Ancestral Family Reunions
This photo of members of the Dixon family on the Basin Reserve in Wellington was taken during their family reunion. First, they did a great deal of research. The more in-depth the research the better, as it offers a way of connecting emotionally with people in history and of deepening your understanding of why history is important. It's a case of
Seeing the world in a grain of sand
Your forebear ran a brewery? Where? Was it an early one? Was beer popular? Did all classes drink it? Were there many pubs in the area? Were the hops and barley grown locally or imported? Where from? Was the whole family involved? Did they use oats if barley ran short? Were there any health and safety regulations governing the production of beer then? Would we like the beer if we drank it today?
Through family reunions, participants can discover a sense of continuity, not only with forebears in their direct line of descent, but also with the times their people lived in. There's a geographical component too: participants often make connections with co-descendents right across the world.
The research preceding a family reunion has to be painstaking. It's time-consuming and will probably extend over several countries. The more family members involved, the better!
Judy (Joseph and Mary Dixon, London 1842) : It gave me a real buzz to walk into that crowd of people I was related to. It was a sense of belonging to hundreds of people. My husband said, ‘You can tell the ones who are Dixons because they are all short!’ In a way it united us, that there was something about us that was similar.
The Dixon FamilyTwo Dixon brothers and their families came out on the London in 1842. Joseph and Charles Dixon were followed by five other siblings who arrived on later ships.
By 1992 the Dixon family tree numbered 6,000, dead or alive. At last count (March 2010) it was over 10,000 strong.
The 1992 reunion to celebrate 150 years of Dixons in New Zealand was attended by 442 people. The eldest was 98, the youngest a month old.
Lynley : (George and Grace Dixon, Oriental 1857): I do too actually. Tinakori Road - I think of that as my road, because my lot lived up next to Millwood Gallery and up Mary Street and in other areas of Wellington too. I feel that it's our city. Another thing that mattered to me was seeing so many of our Dixon family from Christchurch, where I used to live. We were very close with our relatives down there, we used to have cousins’ days and get-togethers and it was wonderful just seeing all my lot together at the family reunion. Many of them were a generation back, and they remembered many of the other people at the reunion. They knew a lot about the family.
Judy: Whereas my father and his brothers’ experience was very different. They hadn't had contact with their Dixon relations very much at all, but through the reunion they discovered that an awful lot of people they had been to school with and had known in Masterton were actually related to them.
Lynley: And we connected with another line of the family through my daughter’s partner when we discovered he was descended from Edward Dixon (Royal Albert 1853). It was a family we hadn’t been able to find, we didn’t know anything about them really, so that was a lucky chance.
Judy: The reunion was the culmination of doing all that research and being able to share it with everybody.
Using their knowledge of Dixon family history, members organised a program of relevant activities over a weekend.
- Talks on the Dixons in Wellington, conditions in early Sheffield and using the Turnbull Library,
- Launch of book about the Dixons in New Zealand
- Cricket Match commemorating strong Dixon involvement in the game, dating from Edward Dixon whose obituary claimed there was ‘no more enthusiastic cricketer in Wellington’. At the 1992 match, members donated the Pearce Senior Cup to the Cricket Museum at the Wellington Basin Reserve. The Dixon family had competed for this cup over many decades in their annual matches.
- Historical Bus Tour pointing out Dixon sites of interest around Wellington including Edward Dixon’s cordial factory, George Dixon’s Karori Hotel, Joe Dixon’s bakery and Joseph Dixon’s Te Aro Brewery
- Visit to Petone Settlers Museum
- Visit to the Wairarapa where one of the Dixon lines settled and prospered
- Seaboard lunch
- Anniversary Banquet
- Choir-singing at multi-denominational church service
- Text of the talk on 'Dixon Founding Families' by Suzie Boggs. Sets the family in their early Wellington context
- Text for the historical bus tour, written by Judy and John Goodwin, with reproductions of drawings, photos, adverts for Dixon products and a map showing the Cuba Street Dixon establishments of earlier times
- The Dixon Family in New Zealand, compiled by Lois Burleigh, 144 pages, distributed to relevant libraries and family members
- Enduring friendships
Secrets of Success
Through their membership of the Genealogical Society two members of the Dixon family who were researching their family history got in touch with one another and collaborated on the research. One of them put a notice in The Genealogist asking descendants to contact her, and discovered another family member who had done a great deal of research. A fourth family member joined the endeavour and gradually the number of contacts grew. A researcher in Sheffield, where the Dixons originally came from, took up the cause. Interest in the research was so great that ‘it seemed the next step was to have a family reunion’. A letter was sent to canvas support for the idea and the response was so enthusiastic that members decided to go ‘full steam ahead’.
A newsletter was started, (about 2 ½ years before the reunion finally took place) and donations were requested in the first issue. The generous response enabled the newsletters to become a regular occurrence, keeping members in touch with progress.
A committee of 13 was formed. The meetings began as 4-monthly events but increased in frequency as D-day drew near. ‘Everyone on the committee was really enthusiastic and wanted it to be a success… We made every meeting a ball. Even putting together the registration packs, we laughed and joked and had a brilliant time. The visits to the cemetery were hilarious, we felt almost privileged to be doing the job.’
Division of Labour
Jobs were divided up amongst the committee. In addition to the usual work of chair, secretary and treasurer, other work included: research, newsletter, notes for the bus tour, Family Group sheets, wall charts, registrations, organising the cricket match and bus tour, assisting with the cricket match and refreshments, organising the trip to the Wairarapa, backdrops and large banner, displays, catering, hall co-ordinator, registration and information packs, reunion book, church service and choir. Rosettes with name tags: each family had a different colour to indicate which descent line they came from. An Auckland member who was not on the committee prepared the talk on Founding Families.
Master of Ceremonies, photographer, someone for the flowers, cricket umpires and helping with the children. Some non-descendant genealogists worked full-time on the registration desk, handing out souvenir pens and coasters, taking book orders. ‘They were essential in allowing the committee members to enjoy themselves… We were still busy but we didn’t have to worry about anything.’
Honour your Admin
The committee paid careful attention to administration. Members designed a registration form that included the attendee’s descent line. All the information from the forms was computerized, yielding continual updates of numbers planning to come and which activities they wanted to attend, etc. It also gave information on the different age groups, number of children attending and their ages. ‘That form worked brilliantly’.
The financial costs were also carefully assessed and monitored. The reunion covered all its costs with some funds remaining.
A picket fencepost was recently donated to the Basin Reserve (in honour of the Dixon's cricket association) out of the proceeds.