The majority of the SHC's more than 4,600 collections document some aspect of family life in the South from the colonial period through the present day. Included are materials relating to planter families and slave families of the antebellum South, as well as middle-class families, tenant families, and powerful political families from the late nineteenth through the twentieth century. Some collections are revealing snapshots of family relationships and activities, while others cover several generations and sometimes multiple related families. Many oral history interviews in the SHC (most of them in the Southern Oral History Program Collection) deal with family matters.
The SHC continues to collect materials that substantively document southern families from all socio-economic levels and ethnic and cultural backgrounds, now with an emphasis on groups that have not actively been pursued in the past, including African American, Jewish, Hispanic, and working-class families. The SHC seeks original and unique materials, such as collections of correspondence, diaries, photographs, and oral history interviews (usually acquired through the Southern Oral History Program at UNC Chapel Hill). The collecting focus usually does not extend to genealogical data.