Family Trait Forms

The Eugenics Record Office (ERO) cast itself as a repository of eugenic data, with an "analytical index" to allow the study of the hereditary transmission of the "inborn traits" of American families. Charles Davenport and Harry Laughlin were fastidious in preparing a number of forms to standardize the collection of trait information. Key among these was the "Record of Family Traits," which coordinated a detailed family genealogy with long list of medical conditions, and physical characteristics, mental and temperamental qualities. An abridged form was published, as well as the "Single-Trait Sheet" and "Family-Tree Folder," that were designed to focus on particular traits common to the members of a family. An Individual Analysis Card was intended to give detailed information for each family member in a pedigree. Other eugenics organizations, including the Galton Laboratory and Race Betterment Foundation, had their own forms for collecting trait data.

The ERO published a number of "how to" books to help standardize the collection of trait information. The Trait Book (1912) catalogued thousands of physical behavioral attributes, leading to a numbered taxonomy of hereditary features. The Family History Book (1912) provided information on proper interview techniques for field investigators. How to Make a Eugenical Family Study (1915) was a step-by-step guidebook, complete with directions for using accepted symbols to mark family traits on a pedigree chart.

Many trait forms were voluntarily submitted to seek advice on marriage, to call attention to a specific skill or talent, or simply to preserve family records as an aid to science. Trait forms were also used to assess families who competed in "Fitter Families" and other eugenics contests. However, trait forms were also used by eugenics field workers in studies of the inheritance of dysgenic traits such as feeblemindedness, criminality, or poverty.


Want to know more? Click on the following essay: