xml:space="preserve">

Families often pass down stories from one generation to the next, about who they are and where they've been. For the Peaks-Staunton clan, a love story that dates back decades watered the roots of their family tree.

"Three Staunton brothers in Dillwyn, Va., married three Peaks sisters — they were neighbors who attended the same church," said Deborah Pankey-Mebane, a descendant. "The family worked as farmers and later migrated to other states in search of a better livelihood."

Advertisement

Branches of the family spread to New York, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Ohio and Maryland. Today, several relatives live in Baltimore and the surrounding region.

After holding previous family reunions in Detroit, Washington, D.C., and other locations across the country, the family plans to gather next year in Towson.

"We started having reunions in 1972," said Pankey-Mebane, an Upper Marlboro resident who is planning the event.

As American families continue to evolve, gatherings that bring together multiple generations continue to be popular, but organizers say the events take planning and patience.

An AARP poll in 2012 showed that 50 percent of the more than 1,000 people surveyed have participated in a family reunion. Among those who said their family held one, 93 percent of those 50 and older said they had attended, while 86 percent of respondents ages 18-49 participated.

When those who didn't have family reunions were asked why not, the primary reasons cited included lack of an organizer, costs and family squabbles.

Michelle Sun Smith, an assistant professor of clinical psychology at Loyola University Maryland, said reunions are a way for extended relatives to stay connected and strengthen bonds.

"Family reunions are still important," said Smith, who previously spent 13 years in private practice counseling families and adolescents. "In fact, they may be more important than ever in the digital age, when there's more [social] isolation."

Smith noted that too often, "families only come together for funerals or weddings. Family reunions are a way to bolster relationships."

While summer is traditionally the season to hold reunions, any date will work as long as organizers allow plenty of lead time.

"Typically, people start planning any large family get-together a year ahead," said Kyle McCarthy, editor of the website familytravelforum.com, which specializes in family-focused travel tips.

A major component is choosing a reunion destination, she added, and making sure that the date is flexible enough for busy families. "You're making sure the kids are on a school break and are available, along with siblings, aunts, uncles and grandparents."

Ragina Cooper-Averella, a spokesperson for AAA Mid-Atlantic, said scheduling is particularly important if there's out-of-town travel involved.

"A lot of people make family reunions part of their vacations, and where it's held is a major consideration," said Averella. "Do you want it in New York? The Carolinas? In many instances, it's happening over a weekend. If you travel north one year, you may rotate the trip south the next year. The earlier you begin planning your trip, the better."

Advertisement

In September, the Reginald F. Lewis Museum of Maryland African American History and Culture hosted its third annual Baltimore Family Reunion Expo, in partnership with GreiBo media and Visit Baltimore, the city's tourism arm. The event featured vendors, hotel operators, caterers, tour companies and other specialists, including Lisa Crawley, the museum's onsite genealogy researcher, who helped visitors trace their family trees.

Tom Noonan, president and CEO of Visit Baltimore, said his organization offers free assistance to those who want to host a reunion in the city. "We can help with hotel rooms, venue suggestions and tour planning," he said.

The expo proved helpful to Jacqueline Tuggle, 51, an East Baltimore resident who attended with her sister and two cousins. Her family — the Langstons of Goldsboro, N.C. — will host their 88th annual reunion next summer in Columbia.

"My great-grandparents Louis and Mittie Langston together had 15 children," said Tuggle, who's leading a planning group of relatives who communicate regularly via conference calls, email and a family web page. "In 1928, the children decided to have a cookout, which became an annual event. Since that time, we have been having our family reunion on the third Sunday in August."

The 2016 affair will be held at Centennial Park, which has a lake and covered pavilions. Music, games, children's activities and, of course, food, are on tap. "We'll probably have about 100 people," said Tuggle.

The Peaks-Staunton family will celebrate in early July at the Sheraton Baltimore North. About 300 relatives are expected, said Pankey-Mebane, including her 96-year-old grandmother, Christina Johnson.

The reunion will be packed with a weekend of activities designed to allow kin to catch up, share memories and have fun, according to organizers.

The roster will include a Friday Night "Meet & Greet" with a talent show and games; a Saturday evening banquet, dance and award ceremony; and a Sunday worship service.

It's quite an undertaking, but one that Pankey-Mebane, who happens to be a professional event planner, believes is well worth the effort.

"Reunions allow us to acknowledge and celebrate our heritage, and pay tribute to those who came before us," she said, echoing the group's 2016 theme, "Family Matters … Preserving Our History and Continuing Our Legacy."

"It keeps our legacy ongoing, rekindles family ties and gives us a better sense of our family roots. We become more connected, and that's a blessing."

Skipp Sanders, executive director of the Lewis Museum, notes that the annual family reunion expo serves the "important purpose" of helping families preserve the ties that bond.

"There is so much history and strength that comes to us as a community through our families," he said.

That philosophy is one that Tuggle embraces.

"I was brought up to be family-oriented," she said. "My grandparents taught us to love family, that richness. …You care for one another, and even when you have disagreements, you don't depart from each other."

Reunion planning tips

Planning to travel to a family reunion? Consider these expert tips for multi-generational trips.

Keep in mind the ages and lifestyles of everyone planning to travel. Consider the mobility of older family members and those who may have physical challenges. Find a hotel that suits your family's needs. For instance, Hotel Monaco Baltimore, a Kimpton property, welcomes both children and pets. "We have a variety of room types that are perfect for families, including 14 bunk-bed rooms," said John Tiffey, area director of sales and marketing. Hotel meetings and events are catered by the onsite restaurant, B&O American Brasserie. "The chef can even create a special version of grandma's signature dish," he said.

All-inclusive resorts can be a great option for families, with plenty of choices for everyone to do. Cruising, and specialty cruises such as Disney, enable family members to participate in individual activities, while still gathering as a group for meals, shows, and other onboard events.

A home or condo rental can offer amenities and conveniences such as a kitchen, washer/dryer and pool, plus savings by eating-in for some or all of your meals.

Advertisement

Be very clear up front who's paying for what.

A travel agent can help with planning. Don't book before you are certain everyone is in agreement. Some airlines offer group rates. Consider travel insurance to protect everyone's investment.

Preserve memories and take plenty of photos. Collect memorabilia for a scrapbook.

Sources: AAA Mid-Atlantic, Kimpton Hotels.

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement