Family history website Ancestry has added a new collection of 125,000 digitised portraits from the National Portrait Gallery.


The portraits date from 1547 to 2018 and include many famous images, such as:

  • Activist and recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize, Malala Yousafzai, photographed by Shirin Neshat, 2018
  • Theoretical Physicist, Stephen Hawking, painted by Yolanda Sonnabend, 1985
  • Special operations officer, a wartime secret agent, Noor Inayat Khan, captured by an unknown photographer in 1939
  • Pioneering nurse and businesswoman, Mary Seacole, painted by Albert Charles Challen, 1869
  • A portrait believed to depict playwright William Shakespeare, attributed to John Taylor and painted between 1600 and 1610

Simon Pearce, family history expert at Ancestry, said: “We’re excited to be working with the National Portrait Gallery to provide wider access to some of its captivating and historically rich collection.

“Hosting these portraits online at Ancestry means more people can explore nearly 500 years of British life – and some might even discover a family member in the collection!”

The collection also includes many portraits of ordinary people. Ancestry users may discover a relative among the portraits, whose image they’ll be able to add to their family tree.

To celebrate the partnership, Ancestry is working with the National Portrait Gallery to launch The Nation’s Family Album – a search for undiscovered portraits of everyday British people collated into a representative online album.

People of different ages, backgrounds and cultures in the UK are invited to submit their favourite family images by Thursday 30 June 2022.

Entrants will be in with the chance of having their own family photographs and stories included in an online exhibition, as well as a display at the National Portrait Gallery when it reopens in 2023, following the completion of its Inspiring People redevelopment project.


Rosemary Collins is the features editor of Who Do You Think You Are? Magazine