Being green with envy probably isn’t the correct way to start out a blog post. Nevertheless, how I envy those who DO have portraits, photographs, drawings, paintings, etc. of their ancestors and those items are in their possession.
I don’t think I’m alone.
I was recently working with a young woman who had no idea what her grandfather looked like. She had no photos in her possession, nor did anyone else in the family. When I showed her a document with the physical description of him, she was astounded and thrilled. I think she realized she had inherited some of his features such as “blue eyes…..black hair”.
For those of us who are not fortunate enough to have likenesses of our ancestors passed down through the generations, there are at least a few records out there that may provide some of that information.
Here are just a few of those records that may let us know that we shared some feature of that elusive ancestor. Unfortunately most records notating descriptions are for the male members of our lines. We may be able to find out what our female ancestor wore in that time period…a dress style, a hairdo, a piece of jewelry, but not whether her chin was common, whether she had blue eyes and red hair.
Civil War Military Papers
When I saw the Civil War Military papers of my great grandfather who had come from Ireland as a teenager (as far as we know he came by himself) and those papers gave his physical description, I was excited.
Eyes Blue; hair Dark;Complexion Light; height 5 ft 7 ½ in.
An added bonus, it included the county in Ireland were he was born. Clare County Unfortunately it did not include the village.
Age 21 years; Height 6 feet 1/2 inches, Complexion light, Eyes grey; Hair light Where born Knox County, Ohio, Occupation Farmer
Draft Registration Cards
These cards can be another source of descriptive information about our ancestor. In this case,
“Height 5/6, Build, Medium, Color of Eyes, Blue, Color of Hair, Black”.
An image would be nice, but something is better than nothing.
Passenger lists include entries for a person's race (1903), physical description and birthplace (1906), and the name and address of the nearest relative in the immigrant's home country (1907).
Passports included more descriptive information before they started using photographs to accompany the Passport form. You not only have the description but the age of the person at the time of the physical description.
Age 30 years Mouth: medium
Stature: 5 feet 7 inches Chin: common
Forehead: broad Hair: brunette
Eyes: bluish gray Complexion: brownish
Nose: common Face: full face
According to Ancestry.com, some of the earliest Voter Registrations in California included the physical description of the person.
Non-identifying information generally is limited to descriptive details about an adoptee and the adoptee’s birth relatives. This type of information is generally provided to the adopting parents at the time of the adoption. Non-identifying information may include the following:
Age of the birth parents and general physical description, such as hair color, eye color, and complexion, race, ethnicity, religion, and medical
As the young woman said when she saw the Draft Registration for her grandfather, “I just get cold chills. This is so exciting.” It really is exciting to find information on an ancestor that lets us know what they looked like and that maybe we have inherited some of those features as well.
For those of us who do not have images of our ancestors, finding a physical description of one of them is very exciting. It’s the next best thing.
It’s all about our connection to the past and with those who we might have something in common.