Whether you're aiming to hole up with siblings for a low-key retreat into childhood reminiscence or to invite every cousin thrice removed to a tightly scheduled celebration of shared ancestry, organizing family reunions isn't as daunting as it sounds.
THE DEATON FAMILY
Timberlock Resort, Indian Lake, New York
The last time that Jackie and Paul Deaton brought together their five children, plus children-in-law, plus 10 school-age grandchildren, was for a daughter's wedding a couple of years ago, with Jackie and Paul playing host. The seniors were "just a little bit preoccupied" with minutiae such as which grandchild was about to sully his photogenic outfit.
So when the three Deaton generations reunited last year, they congregated at an unpretentious, 22-cabin Adirondacks camp called Timberlock (518/648-5494, June—Sept.; 802/453-2540, Oct.—May; www.timberlock.com; family of four from $336; book at least a year in advance). They rented six gaslit cabins for a week on the undeveloped shores of Indian Lake. The Deatons hiked along cliffs near a bear cave, paddled canoes around the lake's loons, and held storytelling sessions by the camp's nightly fires. Any Deaton seeking privacy could retreat to the well-spaced cabins, and yet Timberlock's one-seating meals guaranteed face time even from teenagers.
After the group's last dinner, Jackie and Paul received a surprise souvenir: an oar that their offspring had carved in Timberlock's woodshop and then all signed—an ideal tribute, Jackie notes, to a week of kinship and splinters by the lake.
THE FOUCHER-LEWIS FAMILY
The Foucher-Lewis clan of Louisiana traces its ancestry to an unusual antebellum couple: the Foucher part of the name belonged to a white plantation owner, a widow, who fell in love with a slave she owned, named Joseph Lewis. The couple kept their children a secret from the neighbors—the kids were sent to play out back in the slaves' quarters whenever anyone stopped by. Not even the pair's descendants knew much about their heritage—until last summer, when they held their first reunion.
The event's main organizer, Betty Lewis-Carter, a great-granddaughter of the widow and the slave, told the family story to about 200 gathered relatives. They'd just feasted on crawfish, crabs, shrimp, and corn in a field near where the plantation once stood (cousins still own property in the area). She and her fellow organizers had kept the party arrangements as simple as possible. They rented some equipment, including a tent and a "space walk." But the supplies and labor came largely from volunteers: cousins and friends living nearby prepared and served the food, provided a trampoline, cleaned up afterward, housed out-of-town guests for the night, and sheltered all the partygoers after dusk, when the Louisiana mosquitoes arrived.
Throughout the festivities, Lewis-Carter pumped the attendees for more names and phone numbers of relatives to invite to the next reunion, scheduled for this year. "We're going to keep networking and networking from here," she says. "This is something we should have started doing long ago."
THE LUNG FAMILY
Snow Mountain Ranch, Winter Park, Colorado
By gathering every few years since 1979, the Lung family, descendants of Chinese emigrants to the United States in 1900, has virtually perfected the art of the reunion. Well over a year in advance, the designated point-person starts announcing dates, locales, and per-head costs in the semiannual family newsletter. Last summer, nearly 100 relatives showed up for a three-day celebration at Snow Mountain Ranch in Colorado (970/887-2152; www.ymcarockies.org; family of four from $74 off-season). Run by the YMCA of the Rockies, this lodge-and-cabin complex offers rugged charms—raw-timber porches, 5,100 acres of craggy vistas—and a dining room that seats 480.
The weekend's program was meant to appeal to all personality types. Thrill-seekers blasted at each other in laser-tag matches and rode a 600-foot-long zip line; more scholarly sorts played mah-jongg or studied a time line of Lung family milestones—births, graduations, marriages, deaths—dating back to the years in China. At the Saturday-night banquet, family members demonstrated talents ranging from Chinese folk storytelling to yo-yo rolling to break dancing.
The storyteller, a.k.a. Cousin Ed, is also the family historian, and he helped unite the weekend's varied strains by designing T-shirts for everyone. They're printed with his drawing of a golden dragon—the reunion took place in the Chinese year of the golden dragon, which comes around only once every six decades. The creature symbolizes, fittingly, the sharing of good fortune.