Saturday, June 8, 2019

Kansas Family Reunions: Celebrating Five Years

Each year, descendants of my second great-grandmother Minnie (Hawks) Lumpkins Barber and her two husbands John Lumpkins and Joseph Barber, gather at Webster State Park - a large reservoir in central Kansas - to reconnect and reminisce over our shared family history (and enjoy the beautiful outdoors while praying that the spring storms and tornadoes spare us!).

A History of Reunions

Minnie Hawks married John Lumpkins in January 1897 in Rossville, Kansas. They had six children, of whom four lived to adulthood. On John's 37th birthday, while walking home from work, he slipped on ice and sustained a fatal head injury. At 28, Minnie was a widow.

In October 1914, she married Joseph Barber. Together, they had four sons. Joseph raised Minnie's children from her first marriage as his own. 

Minnie (Hawks) Lumpkins Barber, center, with her children.

It was this family history that gave rise to the annual Lumpkins Barber Family Reunion at Webster State Park. 

Initially the reunions were a gathering of Minnie's eight children and 35 grandchildren to celebrate her April birthday. Eventually, the celebration was pushed to Memorial Day weekend, which became synonymous with family reunion. For decades after Minnie's passing in 1973, the reunions continued and flourished.

Over the years, the annual reunion was routinely featured in the hometown newspaper's society pages.

The Family Gatherings Dwindle

However, as the years passed and Minnie's own children began to pass away, the number of attendees started to dwindle. In recent years, the reunion nearly ceased. A few family members would meet at a local steakhouse and reminisce. But the days of hundreds of cousins reconnecting seemed a thing of the past.

In July 2014, when my grandmother (a granddaughter of Minnie) - who was deeply passionate about her family - was terminally ill, I created a Facebook group for Minnie's descendants. At that time, I envisioned it as a virtual family reunion space where we could share photos, reminisce, reconnect and rebuild the connections that were fading as older generations passed away. I soon realized I had a powerful tool at hand with the potential to bring history back to life.

Reunited And It Feels So Good

In 2015, I decided to see if we could recreate the magic. Using Facebook's event organizing functionality, I created a calendar invite for a reunion at a local steak house in Kansas. Would anyone attend?

Yes, was the resounding answer. In fact, dozens of family members showed up and filled the restaurant's banquet room. At day's end, there was a strong appetite for the reunions of the past.

The following year, I reserved a large sheltered site at Webster State Park and issued another Facebook event invite. And guess what? People actually came! 

For the 2017 reunion, I reached out to the local newspaper to tout the rekindled event that had graced their pages for years. Without any prior acknowledgement of my proposed story, they published it in the paper! See Lumpkins Barber Reunion.

Family Sleuther as cub reporter.

This year, 2019 marked my fifth year of organizing the annual family reunion using the power of Facebook.

Facebook event invites for five family reunions.

Despite the ominous threat of severe weather, we had another robust turnout that continued the success of the prior years.

Family Reunion 2019

Family Reunion 2018

Family Reunion 2017

Family Reunion 2016

Organize Your Reunion

While I revel in my success and meditate on the future of the reunion in 2020, perhaps you're thinking about organizing your own family reunion.

Take a look at some tips I shared with Carolina Girl Genealogy in my post, "Summer is Coming: Time to Plan Your Family Reunion."

What best practices do you have for planning and running a successful family reunion?


  1. My various family lines also hold family reunions in Kansas. Unfortunately, I'm in Florida and have missed attending for many years. I love seeing the photos from these events though.
    What you've done is so valuable in maintaining family connections!

    1. Thank you, Virginia, I appreciate it.

      We've also developed ways to include family who are unable to attend the event. For example, during our group photo, we go live on Facebook so all the attendees can wave hello to our cousins watching at home on Facebook. Small efforts like this go a long way in broadening the reach of the event.

  2. That's amazing, Michael! I've only managed to pull off one reunion---back in 2013 of my Brotman second cousins. It was wonderful, but so difficult to coordinate a date and place that worked, and that was with a much smaller group of people. I tried to do the same with my Rosenzweig/Goldschlager cousins and finally gave up. Now I just focus on trying to meet cousins one or a few at a time rather than trying to coordinate with a larger number of people.

    1. It actually is quite a bit of work, and the annual travel back to Kansas can be challenging to dovetail with my day job's schedule.

      For my Kirk cousins, I've been employing your one-at-a-time approach. It does make things more manageable.

  3. Congratulations on your success! One branch of my family has been faithful at holding annual reunions, but attendance is dwindling. I've also created a facebook group, but it's not getting the attention of younger descendants. I'll go read your tips.

    1. I'm also struggling with getting younger descendants invested in the topic and joining the Facebook group. Part of that is because youngins these days have lots of flashy competing interests (to be said in best geriatric-tinged voice) that push family history to the bottom of the list.

      And also many of them are increasingly not using Facebook, which is widely used by older generations. Bridging that divide is a challenge indeed.