The board of directors is regarded as one of the most imperative governance mechanisms in small and medium-sized family firms. Empirical studies examining both the roles these boards fulfil in a family business context, as well as evaluating the ceo’s perceived importance of these roles, are scarce. Founded by a range of conceptual and multi-theoretical board role definitions, this paper contributes to the literature by empirically determining board roles. Furthermore, the importance of these board roles and differences between the board’s performance and perceived importance are assessed. The results show it is indispensable to differentiate between two aggregated roles that boards in small and medium-sized family firms perform: control and service. The control role is predominantly based on agency theory, whereas the service role includes multiple theoretical perspectives. The ceos of the family firms perceive the service role of the board as most important. However, in order to direct succession and to compensate for the owner/manager’s altruistic behaviour, the board’s control role should not be neglected. The acknowledgement of these two aggregated board roles and their importance may enhance future research on board roles within specific contexts.