Where to Find What Your Ancestors Looked Like

Posted January 16, 2014 by Amanda | No Comment

If you’re lucky enough to have old photographs of your ancestors in your possession, then you already have a unique peak into the past. Unfortunately, that isn’t always the case when researching your family history. Never fear – there are plenty of other ways you can find out what your ancestors may have looked like.

Let’s examine a few places you can find a photo or description of how your ancestors may have looked.

Naturalization records

Declaration of Intention, 1944

If you know your ancestor petitioned to become a citizen, then naturalization records are a good place to start to find out what your ancestors may have looked like. Typically, a photograph is included with these petitions. However, don’t fret if you find the photo not included, the document itself should include a physical description of the petitioner, including complexion, eye and hair color, height, weight and any other distinguishing features.

Military records

World War I draft card, 1918

A large number of military records contain a physical description of the person. Discharge and enlistment papers, draft registration documents and pension records are just a few documents that can give you insight into what your ancestor looked like. For example, the World War I draft registration card will contain a detailed physical description of the person. The World War I draft registration card included fields for race, body build, eye and hair color, baldness and any physical disabilities such as the loss of arm, leg, hand, foot or eyes.

Criminal records

U.S. penitentiary measurement card, 1915

Have a black sheep in the family? Prison records can hold very detailed information about an inmate’s appearance. Not only are these accompanied with a mugshot, but also precise height, build and facial measurements, complexion and hair color. They also include a detailed description of any scars, moles or other distinguishing marks on the individual’s body.

Travel documents

Immigration form, 1946

Was your ancestor a frequent traveler? Whether it’s a passport application or an immigration form, travel identification documents will also include a physical description of the traveler. Features such as eye and hair color, complexion height and weight are typically recorded. A passport application will also likely be accompanied with a photo for the passport itself.

Have you found other records that have helped you visualize what your ancestors’ may have looked like? Share them with us in the comments below!


Post written by Amanda

Amanda is the Marketing Communications Manager at Geni. If you need any assistance, she will be happy to help!

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