Family Reunions

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Witmer family reunion in Ontario in 1915

Family Reunions, social gatherings of descendants of a common ancestor, usually lasting a half day, including an outdoor semi-religious program and a picnic meal and often held in a public park, have been rather common among American Mennonites since the beginning of the 20th century. Sometimes the gatherings are small, but at times they develop into enormous meetings of 1,000 to 2,000 persons, and partake more of the nature of a clan gathering than a family meeting. The small reunions commonly meet annually, the larger ones every five years. Among the notably large family reunions of essentially Mennonite character (though with very many non-Mennonite participants) have been the two Stauffer reunions of Waterloo County, ON, and Lancaster County, PA, the Landis reunions of Lancaster County and Bucks County, PA, the Burkholder reunion held at Hershey, PA, the Birky family reunion with meetings alternating between central Illinois; Manson, Iowa; and Kouts, IN, and the Bender reunion of New Hamburg, ON.

In Europe, where they are called "Familientag," family reunions have not been widely observed, although the strong development of family history studies in the Nazi period in Germany led to the establishment of a number of family organizations, called "Sippenverband," such as the Kauenhowen and Zimmerman organizations, which held occasional reunion meetings. The German meetings have been rather gatherings of specialists in family history, whereas the American reunions have been primarily for social fellowship and have emphasized appreciation and emulation of the religious and moral virtues of the ancestors. Both groups, however, have often subsidized research in family history as well as the preparation and publication of genealogies or even of family periodicals, such as Mitteilungen des Sippenverbandes der Danziger Mennoniten-Familien and Der Berg; Sippen-Zeitung der Sippe van Bergen, van Bargen. These have become particularly common in North America beginning in the 1990s.

The American family reunions often flourish during the second and third and even fourth generation of descendants, to die out gradually as the sense of connection with the first ancestor fades out. The large reunions, often based on a common ancestor of 100-250 years back, usually flourish so long as a few older historians and genealogists with much leisure and some money carry the load of organization and promotion.

Author(s) Marlene Epp
Date Published January 1989

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Epp, Marlene. "Family Reunions." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. January 1989. Web. 11 Apr 2021.

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Epp, Marlene. (January 1989). Family Reunions. Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 11 April 2021, from

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