Family Archives, Fateful Options

  • Michael Piggott


This article presents reflections prompted after the writer, a retired archivist, began work during 2020 on family papers passed to his care following his parents’ deaths, conscious in doing so that many of the baby boomer gener- ation (born between 1946 and 1964) must be undertaking similar exercises and facing similar needs for decisions about the legacy of the last truly analog generation. The resulting autoethnography draws on his own family story, the emotional experience of working on the papers, archival theory, biographies, and autobiographies. The reflections are structured around the three options all families face in actively dealing with their archives: to cull them; to seek to outsource or deprivatize their custody to a library, archives, or more specialist heritage body; or to manage them within the family. He also identifies various psychological, societal, and random factors influencing individual approaches to the choices and shaping what was created and survived, which the children can consider “round the kitchen table.” An additional dimension speculates about the notion of family, and family pets, within descriptive standards and ideas of provenance.

Author Biography

Michael Piggott

Michael Piggott is a retired archivist living in Canberra. He has post-graduate qualifications in library science, archives, and history. Between 1971 and 2008, he worked for the National Library, the Australian War Memorial, the National Archives, and the University of Melbourne. A founding member and Laureate of the Australian Society of Archivists, he has received its Mander Jones Award four times and a President’s Award in 2013. He was appointed in 2017 as a Member of the Order of Australia in the Queen’s Birthday Honours List “for significant service to the community as an archivist with national and international educational and cultural institutions, and as an author.” In 2012, an anthology of his writing appeared as Archives and Societal Provenance: Australian Essays (Chandos). During 2018–19, he was a senior research fellow with a Deakin University–led project, Representing Multicultural Australia in National and State Libraries, and in 2020, he completed a three-year term as Chair, Territory Records Advisory Council. Recent book chapters appeared in Community Archives, Community Spaces: Heritage, Memory and Identity (Facet, 2020), “All Shook Up”: The Archival Legacy of Terry Cook (SAA/ACA, 2020), and Archival Silences: Missing, Lost and, Uncreated Archives (Routledge, 2021). He regularly reviews for and contributes to Honest History at https://honesthistory

How to Cite
Piggott, Michael. 2023. “Family Archives, Fateful Options”. Archivaria 96 (December), 6-35.