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virtual family party

How to bring your family together online

Guest Author
3 February 2021

By embracing the new normal, you can use your time at home to connect with family and dig deeper into your past. Genealogist Lisa Lisson shares clever tips for hosting a virtual family gathering.

Seventy. That is  the number of annual family gatherings the descendants of Abe and Stella White of Surry County, North Carolina have held.

For 70 years this family has gathered in person to celebrate and reminisce.  A lot has changed in those 70 years. Births and marriages have grown the family. The older generation has passed away, but the family continues to gather.

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In normal years our tradition is to share a potluck meal. Not only does our family bond over a shared meal, but we also experience the culinary roots of our southern U.S. ancestors. Deviled eggs, sweet tea, and layered cakes, anyone?

Last year was the year of 'no desserts'. This was not intentional, but everyone assumed someone else was bringing desserts. Were we able to eat together in person this year, I expect we would have had an abundance of desserts.

We can't gather in person right now but this large extended family of aunts, uncles, and cousins is not about to miss the annual gathering. We are going virtual.

2021 will find us using technology to maintain our family tradition. I think Abe and Stella would approve. I think Abe and Stella would approve.

virtual christmas party ideas

An old family photo of Abe and Stella White and their relatives.

How about you? How are you connecting with your family during the pandemic? Have you considered a virtual family party or gathering?

If you're wondering what an online family gathering could look like, here are some handy hosting tips to make it go smoothly.

How to host a virtual family gathering

Hosting a virtual gathering with your family does not need to be complicated. Keeping things simple, with a focus on connecting with your family members, will be memorable and enjoyable for everyone. As a bonus, a virtual gathering allows family members not usually able to attend because of the distance to join the event.

Even better, putting together a virtual family gathering can be quick and easy.

Choose the virtual platform for your event

Besides the date of your event, the other main decision is which platform to use for the virtual gathering.  Several platform options (both free and paid) are available for hosting the actual event.  When you are evaluating which platform to use for your virtual family gathering, you will want to consider the number of people the platform accommodates and the cost. Consider using one of the following:

  • Zoom is a favorite and easy-to-use platform that has gained popularity during the coronavirus pandemic. A free option is available with a 40-minute time limit. A basic account with a limit of 100 attendees and unlimited time is a great economical option too 
  • Skype is another easy option for hosting a group chat. The host adds family members to their contact list and then initiates a group video call
  • If your family all have Apple devices, a group Facetime is an easy option. Up to 32 people can participate at once
  • Google Meet (formerly Hangouts) allows anyone with a Google account to create a meeting of up to 100 participants. Meetings of up to 60 minutes are free

All of the above options take little time to set up and get started.

Have some fun at your virtual gathering with a theme

Next up in your planning is deciding on a theme. Consider livening things up by asking everyone to wear fancy dress.  Perhaps everyone joins the party with a favorite drink or snack. Maybe everyone showcases a favorite family story or heirloom.

Some of the virtual meeting platforms like Zoom have themed virtual backgrounds individuals can use to match the theme.

Invite the family

Now, you’ve got the date, the theme, and the platform, it’s time to invite your relatives. Invitations can be a simple email with all the details including the link to access the family gathering online. In this chaotic time of the pandemic, simple is sometimes best.

If you want to keep things consistent, create a digital themed invitation to email to family members.

christmas ideas 2020

This is the invitation I created for my Christmas family gathering.

Canva is a free tool with fun seasonal templates you can edit with your own details to create your invitation. Then, email the invitation to your family. It’s that easy.

Virtual family party activities

So…what do you actually do at a virtual family gathering? 

Obviously, our family will not be feasting on those yummy family recipes together this year. (I’ll miss those deviled eggs). Instead, we will be sharing favorite family recipes which will be turned into a family recipe book afterward.

Being able to preserve family recipes to make in our own kitchens and to pass down to the younger generations is a vital part of preserving our family history. Besides, our family loves to talk about food!

Our family  - like yours, I’m sure - spends a lot of time just talking and catching up with each other’s lives.  On a video chat, this gets a bit tricky if everyone starts talking at once. To avoid that, have one person act as a host to guide or moderate the conversation.

Some meeting platforms have breakout rooms where small groups can go to chat. Teenagers and young adults may find this more fun and a chance to catch up with cousins closer to their own age.

Even if a bit of conversation chaos happens, it’s no problem...you are all family, right?

Another idea is to coordinate a surprise appearance from a long lost family member. Imagine how surprised your relatives would be if they were to reconnect with someone they hadn't heard from for years or, better yet, someone they didn't even know they were related to.

As genealogy researchers, the virtual family reunion, just like any other gathering, is a great place to share stories and chat about the past. Try one of these suggestions or come up with one of your own.

  • Create a slideshow of old family photos to share
  • Share one or two photos and ask for the stories behind them. Photos are excellent conversation starters
  • Talk your relatives through your family tree via screen share
  • Create a family trivia game and see how well you know each other

Smile! Don't forget the family photo

What family gathering would be complete without a family photo or two? Take a screenshot of your family gathering. It certainly will not be the traditional family snapshot, but has anything been normal lately?

While family celebrations are not what we are used to at the moment, celebrating together, however that looks, is important. Future descendants will look back at the family photos and listen to the family stories of how their ancestors connected and celebrated during a pandemic.

The 71st White family dinner will be the most unusual gathering we've held. Still, it will be filled with joy and togetherness and fun.

I challenge you to get creative and come up with your own ways to celebrate virtually with your family.

About the author

Lisa Lisson - genealogist

As a genealogy researcher and creator of the Are You My Cousin? blog, Lisa Lisson takes the overwhelm out of genealogy research and keeps researchers moving forward finding their ancestors. Whether researching ancestors alongside clients or writing how-to articles and books, Lisa uses her 12 years of research experience to help others build a solid research plan, find the needed genealogy records, and get the most out of those resources. When not working with clients or writing genealogy articles, Lisa can be found pursuing her passion for running, traveling with her husband, or simply enjoying time with her two adult children.

Main article image: depositphotos.com.