We Are What We Keep: The “Family Archive”, Identity and Public/Private Heritage

Anna Woodham, Laura King, Elizabeth Gloyn, Vicky Crewe, Fiona Blair

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


What do our possessions say about us? More specifically what do they say about our past, present and our future? Many families possess a “family archive”; documents, photographs, heirlooms, scrapbooks, recipes and a whole range of other items that “reveal insights” into past generations, and preserve family stories. They may never have thought of these assemblages as “archives”, but by retaining and preserving possessions these items mold a sense of family identity either consciously or unconsciously. This article explores the initial findings of a series of focus groups conducted in the UK, which considers the “family archive” as an important and undervalued site of meaning and identity construction. The article also highlights the relationship between the “official” or publicly recognized heritage and “unofficial” or everyday/private heritage, locating the “family archive” across these domains. We argue for greater recognition and promotion of this “behind the scenes” heritage and for museums and archives to explore the potential opportunities that the engagement with the “family archive” offers for wider audience engagement.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)203-220
Number of pages18
JournalHeritage & Society
Issue number3
Early online date4 Mar 2019
Publication statusPublished - 3 Apr 2019

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