A Zoomin’ Reunion

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Some serious talk between these men at a cattle sale. Inside information about price of cattle? Favorite haberdashery going out of business? The latest news about Aunt Tillie?

I hosted a zoom reunion last Saturday where stories were listened to with great interest. Some involved livestock… well, chickens and goats. There were updates about some of our own. And I have some inside information if you want to take the bull by the horns and host a virtual reunion yourself. 

The Strange – Webber side of my family had planned to have a family reunion in Iowa on August 22nd. It was obvious by late spring that it couldn’t/shouldn’t/wouldn’t happen. I have a paid zoom account and would not be constrained by a forty minute time limit, so I offered to host a reunion using zoom. A few cousins and I formed a reunion committee and stayed with the original date.

The M. D. and Dorinda Webber Family 1919

My cousins on the committee belong to the generation ahead of me, although some of us are the same age. Their parents were a group of nine siblings, so this group of 1st cousins was fairly large. They opted to limit  the reunion to their generation, that way our zoom screen would not be too full and perhaps not too chaotic! We thought it best to get this one under our belt and then decide if we wanted to try something with a larger group.

Our general outline was:
an opening and welcome
a time of remembrance for the deceased cousins
pictures of the cousins’ parents
guess the baby game
memories of their grandparents’ house
group photo.

After we had a plan in mind, we sent out a “save the date” email that included a call for photos needed and a suggestion to be prepared to share a memory about the house on H Street.

To handle the influx of photos filling my inbox, I made a folder for the reunion and then started folders for the different agenda items. I also tagged the emails so I could find them again if needed.

I made folders within folders to keep generations straight and family groups together. Not everyone sent photos that had been named, so ask your people to do that before sending. It will make your life easier. It was lots of fun to receive the photos. Sometimes we ask for photos and don’t get them. This time I got more than I asked for! Yay!

Then I needed to decide how I was going to share all of these photos at the reunion. I had only shared individual photos or pdfs on zoom, but that would have been cumbersome. I had never had a reason to make a powerpoint, but it was easy to learn, easy to edit, and easy to use.

Yvonne had a photograph from a previous family reunion that she wanted to share for the opening, since all of the families are represented in it and she has a recording of the group singing “Hail, Hail, the Gang’s All Here!” I shared the photo, and she played the recording near the mic of her computer. It worked fine.

I gave the group some zoom instructions since not everyone was familiar with using this platform. A few others acted as co-hosts to help me monitor the waiting room and assist people with their audio/video or adjust their screens so we weren’t looking up any nostrils.

We thought about trying to get t-shirts made for our reunion, but we just didn’t have the time since it would involve having shirts shipped all over the country. Instead we asked everyone to wear a shirt representing their locale, favorite sports team, or something else important to them (excluding anything political). As host, I went around my screen and asked people to introduce themselves (a few of us had never met – particularly the few of us from my generation), say where they live, and show us their shirt. I didn’t really have a shirt representative of Austin. Really??? I did wear a shirt from church, but decided my special item would be my grandmother’s quilt top and used that as my virtual background.

Next on the agenda was the time of remembrance. I wanted to attach background music to this group of slides, but I could never find a way to do that. It seems that you can only have music play during an entire powerpoint presentation or attach music to an individual slide. If you know how to do what I wanted to do, please let me know in the comments. Wilda read the names of the deceased and the years of their lives.

Next we moved to a slide of the cousins’ grandparents (my great grandparents)

and then photos of the cousins’ parents. If I had the photos, I used a photo of the parents as a young couple and as an older couple. Here are my grandparents on the left. My grandfather died when I was a girl. My grandmother remarried late in life.

Dee sent an mp4 file of a family movie taken in 1937. I was able to attach it to a slide and play it for everyone from there. I love it! The grown woman jumping rope is my grandmother.

I attached the theme from Jeopardy to the baby game slide as a timer. da da da dada da da daaa, da da da da da! da da da da da ….

I suppose if we had planned far enough in advance, we might have thought of a little prize to send to the winner of the game. ( Use presenter view when sharing the PPt. That is not what you see here.)

After the game, I showed a few photos of the house on H Street to get the memories going.

Then it was time to stop the slide show again and let everyone have a chance to share memories. It was the best part of the reunion, in my opinion. As happens at reunions, one memory sparks another and another. One cousin noted in an email after the reunion:
“When we are in person, we talk in small groups of 2- to 4 or 5, but today each of us got to hear what each person said about each topic. The discussion of memories about H Street, for instance, would never happen in person–at least not the way we have done it in the past.  So we need to thank God for the good that can happen during this painful time of the pandemic!!  And maybe we need to think about how we can improve our in person get-togethers in the future to somehow incorporate the larger togetherness. Maybe tables put together–microphones????  I don’t have the answers, but want us to be thinking about how to learn from today to improve our future get togethers.”

Since Alice was facilitating this part of the reunion, I got to sit back and enjoy the memories too and also took the opportunity to take some individual photos of speakers. BTW, I gave instructions at the beginning on the use of gallery view vs. speaker view and suggested that speaker view might be good during this sharing time.

The last photos in the powerpoint were group photos from previous gatherings and reunions. The last slide told everyone to smile for our own group photo, then I asked people to take screen shots or photos. We have our group photo preserved for the history books.

My biggest regret: One of the cousins joined from an iPad from an assisted living center, I think. He was fine until I had everyone practice muting. As host, I can mute everyone, but I cannot unmute everyone. Unfortunately, he could never unmute himself. I have never used an iPad for zoom, so I couldn’t give instructions on how to unmute. He stayed with us a while, but then we lost his video and then he disappeared. I don’t know if he left from frustration or if he inadvertently left while trying to get his audio and video working. My takeaway is: don’t mute everyone if you have someone who is unfamiliar with the platform and does not have anyone nearby to assist. Practice, but do it differently than I did.

A smaller regret: I fully intended to record the reunion (with permission from the participants). I thought I had it set, but due to user error, that didn’t happen. Fortunately someone else did record so she could share the reunion with her sister that couldn’t attend. The file is too large for her to send to me in an email. She downloaded to youtube and it looks great there, but I want a copy! She’s going to put it on a flash drive for me. Takeaway: review those settings before you begin!

I would enjoy hearing from others who have hosted a virtual family reunion. I have another side of the family that needs to get together and I would love to learn from your experience.

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8 thoughts on “A Zoomin’ Reunion

  1. The “Zoom” thing has really taken hold during this pandemic period. We’ve participated in several over the past months. They’re a great way to keep in touch with people you would normally be seeing perhaps every week at church or in special groups for certain reasons, including family. A great way to pull a family reunion together! We missed ours this year at Lake Tahoe. Hopefully by next summer things will be back on track and we’ll see everyone then.

  2. That was a very creative way to keep your family engaged during these difficult times. I suppose these new video communication apps are good practice for when some of us are traveling to Mars or beyond!

  3. Oh Kathy this is a fantastic blog post. Thank you for taking the time to write it so carefully and share all the learnings from your experience. I just love it. The movie is beautiful. What a special record of your family’s heritage. Isn’t it interesting that people felt that despite the constraints of COVID and the limits of technology, that they in fact heard/learned more than they would have if they’d met in person. I think this is true. In less formal circumstances, like parties, it is difficult to hear/meet everyone. You might get to have one or two or three quality conversations but not meet everyone properly. Well done you on all counts!

    • Thank you, Alex. I googled for ideas on hosting a zoom reunion to help me and there aren’t many out there yet, so I thought I would add to the mix. I think we are learning some lessons from these new ways of communicating that we can carry forward.

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