TRINITY COLLEGE ARCHIVES
The Ignatieff Family Photograph Albums: Memories of Home
The objects that migrants choose to carry with them as they journey to new homelands are often selected for the special bond to a past home, life, and culture that they represent. For the Ignatieff family, it was their family photograph albums, carefully stowed in a trunk alongside valuables like jewellery and a silver washbasin that were carried throughout each leg of the family’s journey to Canada.
In summer of 1917, Count Paul Ignatieff – heir to a large industrial empire and Minister of Education under Nicholas II, the last Tsar of Russia, with his wife Countess Natasha Ignatieff and their five sons, fled Petersburg to escape the escalating violence of the Russian Revolution.
A decade-long journey from Russia through Constantinople – now, Istanbul – Paris, and London, marked by moments of hardship and periods of separation, culminated in 1928 with Natasha and her three youngest sons boarding the Montrose from Southampton, England to sail for Canada. In 1932, Paul joined his wife, and together they settled in the Eastern Townships of Quebec.
Count Paul Ignatieff with his sons Alec, Nicholas and Dima in Russia in 1911 source: Michael Ignatieff fonds, Trinity College Archives (Images reproduced with the permission of Michael Ignatieff)
The Ignatieff Family Photograph Albums
The family’s photograph collection contains two albums. Many of the photographs were taken, and the albums carefully constructed by the Ignatieff’s nanny, Peggy Meadowcroft, who migrated from London, England, to live with the family in Petersburg in 1912. The albums depict the Ignatieffs at home in Russia and Ukraine before their exile in 1917, on their farm in Sussex, England and in Canada. The photographs are carefully laid out according to family vacations, holidays, and other memorable events, with captions written by Peggy in a small, neat hand with white ink on black photo album paper.
Family Photograph Albums: The “Portable Homes”
For those who have migrated, the family album can function as a “portable home,” returning the viewer to the people and landscapes of their homeland. As one leafs through the Ignatieff family album, the effect of the “portable home” – of being transported to another time and place – is inescapable. An image of Paul’s mother, the Dowager Countess Ignatieff, outside of the family’s estate in Ukraine in spring 1915 alongside her smiling grandchildren is particularly striking. Surrounded by other images of the family’s estate, the village church, the stables, and local women wearing traditional Ukrainian dress, one can see the care and effort that has gone into documenting the family’s home, loved ones, and special occasions to conjure up rich memories of a homeland left behind.
Dowager Countess Ignatieff with her grandchildren in Ukraine in 1915 source: Michael Ignatieff fonds, Trinity College Archives (Images reproduced with the permission of Michael Ignatieff)
For the Ignatieff family, their photograph albums are a valuable link connecting the later generations of the family, like Paul and Natasha’s grandson Michael Ignatieff to a homeland of which they lack their own memories. Michael Ignatieff’s journey to connect with and make sense of his family’s history is documented in The Russian Album, a non-fiction retelling of his family’s migration experience based on the stories and memories that the family albums evoke. Bridging generations across time and space therefore, images inherited from the past, like those contained in family photograph albums, connect individuals and families to the homelands of their ancestors in a transportable, tangible and meaningful way.
Hannah Hadfield is completing her Masters of Museum Studies at the University of Toronto’s iSchool. Hannah graduated from Ryerson University where she received her Bachelor of Arts degree in History with Honours along with the Senior Essay Writing Award and the Silver Medal in History. Having travelled throughout Europe and Central America, with a trip to Asia planned for this coming year, Hannah enjoys exploring art and history through the world’s museums.
Images inherited from the past, like those contained in family photograph albums, connect individuals and families to the homelands of their ancestors in a tangible and meaningful way.