Making a Memorable Reunion

Mary and Connie find their husbands in an early reunion photo

Did your family, like ours, have a reunion this summer? It’s not too soon to begin planning your next one—no matter when you want to schedule it.

About sixteen years ago, when my dad and his youngest sister Mary were the only siblings still alive out of the original seven, we began a tradition of getting together every other August. Our reunions not only allow family members of all ages to connect with each other in a deeper way, but we also feel more connected to previous generations.

Here are some of the fun ideas we’ve used to help draw us closer. Feel free to adapt them for your next family get-together.

~Genealogy Chart
 Cousin Jackie’s an expert genealogist who has unearthed fascinating stories about the family. She contributed a beautiful genealogy chart (above) showing ancestors from Thomas and Ethel Rawlins, the parents of the seven siblings mentioned above, all the way back to the 1700s. The chart is featured at every reunion.

~Family Trees
Some of us see each other only at reunions. We use Sister Patty’s family “Tree” to help us place people in the proper families and learn their names. Photos of Thomas and Ethel are at the base of the tree. Twigs on separate branches for each of their seven children feature pictures of the siblings’ children’s and grandchildren.

~Reunion Albums
Cousin Bill, a photographer, made a 2-by-3-foot blow-up of a photo from the first Rawlins  reunion. All the cousins, in their sixties and seventies now, were crowded together on the grass in a laughing group. Today’s children like to pick out their grandparents in the black-and-white photo.

(All three of the above ideas can be seen in the above photo.)

Today everyone has a digital camera, so we take lots of pictures. We keep an album chronicling each reunion. It’s fun to leaf through the pages, watching the changes as the children grow up and revisiting memories of loved ones no longer with us.

At one reunion, someone brought several plain t-shirts and some fine-point permanent markers. We signed our names on each shirt, as decorative or simple as we wished. Later, names were drawn to choose the shirts’ lucky recipients. Another time, everyone wore matching t-shirts screen printed with “Rawlins Reunion” across a silhouette of a tree.

~Video recordings
Video recordings of previous reunions are fun to watch and become increasingly precious as the years pass. One of the most enjoyable featured Aunt Mary, one of the seven siblings, sharing memories of her North Dakota childhood and the early years of the family in Washington.

Everyone, young to old, has fun at the Rawlins Reunion

Different volunteers at each reunion supervise games for kids and grownups. Home-grown fun is best…like this wrap-the-mummy contest, using toilet paper and cooperative volunteers like Delaney.

~Picture Match
This year we had a contest to see who could match the most graduation photos with the present-day versions of the same people. Most kids were able to pick out their own parents and grandparents, and everyone had fun seeing how we’ve changed.

Listening to William’s story

~Tell Me a Story
When our great-great-great grandfather Thomas Main Redfield, a blacksmith, was alive, he wrote long poems telling stories of his family and his travels. William Shaw, his many-times-removed great grandson, turned one of those poems about two children being rescued from a runaway horse and carriage into a dramatic reading. His sister Clarissa Austin expanded another family story about Grandmother Ethel and a prairie fire into a narrative that had us all wondering what would happen next.

Young family members were given a list of questions to use in interviewing older members. Then each interviewer introduced his or her partner and shared the fun and surprising facts they’d uncovered.


Eugene and Vicki look over the timeline

In a timeline game, Cousin Vickie handed out strips of paper: yellow for Grandfather Thomas’s side of the family, green for Grandmother Ethel’s, and blue for their descendants. Names and dates were printed on each strip. All those with a strip of paper gathered at the front where we could all see them, and at a signal, they hurried to arrange themselves by color and date. Then each person put his or her family member(s) in the proper place on a vertical timeline. By this time names were becoming familiar and the timeline helped us see the continuity of the generations.


Everyone knows “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star”

We brought one of our most enjoyable family reunions to a close with an old-fashioned sing-along. We’d planned to use old-time favorites such as “Bicycle Built for Two” and “Cruisin’ Down the River on a Sunday Afternoon. We found that not even the oldsters knew all the words, so next time we’ll make song booklets so everybody can join in. Meanwhile, we improvised with a mixture of children’s tunes and campfire songs.

