This article uses hundreds of letters written by the families of patients committed to Victorian Broadmoor Criminal Lunatic Asylum to provide the first sustained examination of the effects of asylum committal on patients’ individual family members. It shows that, despite what historians have previously suggested, the effect on families was not solely, or even necessarily primarily, economic; it had significant emotional effects, and affected family members’ sense of self and relationships outside the asylum. It also shows that family ties and affective relationships mattered a great deal to working-class Victorians. Some found new ways to give meaning to their relationship with, and the life of, their incarcerated relative, despite the costs this entailed. By taking a new approach – engaging with the history of the family, shifting focus from patients to their individual family members, and considering factors including age, class, gender, change over time, and life stage – this article demonstrates the breadth and depth of the effects of asylum committal, and in doing so provides new and significant insights into the history of the Victorian asylum. It also enriches the history of the family by providing an insight into working-class quotidian lives, bonds, and emotions.