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Virtual Family Gathering

Creating a Family Website

Set up a simple Web site or social-networking group to help you and your relatives stay connected.

Last April, I was late to acknowledge my beautiful niece, Sarah's, 19th birthday. Well, OK, I'll come clean: I didn't remember it until a few days later. Now before you "tsk, tsk" me, remember that at the time, I was moving my parents out of their home of 28 years and into assisted living.

For all of us, though, life is just too busy, isn't it? Whether families are scattered across the globe or living in the same neighborhood, it gets tough keeping up with each other. Even the annual events, birthdays and anniversaries, sometimes fall by the wayside. But the good news is that you never have to miss another birthday or family event, thanks to the miracle of technology. If technology is one of the reasons we're all so busy, let's turn that around and use it to our advantage!

Computers to the Rescue

You can use your computer for online communication via social-networking sites or by creating your own family Web site. The trick is to create a site that doesn't feel like just another task in your already busy schedule. You have to make the site work for you. Here are some of the ways you can use a site to help you stay abreast of family activities:

Use it to plan events, from holiday celebrations to family reunions or anniversary celebrations.

Create a shared calendar and get e-mail reminders for birthdays, anniversaries, or other important events in your family life.

Keep an easy-to-update address list for all family members.

Post short family stories about the championship your son's sports team may have just won, your sudden empty nest on the day your daughter leaves for college, or your grandchild's first day of kindergarten. You may not have time to make a phone call about these things, but taking five minutes to share the story on the family site is manageable—and everyone gets the story at once.

Carry on discussions or live chats about fun or serious topics.

Share photos and store them all in one place that everyone can access.

Make a repository for family history by creating an online family tree, sharing family recipes, or telling stories about ancestors who shaped your family's heritage.

Social-Networking Sites

Families are using social-networking sites, such as Facebook or Yahoo! Groups, to create private "groups," which invite family members to join and enable them to easily communicate via online posts or discussions. Rolanda Pyle of New York is part of a Facebook group that currently includes 38 members of her extended family. The family group is named after her great-great grandmother." Group members post announcements about all sorts of things, including family get-togethers, information about their own businesses, deaths in the family, and memorial services. In fact, they're now planning an 18th birthday trip to the Dominican Republic for Pyle's niece. Pyle says the site is effective for quickly getting a message out to her large family all at once, without having to make numerous phone calls.

Suzie Schottlekotte of Bartow, Fla., agrees. She and her husband set up a Yahoo Groups e-mail list for her extended family, and it has been essential for her. "When my son was in critical condition after a terrible car accident a few years ago," she said, "I was able to send out one e-mail through that group and have hundreds of relatives and their churches praying for him. Knowing my relatives were out there thinking of us was a huge help." 

On social-networking sites, families can set up and plan events, share photos, post their current activities, and engage in online discussions. The drawback is that the group is only accessible to family members who have set up profiles on the site of choice. If some family members do not want to register with the site the others chose, they will not be able to see the group's posted information.

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