Saturday, September 29, 2012

Imagining the Appearance of an Ancestor

Based on the information you collect for an ancestor, and without having a photograph, do you ever try to imagine what the ancestor looked like?  I do!  I don't know where the ideas come from but sometimes, there they are.

Such was the case with my great-grandfather, Fredrick K. Gerner.  I learned that he was born in Germany on about September 29, 1848, that he married in 1872, and  in 1926, both in Pennsylvania.  I learned where he was in 1880, 1900, 1910, and 1920, and what he was doing each of those years.  I have a copy of his will and know what he left and to whom.  And I have a copy of the birth, marriage, and death pages of the family Bible.

My great-aunt Brendice, his daughter, described him as "a stern German" who came to the U.S. when he was 6 months old.  She said, "My father never talked much and I was unconcerned to ask him [family history questions]."  She called him an honest, hard-working farmer of 144 acres of land.

That's not much to go on, really, to imagine what a person looks like.  I envisioned a tallish, muscular man with a shock of straight, black hair, and a big mustache.  I have no idea the origin of that image.

It was several years after I'd found all of the above information that I finally made contact with my great-aunt's son.  He had photos of Fred.  Two photos, to be exact, and he shared them.

One of them is pretty blurry and it's hard to see the faces.   But there's one thing you
can clearly see:  a very shiny pate!  I don't believe there's a single hair on Grampa Fred's head.  It's a little harder to tell about height from this photo.  All we can really see is that he and his wife. Elvira, are about the same height.

This may be a slightly better photo of Fred.  Hmmm. 
I was wrong about tall, muscular, and the black hair.  Can any of you readers tell if he has a mustache?

Right or wrong, I was thrilled to finally see a photo of my great-grandparents and their children.  I always think it's exciting to be able to put a face with a name.

Fred's birthday is today (if my sources are correct).  I'm honoring his memory and celebrating his life with this post.  Happy Birthday, Grampa Fred!


  1. How wonderful to find these photos of Grampa through your great aunt's son, Nancy. Without photos, I too tend to build up a picture in my head. I couldn't see whether or not Fred had a 'tache. Jo

  2. I also like trying to imagine what they looked like. I like looking at photos of their children and seeing if I can mentally piece together their face. I looked long and hard at Grampa and I would guess he did have a moustace.

  3. I can't see whether he has a moustache, but given how popular the look was for men of his era, I could guess he had one when younger, and might have kept it if he felt naked without it.

    Love these photos. The older ones are always a thrill for me.

    No matter whose family it is.



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