James Mason Rawlings: Loyalist or Traitor?

(This is Part 3 of a 3-part story. For the rest of the story, read the blogposts for Aug. 28 and 30.)

    With the discovery of their plot against the Revolution’s local leaders, the conspirators, including James Rawlings, fled. He must have kept in contact with his family, because about a month later a man named Abram Jones heard that “a certain James Rawlings was one of the heads amongst the Tories and that he was expected to pass by the settlement of Mattamuskeet, or to call there about the next day.”

  Lake Mattamuskeet is in Hyde County, on the coast of North Carolina. At that time, it was open to the sea, although now it is a self-contained lake. Jones kept watch for Rawlings. When he spied a small sail off in the sound, he took four men with him and set off after the boat. He found Rawlings and his family in the boat, heading out to sea where they hoped to meet up with an English vessel. One of the children, George, was only three or four years of age. Jones captured Rawlings and carried him before a magistrate, who took the deposition quoted earlier.

    In a follow-up letter from James Rawlings to the “Worshipful Justices of New Bern,” he gave more details about his co-conspirator Lewellen’s schemes. He also said, “Knowing the great influence Capt. Lewelling has over that neighborhood (I) have great reason to fear he will make attempts to invalidate my testimony.” Rawlings stated that he’d refused to kill anyone and “that I, being a poor man, have reason to fear his (Lewelling’s) power and influence over others to my hurt, as all the friends or power I have is to declare the Truth and Humbly Crave pardon for having had any hand in said plot or Scheme, testifying whatever shall come to my Memory I will make known about the matter.”

    Evidently he had reason to fear Lewelling’s influence. He was jailed…for a while. The next mention of him is a wanted notice from Craven County, North Carolina. It appeared October 24, 1777, in the Virginia Gazette, an early newspaper in Colonial Virginia, along with wanted notices for two other men.

The notice reads as follows:

 James Mason Rawlings for high treason, he is a noted villain, and one of the principals in the late conspiracy against the state, has lived for 2 years past in Martin County, and is a very famous in the art of Legerdemaen, about 40 years of age, of a very black complexion and had a cut on one of his cheeks, given under seal 9 Sep. 1777.

    A reward of ten pounds was offered for Rawlings, 5 pounds for each of the other two.

    The notice indicates that James Rawlings had escaped his confinement and that he was considered important enough to appear in a Virginia newspaper. At the time of the notice James had lived in Martin County for about two years, 1776 and 1777. He had a dark complexion and a scar (or maybe a wound?) on one of his cheeks. The word legerdemain means sleight-of-hand trickery of any sort. This implies that he was very clever and hard to catch.

Rawlins descendants learning about their history, August 2011

    One researcher discovered that between September 11, 1777 and November, 1777, Rawlings had signed up to sail from New Bern with Captain William Pile but did not report. Pile testified on November 22 that a Colonel White from Georgia had promised Rawlings a better situation and the last Pile had heard, Rawlings was “on the way to South Carolina in the company of Colonel White’s wagons.”

    Whatever happened, James Mason Rawlings dropped from sight. One branch of family tradition holds that he was recaptured and executed. Other family members believed he escaped to England, where he lived out his life.

    After James Mason Rawlings disappeared, Priscilla and their children remained on the North Carolina frontier. His brothers and his own family dropped the “g” from Rawlings, perhaps to avoid being associated with his disgrace. In 1782, Priscilla Rawlins and her daughter Nancy are shown on the membership role for Sandy Run Baptist Church in Rutherford County, North Carolina.   

    Records of the early Mormon Church show that their grandson James, an early Mormon convert, had a baptism-for-the-dead ceremony done for James Mason and Priscilla. Since this James was aware that his grandfather was dead, he must have had some knowledge of his death and therefore, the tradition of James Mason Rawlings deserting his family and never being heard from again doesn’t seem to ring true.

    The family must have loved and had fond memories of their grandfather, since many of his descendants carried his name. One of his children, Charles, became our direct ancestor. His descendants followed the frontier westward, preaching, farming, blacksmithing, teaching, and helping to build America.

    More about some of them later!