Conference: Family Archives and their Afterlives, 1400-present

Arts Building
Tuesday 27 June (09:30) - Wednesday 28 June 2023 (16:30)

From the muniments rooms of country estates to boxes of papers under the bed: our homes are sites of intergenerational curation. We act as archivists, deciding which materials to keep, both for ourselves and future generations. This conference explores the family archive, in all its forms, from the medieval period to the present day.

In the early modern period, anxieties over the loss of precious family paperwork were widespread. The sixteenth-century yeoman Robert Furse implored his son to ‘keep sure your wrytynges’, and the resolution of many an eighteenth-century novel – including Charlotte Smith’s The Old Manor House (1793) and a whole host of gothic fiction – turned on the adequate preservation (or otherwise) of family papers and the secrets contained therein.

Documents were kept in special vessels (initialled chests, boxes tied up with a loved one’s hair), they were bequeathed in wills, and, as public repositories became more widespread, some collectors attempted to imitate the practices of institutional archives in their own homes – or fought to get their materials included in (or excluded from) these collections. Today, we have the capacity to store an almost infinite quantity of material online – but many of us continue to prize the physical artefact, and books and readymade albums that purport to help us create and store our family archives are widely available.

Though in recent years the ‘archival turn’ has led to a renewed interest in the collections compiled by states and institutions, we know rather less about the materials accumulated by families and households. In the absence of the apparent hallmarks of modern archival practice – catalogues, indexes, and, perhaps most pertinently, professional authentication of their historical value – family papers are rarely approached as ‘archives’ – but, when they are transferred into local and national record offices, these same collections go on to form a significant part of our archival heritage. This conference bring together academics, archivists, and family historians to explore the family archive, in all its forms, from the medieval to the modern period. 


Registration is open via the button at the top right of the page, with a deadline of Friday May 31st

Programme (provisional)

Tuesday 27th June 

9.30 – 10am - Registration 

10am – 11.30am – Session One


  • Anna Krakus (Copenhagen) - My Favorite Collector: Finding Poland in Aunt Ela’s Papers 
  • Cécile J. Esther Guigui (V) (QMUL) - Memory Making: Storing Family Albums from Colonial Algeria
  •  Chandan Mahal (QMUL) - Genealogy, materiality and memory in Punjabi family archives. 

Poetry and Music 

  • Shaniece Martin (Coventry) - Indian English Voices: Creating a Poetic & Photographic Archive
  • Antonia Parker Smith & Caroline Pardoe (Birmingham) - Spinster of this Parish
  • Melanie Unseld (Vienna) - The characteristics of musician families and their Archives 

11.30am – 12pm – Coffee Break 

12pm-1pm – Session Two 


  • Karin Wulf (V) (Brown) - Oceans of Kin: The Atlantic Paper Trail (17th/18thc)
  • Ellen Smith (Leicester/Birmingham) - Compiling Letters and Imperial Secret-Keeping: Managing Racial and Sexual Crisis in British India in the Twentieth Century 

Children and Photography 

  • Jane Hamlett (V) (Royal Holloway) - ‘This One’s of Me!’: Childhood Photography, Material Culture and Family Papers in South-East England in the 19th and 20thcs
  • Sevasti-Melissa Nolas (Goldsmiths) - Children’s photography contributions to family archives 

1pm – 2pm – Lunch 

2pm – 3.30pm – Session Three 

Historians and their collections 

  • Joe Sanders (York) - Family historians and our archives
  • Laura King (Leeds) - ‘Piecing together a scattered archive: reflecting on my family’s stuff, histories and stories’
  • Janet Few (V) (Independent) - Family Memorabilia and a Sense of Belonging: exploring our emotional ties to the family archive 

Country Houses and Counter History 

  • Lucy Brownson (Sheffield) - From an ‘unnamed servant’ to a life in colour: Collaboration as a tool for counter-histories of the country house
  • Megan Doole (Nottingham) - The family aspect of estate archives and its representation in the histories of individual country house estates
  • Margaret Fox (Traquair House) - William MacIver: estate factor, curator and linchpin of the family' 

3.30pm – 4.00pm - Break 

4.00pm – 5.30pm – Session 4 

Family Histories and Matriarchives

  • Jessica Malay (Huddersfield) - Anne Clifford’s Great Books of Record: The Family Archive and Historiographical Narrative
  • Kathryn Lamontagne (V) (Boston) - The Dis/comfort of the Familial Matriarchive in Practice: The Lived Catholicism of Sarah Pelletier (1884-1964)
  • John Cleary (Heriot-Watt) - Family papers of the Cummings of Altyre: curating the family and family history 

Finding Family 

  • Ilaria Scaglia (Aston) - Who is Family? The Case of the Archivio Privato Schiaparelli di Cerrione (BI)
  • Sara Manali (V) (Palermo) - Family portraits. The construction of the family memory of the Tasca d'Almerita Counts through a photographic archive
  • Sally Baker (Manchester Met) - Shoeboxes and Shopping Lists: A Working-Class Family Archive 

5.30pm – 6.45pm – Wine reception and nibbles 

Wednesday 28th June 

9am – 9.30am - Registration 

9.30am – 11.30am – Session One 

Books that Bind 

  • Cherish Watton (Cambridge) - Generational histories of aristocratic scrapbooking in the Esher family 1890-1940
  • Holly Riach (Leiden) - Curating Community: The Early Modern Miscellany as a Textual Archive
  • Ryna Sharp (V) (Monash) - Elite British Women’s Albums as Generational Family Archives: Recording and Preserving the Family Circle
  • Imogen Peck & CAL interns (Birmingham) - ‘In her own hand’: Sarah Cowper’s Family Books, 1692-1737 

 Objects and Emotions

  • Tamar Rozett (Haifa) - Emotional Baggage: How Objects Created Family Across the Nineteenth Century British Empire
  • Rose Miyonga (Warwick) - ‘We Kept Them to Remember’: Family Archives and the Emotional History of the Mau Mau War
  • Laura Beard (V) (Alberta) - Scottish Samplers as Family Archives 

11.30 – 12pm – Coffee Break 

12pm – 1.30pm 


  • Ann-Marie Foster (Northumbria) - Finding the Family in Administrative Archives 
  • Bridget Cox (Durham) - Depositing Family Deeds: The Cathedral as an Archival Repository in Late-Medieval Durham
  • Stefan Ramsden (Manchester) - Family Archives Online: ‘Our Heritage, Our Stories’ and the Postmemory of the Second WW

 Famous Figures 

  • Aurora Martinez (V) (Birmingham) - Thomas Hobbes and the Earls and Dukes of Devonshire
  • Victor Morgan (UEA) - The Nathaniel Bacon Archive (c.1560-1622): Dispersal, Reconstitution, Publication and the Distortions of Survival
  • Aidan Jones (V) (KCL) - The Coburg Legacy: Princess Beatrice and the Royal Archives 

1.30 – 2.30pm – Lunch

2.30pm – 4.30pm

Quaker Family Archives 

  • Anna Cusack (Essex/Oxford), Isabella Rosner (KCL), Julie Miller (Essex), and Lily Chadwick (Durham) 

Reckoning with Romanticization: Alternative Representations of Black, Indigenous, and Latinx Family Photographs 

  • Wanda Hernández (Maryland), Yvette Ramírez (Michigan), Sarah Scriven (Maryland), Melanie White (Georgetown) and Kristy Li Puma (University of Maryland)

Supported by the Leverhulme Trust and School of History and Cultures, University of Birmingham