As I approach the end of the genealogy alphabet, I decided to opt for vital statistics for the letter V.
One of the most common ways to get a good picture of how an ancestor was built, is from his (and it is almost always a he!) military records. It was, and presumably still is, common practice to document the height, weight, chest measurement and general build of recruits when they joined the army or navy. If you’re fortunate enough to be able to see his attestation papers, it is surprising how much of a picture you get of great uncle Jo, or grandfather George if you can read that he was 5’7″, 130lbs with a 35″ chest. Add to that that he had a fair complexion, light brown hair and blue eyes, and the description really comes to life, especially if you don’t have a photograph of him.
The Canadian military records are even more detailed than British ones, very often containing copies of dental records, x-rays and hospital charts.
Another record detailing vital statistics which gives an insight into a family’s circumstances, is the children’s home register. Children were routinely measured and weighed on admission and discharge from many children’s homes, and it is a measure of how poor some families were that the children grew considerably and put on a significant amount of weight during even a short stay in a children’s home. This really hits home, when you realise that despite a very basic, even inadequate, a relative appeared to thrive in a meagre existence away from what they knew as home – how much poorer must their everyday life at home have been.