You can’t choose your family, as the saying goes. But you can choose your family reunion.

And plenty of families are: From long weekends in centrally located cities to elaborate weeklong vacations at the beach, the family reunion has become big business, spawning books and Web sites and professional planners who help families organize their special events.

“I am utterly amazed at how many families really go all out,” said Edith Wagner, editor of Reunions Magazine and the author of “The Family Reunion Sourcebook.” “For a lot of families, the reunion is the vacation.”

Theme parks and cruises are popular for multigenerational family gatherings, as are trips to ancestral homelands, including Ireland, Italy and Africa.

More than a third of U.S. adults – nearly 72 million Americans – traveled to a family reunion in the past three years, according to a recent survey by the Travel Industry Association.

Despite the trend toward exotic locales, the most popular reunion location is still a centrally situated hometown of one (or more) family member.

The downside of having the reunion close by? The closest relatives frequently are recruited to plan the whole thing.

Shari Chavis of South Euclid, Ohio, inherited the role of reunion organizer a year and a half ago in Prattville, Ala., at her family’s biannual family gathering. This summer, it will be held in Cleveland, and she has been busy planning the three-day event for more than a year.

More than 300 family members, from across the country, will gather in mid-July at the Homewood Suites in Solon, Ohio, for food, fun and – most of all – family. “My aunt volunteered me,” said Chavis. “So I put her to work.”

Top on her list of advice for other reunion planners: Start early and delegate.

With input from veteran reunion organizers, both professional and amateur, here are suggestions for planning the perfect family reunion.

– Start planning yesterday. Travel agent Linda Herron, owner of Tempo Travel in Parma, Ohio, recommends starting nine months to one year ahead, which gives family members time to coordinate schedules and make reservations.

The bigger the reunion, the earlier you’ll need to start. Picnic pavilions in the Cleveland Metroparks, for example, can be reserved a year ahead of time, and many of them are.

– Create a committee. You can’t do this alone – and even if you can, you shouldn’t, because you’ll end up resentful and unhappy when the time comes to enjoy your hard work. When Chavis agreed to plan her family’s reunion, she recruited not only her aunt, Deborah Ledyard, who volunteered her but all her aunts and cousins in Greater Cleveland to help.

Involve several generations to provide different perspectives on everything from where to hold the reunion to what kind of music to play at the main event.

– Once you’ve chosen the date, stick with it. No matter what date you choose, someone will be unable to attend, said Wagner. And that’s probably the first person you’ll hear from after the invitations go out. Hold your ground, or you’ll feel obligated to adjust the date for everyone who wants to come but can’t.

Many reunions are tagged to a milestone, Wagner said. If you don’t have a date in mind, consider July 4, she said. “It’s the biggest reunion day of the year.”

– Settle on a location. After agreeing on a date, tackle the second most difficult decision: where the reunion will be held. Some families go to the same location year after year: a beach resort, a lake house.

Family budgets probably will play an important role in the location decision. A cruise may be out of reach for many families, but keep in mind the price is all-inclusive, said Wagner.

– Decide whom to invite. Will it be a small group (grandparents, their children and grandchildren) or “everybody who descended from great-grandparents born in 1848?” asks Wagner. The larger the group, the more time you’ll need to locate far-flung relatives.

Once you decide the parameters of the group, you have to include everyone who falls in the circle, said Wagner, “even uncle so-and-so,” whom nobody really wants to come. “Chances are he doesn’t want to come either,” said Wagner. Invite him anyway, so your conscience is clear.

– Communication is key. Send out a questionnaire, before you set a date and choose a site, asking for people’s input: How much time can they spare? How far are they willing to go? What time of year is best?

While you’re making plans, keep family members informed by setting up a family reunion Web site, where attendees can RSVP, link to hotels and (hopefully) offer to volunteer. Family members may be more likely to commit when they see who else is attending, said Wagner.

– Contact the tourism bureau in the community you’ll be visiting. Employees there are paid to help you.

– Settle on a budget. This will vary greatly, depending on the type of reunion and the economic means of your extended family. Frequently, families will hold fundraisers to reduce the cost of the event for all attendees.

Clevelander Katherine Evans, who is hosting her father’s family reunion over Labor Day weekend, is planning a silent auction, with items donated by guests, to offset the cost of the event. Up for bid: three photo quilts made with heirloom family photos.

– Plan activities for everyone, especially the kids. Yes, having a swimming pool at the hotel is important, said Wagner, but it’s not enough to keep kids engaged for three days.

The most common reason reunions eventually fizzle, said Wagner, is because there isn’t enough to keep the younger generations interested. “For some people, sitting on a folding chair under a tree and talking to their cousins is a great thing,” said Wagner. Others need more.

Wagner, a frequent speaker at reunion-planning seminars, promotes a mixture of down time for relaxed visiting coupled with more structured events, like banquets and tours. Optional activities – like golf, museum outings and sporting events – should be planned with a variety of ages and interests in mind.

– Finally, don’t forget the family. It may seem obvious, but sometimes you need to be reminded about the real reason you’ve spent so much time and money to get together.

On the first night of their reunion, Evans’ group plays Human Bingo, a twist on the well-known game in which family trivia takes the place of numbers on the board (“someone who was born in Tennessee,” “someone who is an only child”).

Assign family members to record oral histories, put together a memory book and take photos. Kids can get involved by re-enacting events in the family’s history.

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.