The broccoli was a hit. The genealogy was more of a mixed bag, so I'll go over what worked and what didn't, what I expected and what I was surprised by.
My mom is one of 20-something first cousins on this side of the family, and I simply can never keep the current generations straight. They look too much alike and all have the same names.* Their kids don't always come to family events. However, I am the recognized expert on generations past. So I got two big sheets of butcher paper, and on one, starting with my grandmother's generation, drew a family tree that went back from her siblings to her parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents. Then I took the other piece of paper and taped it below the first one. I hung this on the wall and brought markers so that attendees could write in themselves and their own families. People were really excited by both the historical family tree and the ability to participate in bringing it to the present day.
What would I do differently? I would have announced the existence of the tree and requested help filling in the younger generations over the microphone so everyone knew it was there. As it is, one entire branch of the family left without filling themselves in, and they may not have noticed the tree even existed.
I printed out all of the records I have for this side of the family, put them in sheet protectors in a binder, and left it hanging out for people to peruse at their leisure. It actually got more interest than I anticipated!
What would I do differently? If I had all the time and money in the world, I would have included translations from the Italian, or at least abstracts of what the records showed. And if I was making announcements anyway, I would have mentioned the binder was there, but I was pretty impressed with how much interest was shown anyway!
I brought a wand scanner and put out a note weeks earlier on the event's Facebook page that I would scan any photos or documents anyone wanted to bring, but no one did. I wasn't really expecting them to, but figured I'd be prepared, just in case.
What would I do differently? Nothing really. I didn't want to push, just provide a nudge in case anyone would have thought to bring old records if they knew someone was interested!
I bought a photo album and a number of note cards, which I passed out with the instructions to record one family memory and return it so we could compile them all into an album of family memories. I had grand dreams of finding out lots of things I never knew about my great-grandparents. I spent a week of my train commute writing "I Remember . . ." on 200 index cards. I got 12 back. We did not have nearly the buy-in I was hoping for. When I mentioned the project to the party's organizer, she thought it would be more fun to have people stand up and say their memories into the microphone. I couldn't tell if this was better or worse - there was more pressure to participate, so there was more participation, but I think people were attributing that pressure to me, which is exactly what I didn't want. I just handed you a note card and walked away! It was a lot of fun to hear everyone's memories, but most of them didn't get recorded. And when everyone was done sharing memories, they started cleaning up and went home. It seemed to serve as sort of an ending, and I'm not sure the party would have wrapped up so soon if we hadn't done it.
What would I do differently? I have this stirring narrative in my head that inspires everyone to diligently record all of their memories. But I don't like to get up and speak in front of people, so I don't know if I'd ever say it, much less whether it would be effective. Drawing paralells between the stories that have been told of my great-grandparents and the generations tha came before them, I would do something like this:
[Pointing to family tree hanging on the wall] "There are lots of names on that family tree that are new to us all. Vitomichele Scigliuto. Giacoma Rutigliano. And it's cool that I was able to find out their names, that I can research when they were born and when they died. But what I can't find out, because these things don't get recorded, is whether he loved music. Whether she would cover every surface in the house with homemade macaroni. Whether they had a dog named Beauty. If their grandkids played Bingo with orange peels when they visited. These are the details - the important details - about our family that will be lost to history unless we make an effort to preserve them. Otherwise, in a generation or two, our parents and grandparents and great-grandparents will be nothing more than names on a piece of paper. And so I encourage all of you to write down at least one memory so that it can be preserved for posterity."
Also, I would have recorded the memories that people chose to share out loud.
* Fun fact, that I realized when watching My Big Fat Greek Wedding, as the father introduces his family, all of whom are names Diane and Nick: Every single one of my mother's female maternal cousins has a name that includes or is a variation of the names Anne and Mary. Examples: Rosemarie, Annie, Anne, Mary Ann, Ann-marie, Joanne, Annette, Mary, Marie, Ann