future generations to participate and listen to Grandpa’s stories told by Grandpa himself.

But virtual reunions aren’t the only way to bring your cousins together digitally! Similar to a blog, consider having your own website or Facebook group where relatives can come to talk about their experiences for other family members to read, comment, and share. Involve teenagers to build a website specifically for your family where you can play online games together or share videos and pictures. You can involve teens in your family by inviting them to contribute by using their natural strengths and familiarities with digital technology.

Perhaps most importantly, Richardson noted that digitally connecting and recording your family life is the best gift you can leave your children and posterity.

 “The kinds of things that you can create alone and with your family can really be powerful and can create long-term memories that can be shared over and over and over again—long after you’re gone or long after the family is dispersed,” he said. “Your grandchildren and great-grandchildren can have a very rich offering in which you share your own experiences and the experiences that you had with ancestors or family members who are now passed on. And that will be a blessing to them for generations.”

What are some tools you use to digitally connect as a family? Tweet us at @RootsTechConf.


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