Reunited: Connecting with Your Family 2020 Style

By FPL_Sheri 

Yes, I may be longing to break into the Peaches & Herb hit song and reminiscing about large family gatherings. It is that time of year: Family History Month, Genealogy Expo time, and Thanksgiving.

While traditional gatherings are so out this year, this is the perfect time for us to get with the 21st century and find ways to connect. I mean if you were ready to brave days on end cramped in a car in bumper to bumper traffic or face sleeping in airport chairs while waiting for connecting flights or standing in bus lobbies for hours on end, why not make a plan to get your less tech savvy connections connected?

Before you think “Hey! That is too much work!” check out how local resident Wendy Wise found a way to get a family organization together. When you are done, visit to ask a genealogy question.

By Wendy Wise

Greetings!  My name is Wendy Wise, and I am the President of the Cloud Family Association.  We are all descendants of William Cloud and his five sons who purchased land in Pennsylvania from William Penn, and emigrated from England in 1681.  Over the 340 years since then, the descendants of William Cloud have spread coast to coast.  We have a Gathering every other year to reconnect.

I’d like to share with you our Gathering this year.  We were scheduled to meet in Nashville in April, and had a lot of activities lined up, as well as two incredible speakers.  You know what happened with that!

So – since our by-laws require the Gathering and election of officers every two years, we felt like we couldn’t just cancel altogether, but what to do?  That’s what I’m excited to share with you – what we did!

Last weekend we had our Virtual Cloud Family Gathering.  That’s right – Zoom!  It worked better than I’d anticipated but had a few drawbacks.  For one thing, fewer people attended than had registered for the in-person meeting (most of us are older adults so computers can be intimidating).  Another obvious drawback was that folks couldn’t have individual visits with, say, a 4th cousin from California – we were all on together.  Our attendance was about 35 for most of the time. 

The good thing about lower attendance was that we could all see everyone else on one screen.  We didn’t try to teach everyone about all the different buttons – just mute and video. That meant that the speaker could see everyone while he was talking, and if there was a question the speaker could see the raised hand.  Also, we set a log-on time one hour before the scheduled meeting so that early comers could visit.  That worked well.  Zoom displays a person’s name (or log in name) on their picture, so we had a name for newcomers.  Most helpful!

A few suggestions for trying this type of meeting: 

  • On Zoom, when setting up the meeting, choose the option that lets people join without having to be admitted by the host.
  • Have two people running the meeting, the host and another who can handle problems, share the screen for handouts, etc. and take over as host if needed.
  • Practice ahead of time! The two of us practiced using breakout rooms (if the group had been larger, we were prepared to do this), practiced screen sharing, and practiced changing host back and forth.  We also watched a lot of Zoom training videos.
  • Invite those who don’t know how to “do” Zoom to call the host a day or two ahead of the meeting so that host (or designated person) can help them get comfortable with the process. This made a big difference for several of our members.

Once the meeting or conference starts, just relax and enjoy!  I told our group at the beginning that this was a new experience for all of us, and we should expect glitches and just laugh about them.  I hope this encourages you to try this new way of gathering!