Planning a Family History Fair? 3 Tips for Success
Do the words “plan a Family History Fair'” fill you with dread and uncertainty? You may have a large event focused on genealogy and family history looming, or you may be asked to organize one in the future. In either scenario some ideas and tips from a very successful event I recently attended can save you time and energy.
In a serendipitous turn of events, in October I found myself attending a family history fair on beautiful Camano Island, about an hour north of Seattle. My good friend,Tauni, had asked me to fly up to visit and share some of my family history expertise with a group of women at her annual Olde Wives Shower (more on this in January). She mentioned that her LDS ward was sponsoring a family history fair and wondered if we could stop by for a few minutes.
Well, of course that turned into two hours as we perused the various activities. I took a lot of pictures and was so impressed with the quality of this event that I asked Donna Snider, the Lead Ward Temple & Family History Consultant of the Camano Island Ward, Washington Stake to share the planning process.
PLANNING A FAMILY HISTORY FAIR?
by Donna Snider
Lead Ward Temple & Family History Consultant, Camano Island Ward, Washington State
I swore I would never plan another one! Those were my thoughts one week before our first annual family history fair in Spring of 2016. However, at the close of the event, and heady with its success, the other consultants and myself decided on the spot that all the hard work was worth it and yes, we would definitely do another one… after a long, long rest! So we set the date for Fall of the next year and then planned several well-deserved months off from any thoughts of another event (you can do that when you have a year and a half between events!)
So if you are planning a family history fair, I have three suggestions:
(1) Start early
(2) Publicize, publicize, publicize
(3) Make sure you have a group of dedicated temple & family history consultants and other volunteers—this is indispensable!
The Planning Process
Our ward consultants and I met together last Fall to begin plans for our 2nd annual family history fair, one that would be unique, interactive, and fun for entire families. We wanted to go beyond the concept of a traditional genealogy conference and create an event that would attract all ages and even those with no prior interest in finding their ancestors. We also wanted to reach out to others not of our Church–to the entire community–in addition to other wards in our stake.
How could we do this, though, being a small ward with very limited resources? I knew the answer lay in the fact that we had a group of 12 dedicated and hard-working consultants and the support of our Bishop and other ward leaders.
Our initial meetings were simply brainstorming sessions. Excitement grew as the consultants’ ideas poured in and I could hardly scribble them down fast enough. Plans eventually solidified into a list of activities, classes and presentations that we hoped would have broad appeal. At that point, assignments were made with each consultant being in charge of certain areas.
Since my task was to arrange guest speakers, teachers and organizations (such as the Washington State Archives, a regional DAR group, and local genealogy and historical societies), I began that task right away (a year ahead of time) to make sure we got “first dibs.”
In January, 10 months out from the event, we met monthly and each consultant would “return and report,” another key to success. Plans moved forward and we were blessed with that luxurious feeling that we truly did have plenty of time. Some consultants even finished their assignments months in advance.
Publicity was given great attention, as we knew it is the real key to any event’s success, and a publicity timeline was created. Tip: There are excellent event timeline templates that can be found online, such as “5 Event Timeline Templates” at Template.net, that were easily adaptable for our purposes.
About 3 months before the event, ward members were invited to create family history displays for the fair. This invitation went out this early so that everyone could get the Fair on their calendar, as well as to allow ample time to those wanting to create a more involved exhibit, such as a family history quilt.
The “big push” for publicity began a month before the event, with the most energetic part of the campaign being rolled out in the last 2-3 weeks (advertising too early runs the risk of becoming “stale”). For our LDS audience, invitations were handed out, flyers were posted in Church buildings throughout the Stake, and announcements were sent to all ward bulletins, Relief Society newsletters, etc. A re-worded [more exciting] announcement was sent out for publication during last week to help increase interest.
As stated above, one of our main goals was to invite the non-LDS community, and so many publicity venues were utilized including several online and hard copy community calendars, as well as posters, banners, and even a press release that was sent to local newspapers.
IMPORTANT NOTE: All publicity that goes out to the non-LDS community must first be approved by the local Stake Public Relations Specialist!
A last meeting was held, assignments were completed, reminder calls went out, armloads of cookies were baked by our wonderful ward members, and at last the day of the family history fair arrived.
As conference-goers entered the foyer, they were treated to a beautiful display created by one of our ward members that featured gorgeous portraits and mementos of her ancestors.
Those with young children checked them into the Primary room which was filled with a dizzying array of heritage crafts, games and activities.
Many visitors kept busy in the cultural hall where a bank of computers ran FamilySearch, Relative Around Me, and other partner sites, with consultants stationed there as assistants. There were guest exhibitors, an area for refreshments, and rows of tables filled with the many and varied family history displays created by our wonderful ward members.
The Relief Society room housed the most elegant displays of portraits, mementos, vintage clothing, antiques and heirloom quilts and linens.
Classrooms were transformed into settings such as the Story Room decked out with comfy furniture where people could relax and create audio recordings of favorite family memories.
Another room became “Grandma’s Kitchen” where ward members’ old-time family recipes were displayed amidst the delightful setting of an old-time kitchen. The “What Is That Thing?” contest challenged visitors to name hard-to-identify vintage items. In other areas, conference-goers could learn indexing, quilting and research essentials, as well as attend classes, relax with refreshments, or get a family photo taken with an old-time train station backdrop.
One of the most popular rooms, The Ellis Island Experience, gave conference-goers a taste of what some of our ancestors might have experienced in that famous place. Amidst displays of antique luggage, foreign currencies and photographs of actual Ellis Island immigrants, attendees answered authentic questionnaires, reviewed the medical conditions that all immigrants were screened for, watched historical videos, and even searched online to discover if any of their ancestors passed through the halls of that unforgettable national gateway.
Last but not least, we provided a lovely and well-stocked hospitality room for guest presenters.
The early planning, the extensive publicity effort, and the hard work of our terrific consultants and ward members paid off and the event was pronounced a resounding success.
Thanks, Donna for sharing your tips for planning an excellent family history fair!