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Submit your favourite family photo to win a spot in a National Portrait Gallery exhibition!

Ancestry has teamed up with the National Portrait Gallery to create The Nation’s Family Album – an online album of undiscovered portraits of everyday British people. You are all encouraged no matter your age, background or culture to scour your walls and delve through bookshelves and photo albums for a chance to be a part of this very special tribute to British culture and identity. The competition closes on 30th June so get searching now!

We had the pleasure of speaking with two of the exhibition’s expert panel  – family history specialist Simon Pearce from Ancestry and prolific photographer Millie Pilkington – to find out what they are looking for when choosing the best family photo submissions and why.

Simon Pearce

How did the idea for the competition come about?

Photos and images are such an important part of family history research, so working with the National Portrait Gallery, we wanted to highlight how pictures can help people bring their family history to life.

The Nation’s Family Album competition highlights the power of family stories and art, two things at the heart of what Ancestry and the National Portrait Gallery strive to celebrate, respectively.

Why do you think people should get involved?

The competition is a great opportunity for people across the UK to celebrate their family stories and possibly see their own family portraits displayed alongside some of the National Portrait Gallery’s most prestigious works when the gallery re-opens in 2023. It really is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.


What do you think is most exciting about it?

It’s fascinating to see how the art of the family photo has changed throughout history, and in particular how social media has made taking instant photos has become much more accessible. I can’t wait to see the variety of images submitted.

What do you think is an important outcome of this?

We hope this initiative will remind people of the importance of preserving our family history through photographs as they are a key way to connect us with our ancestors and by preserving the family photos we take today, we will be able to provide the same for generations into the future.

Photos of our family – past and present – bring to life this history in a powerful way, whether that’s through a pang of nostalgia from looking at an old family holiday photo, or a moment of connection when we ‘see ourselves’ in a picture of an ancestor from generations ago.

Do you think ancestry is an important part of modern identity and why?

Knowing more about your family history is such an important part of modern identity, as it can reinforce your existing sense of self-identity and uniqueness, whether that’s by identifying with traits that you may have inherited from your ancestors, or providing a sense of grounding through knowing your roots. Additionally, discovering more about your family history can help foster belonging and connection to something bigger than you – your family.

Millie Pilkington

How long have you been a professional photographer?

For over 20 years now. I started when I was pregnant with my first daughter Daisy and wanted to start something that I could do alongside parenting my children.

Have you always photographed people?

Predominantly yes – Im a real people’s person – I love meeting people from all walks of life, hearing their story and then trying to capture their essence – though the connection I make with them.   That said, I’m often found photographing dogs, horses, farm animals as well as landscape, gardens, interiors, product and sculpture photography.

Do you have a photograph which you are most proud of?

Perhaps one of the portraits I’ve taken for Country Life Magazine, such as Dame Judi Dench laughing in her doorway. On a personal level, possibly the portrait I took of my daughters Daisy, Grace & Flora in 2012 (then aged about 10, 8 & 6) sitting under old fashioned hair dryers, pretending to be grannies having their hair curled, with cups of tea, magazines and general chit chat.   It’s in the hall at home and makes me smile every time I pass it.

Any childhood photos that stick in your mind?

Yes, one with me aged about 2 or 3, standing on the kitchen table looking very perplexed at Cocoa, our family Shetland and my 3 older siblings all laughing at my reaction!   If I wasn’t a judge, I would love to have submitted this photograph into the Nations Family Album competition.   Aside from being a very funny candid family portrait, I love how the clothes, hair, even the kitchen cupboards in the background all denote the 1970s era.   It’s immortalises a moment in time and takes me right back to my childhood.

How did you first get involved in the Nation’s Family Album exhibition?

Ancestry reached out to me to ask if I would be a part of the judging panel for the competition and I was immediately drawn to the project. It’s an amazing way for everyone, no matter their background, age or culture to be in with the chance to have their family photos displayed at the iconic National Portrait Gallery next year, which is incredible!

 What do you think is most special about it?

As a photographer, this is an inspiring and poignant project for me. The Nation’s Family Album captures the power of both family stories, photography and art, all things at the heart of what Ancestry, the National Portrait Gallery and I strive to celebrate.

 What are you looking forward to seeing?

I’m really looking forward to exploring all of the submissions this summer. The themes for the project are Belonging, Legacy, Connection and Identity – all of which are up for personal interpretation. For me in, it’s going to be fascinating to look through and shortlist photos that really capture the spirit or magic of a particular moment in time.

It’s really a once in a lifetime opportunity and a chance to celebrate your family’s history in a truly unique way.  Don’t wait to submit your favourite family photos today! Enter here.

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