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A Virtual Family Reunion

Updated: Dec 5, 2021

by Heather Goodman I15007347

There’s one in every family. Someone who is way more interested in collecting family memorabilia than anyone else. If you are that person, you have boxes of unsorted photos, old letters, obits, cards, emails, interviews… So you buy a decent filing cabinet, and continually try to organize it into folders. But it is a shambles, and you have to know that unless you can get this in some sort of order, few will ever look at any of it. What to do with all this information?

What saved me was starting a family email “Goodman Virtual Reunion.” It forced me to focus my research and gave me a purpose. This began on Nov 2, 2020, during our Covid-19 restrictions, and started with an email that began: “Since we are all confined to our barracks, and I am knee-deep in ancestry research, I thought this would be a great way for all of us to connect.” That email was sent to only 9 family members. By May of 2021, there were 30 recipients. It actually enlarged my family base and caused me to put together binders of information so that I can locate the photos or information on a particular topic without turning the house upside down. On the plus side, I think they are now organized enough that future generations might find accessible.

So if you are facing a long winter, without the possibility of travelling, consider starting your own Virtual Family Reunion. Take one topic at a time; send out a page or two, and whenever possible, include relevant photos. Sharing will inspire you to do more research. What I find, is that because I really didn’t know most of these people at all, I have to keep rechecking my facts. This in turn keeps me continually improving the organization of my binders. The key is, come up with a topic you are interested in and focus on that for one email.

Here is the content of my first five emails for my Virtual Family Reunion:

  1. Two letters mailed by Afi, Jon Goodman, to his father and sister in Iceland in 1913, and 1914, translated by my dad, Oscar Goodman

  2. Three family photos from 1965 of my dad and his two brothers

  3. The Icelandic Memoriam for Amma, written in Icelandic in 1935 plus an English translation

  4. A series of family wedding photos

  5. A letter written to my son at 8 years old, in response to a teacher asking her grade 3 students to find out what their grandfathers’ Christmases were like

Approaching the Family Reunion organization

How do you approach a large family without writing in circles? I found it worked when I focused on one specific family member at a time: the place of birth, immigration, marriage, residence, occupation, children, & grandchildren.

If the family member moved a few times, one email can focus on a particular location. Amma and her three sons lived in Gimli from 1917-1926 when she worked at Betel, a personal care home for seniors. In the emails about those years, I included these photos:

  1. Their house

  2. The school the boys attended

  3. A Mother’s Day card my dad made in 1921 when he was 12

  4. A letter from Stan written in 1979 reminiscing about his early years

  5. A painting of Betel as it was in 1910, depicted in the art on the pier in the harbour

I spent a great deal of time focusing on Amma’s three brothers and four sisters, most of whom I had never met. As the research expanded, I started to feel like I came to know a little about them; some of their hardships, and some of their achievements. Several young men from both the Goodman and the Swanson families served in the world wars, resulting in mothers raising children alone, and parents fearing they would never see their sons again.

There was continued evidence that they supported each other through thick and thin. Proof of that could be seen in a photograph taken in 1922 of 31 Swanson family members shown below. The event was in Gimli and one family travelled from Edmonton to be there. I concluded that it must have been the death of Bertie’s husband, Henri Henderson, that brought the siblings and their children together at their parents’ home. The beautiful thing about this photo was that it was labeled by Uncle Stan. Without the names, I would not have recognized more than three people. I colour coded each family in the picture and used it several times in my virtual reunion emails.

Big gatherings were common. In an interview of my dad in 1983, he recalled a day when they managed to fit 18 members of the Swanson and Henrickson families into their tiny four-room house in Gimli. It seems that the welcome mat was always out in the Swanson homes, even when they were new arrivals to Canada. “The Swansons, like other Icelandic pioneers, soon acquired their own home on Pacific Ave, and it became like so many others, a meeting place for friends and relatives – young and old.” ( Source: The obituary for Sigurbjorg Julius I521369, found on her profile page in Icelandic Roots and written by her good friend Margaret Stephenson.)

Create a Virtual Road Trip

This can consist of a series of photos and a map of where your family lived. You could write it as if you were guiding a bus tour. This project gets you out of the house to take photos. Don’t know where anyone lived? Look at a census, taken every 5 years, frequently available in the Icelandic Roots profiles. Also, check out the Henderson Directories, which list the names, locations, and occupations of household members. They were first published around 1880 in several provinces and are accessible online. If you live in or near Winnipeg, you can research them in person at the Local History Room on the 4th floor of the Millennium Library.

As of today, I have sent out 19 Virtual Family Reunion emails. My next topics are:

  1. The Jonsdottir Foster Sisters

  2. Keeping Secrets

  3. Great Great Afi Svein Sveinsson and His Three Sons

Adding all this information into the Icelandic Roots Database ensures that it will be preserved in a nonprofit, charitable organization with dedicated and talented genealogists. Just send IR your photos, stories, documents, etc. This is a free service for anyone. Make sure your family is included by filling out a free "Cousins Across the Ocean" form, too!

Where will you start?

Email us your questions or join the conversation on our Facebook Group.

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