Gather 'round

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The annual meeting of the Monticello Association, an organization comprised of lineal descendants of Thomas Jefferson, may not be an accurate portrayal of the conventional American family reunion, but it's certainly one of the best known. The first night of the annual weekend-long event held in Charlottesville, Virginia in May consists of a reception at Monticello followed by an informal supper at the nearby Michie Tavern. The following morning, family members and guests attend a brief memorial service at the family graveyard, have breakfast, and then hold meetings.

At every meeting, the association is required by its constitution — yes, they have a constitution — to host a business meeting at which elected officers (historian, secretary, treasurer, et al.) present annual reports and members debate relevant issues. This year they're likely to discuss the validity of studies that say that Jefferson indeed fathered at least one, if not all, of Sally Hemmings' children. (Hemmings is the slave with whom it is commonly believed Jefferson had an affair.) “I think you could term it as a legitimate family reunion,� says James J. Truscott, president of the Monticello Association. “It's just not typical.�

What then is the “typical� family reunion? The editors of American Demographics decided to find out. According to this month's exclusive survey conducted by market research firm Bruskin Research, 62 percent of Americans will be attending a family reunion this year. Whether or not an individual will attend such a gathering, however, depends a lot on how far they live from their family. As expected, the farther someone lives from the family centroid, the less likely they are to attend a family get-together. Sixty-five percent of Americans who live across town (less than 50 miles) from a majority of their extended family, and 62 percent of those who live between 50 and 300 miles away, will attend a reunion this year. Only 56 percent of Americans who live more than 300 miles from their family will show up at this year's jamboree. Even at the Jefferson family get-togethers, a majority of attendees live within a few hundred miles of Charlottesville, according to Truscott.

And while location is important in determining an individual's odds of attending a family reunion, their attitude toward such events is more telling. Three in four Americans (75 percent) who enjoy family reunions, and half (50 percent) of those who are indifferent to the idea, say they'll make it to a get-together by year's end. Only 28 percent of those who dislike reunions will make an appearance at their family gathering this year.

Overall, 62 percent of all Americans enjoy family reunions, but those aged 65 and older have the greatest jones for the events — 70 percent view reunions as a much-anticipated event. At the other end of the spectrum, 21 percent of youngsters (those aged 18 to 24) dislike reunions and would rather not attend — nearly twice the national average of 11 percent. Southerners are also unreceptive to family gatherings: 14 percent of denizens of that region of the country would rather abstain from such events.

Of those who end up at a family reunion this year, 32 percent will find themselves at a recreational park, the single most common destination for such a gathering. Other hot spots include a banquet hall or restaurant (22 percent), a resort or scenic area (18 percent), and a destination city like New York City or Washington, D.C. (14 percent) that the family would like to visit together.

Survey respondents confirmed suspicions that a majority of families will bond at this year's reunions over some down-home cookin'. Eighty percent of all reuniters will cook or barbecue. The food is most plentiful out West where 88 percent of residents will cook when they get together. After stuffing themselves on hotdogs and hamburgers, many families (42 percent) will break out the pigskin, softball, or even the potato sack for some sort of familial athletic competition.

Of course what gathering would be complete without a few dozen photos to chronicle the event? Sixty-one percent of those who will attend a family reunion this year admit they are likely to shoot at least one roll of film (24 photographs). Women and Westerners are the most likely to ask us to “smile;� 67 percent and 70 percent, respectively, will take at least 24 photos. Those snapshots may make nice blackmail material someday — especially if you're one of the 17 percent of Americans who, along with the rest of their family, wear some article of clothing to distinguish your clan from others. Sometimes, it's just better to be the black sheep — even if you are a Jefferson.

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