Accessing Eugenics Record Office files
Q. My grandmother filled out a Record of Family Traits sent from the Eugenics Record Office of Cold Spring Harbor, NY. Where can I get a copy of it?
A. The Eugenics Record Office (ERO) at Cold Spring Harbor, NY, was founded in 1910 by Charles Benedict Davenport and was later supported by the Carnegie Institution. Before funding ended in 1939 and the office closed in 1944, the ERO collected information to study hereditary traits. Workers organized, tabulated and filed the Record of Family Traits forms, enabling the ERO to document and publish details on thousands of physical and behavioral characteristics.
Eugenics — essentially, the science of improving society's genetic stock — had a considerable following in the United States prior to World War II. The ERO encouraged its application in many areas of American society, including laws that allowed the forced sterilization of certain criminals and persons deemed to be “feebleminded.” Early advocates of eugenics favored selective breeding to achieve such goals as improved intelligence, greater physical prowess, elimination of diseases and reduction in human suffering. A minority of advocates has even used eugenics as justification for government-sponsored medical experimentation, forced sterilization and the extermination of “undesirable” elements of the population — in other words, genocide. The Nazis used eugenics in justifying the slaughter of millions of Jews in the Holocaust.