Last year, my grandmother planned a reunion for her ten children and 50+ grandchildren. I asked her if we could include some family history activities during the week and do a “family tree gathering,” so she put me in charge of Family Home Evening on Monday night.
I wanted to plan an activity that all the adults would enjoy and even the smallest children could be involved in too. After giving it some thought, I decided that acting out our family stories would be perfect.
A few weeks in advance, we asked each of the ten families to choose an ancestral couple, read stories about them, then plan a skit based on one of the stories. If a skit wasn’t their thing, then maybe a dramatic monologue or musical number from the time period would work. We asked each family to email back which ancestral couple they chose so we wouldn’t have duplicates.
Grandma reminded everyone about the books of stories she had given out several years ago for Christmas. We also looked at the stories added to our ancestors in FamilySearch.org.
We asked everyone to bring their own props and costumes and to consider sharing them with each other so we could have lots of options for everyone. Many of my cousins had been on Pioneer Treks so I knew we’d have lots of costumes for skits about our Mormon pioneer ancestors.
I wanted to have some charts and visual aids for the evening, so I created a large picture pedigree chart to put up. I also created a PowerPoint presentation to show during the skit night. Before each presentation, while the actors were getting ready, I wanted to show pictures of the featured ancestors. I also wanted to show where those ancestors were located in the family tree.
I arranged to use a projector and a screen to show the presentation during the skit night. Here are some of the slides from the presentation:
Writing A Script for the Skit
For my family’s skit, I first took into consideration who the actors would be: my two young children, my adult siblings, and my parents. Then I tried to find an ancestor that wasn’t well known to my cousins.
I found two stories about my grandma’s great grandfather, Isaiah Lacey Bennett, who used to dress up like Santa Claus and make toys for the children in his community at Christmas. He also had several interesting encounters with Native Americans during his teenage years in Utah. Using these stories, I created a very basic script. You can read it here. The dialogue is made up but I tried to stick to the stories as much as possible, using the lingo and ideas from Isaiah’s granddaughter who authored the stories.
During Skit Night
We used an older LDS Church building near my grandma’s home for the skit night. The Relief Society room had a stage in it with a curtain and enough seating for 100 people. We didn’t want to use the cultural hall because it was a bit too large for our group.
I set up the projector and screen to the side of the stage. One of my aunts brought a video to show for part of their family’s skit.
Some of the families didn’t decide what story to perform until the day of. Others were practicing their skit right before the activity began! We were all in an excited frenzy getting our costumes on and props together.
From the first skit to the last, everyone was completely engaged. We enjoyed every minute and laughed through it all! It was a delightful evening. We had a Mormon Battalion story, an immigration story, funny moments from great grandma’s life, a story about horses, and more. One of my favorites was about our redheaded Mormon pioneer ancestor, Elam, who was nicknamed “head on fire” by a Native American named Lone Wolf. I’ll never forget my uncle’s costume – a red handkerchief to represent Elam’s red hair.
Someone with a video camera recorded the whole night so we could watch it later and remember the fun we had. I will remember each story with a special image of my cousins or aunts and uncles dressed up like that ancestor! The stories that were acted out are now more real to me. After seeing them acted out and imagining what their lives must have really been like, I feel so much closer to my ancestors.
What family history activities have you done for family reunions in the past?