Myth No. 1: Our ancestors were much shorter than we are.
This myth is just a tall tale. Studies performed a few decades ago at Colonial Williamsburg determined that the average Revolutionary War soldier stood near 5 feet, 8 inches tall; just a shade shorter than US soldiers serving during the 1950s. Archeologists have calculated that Medieval men in Northern Europe stood about this height, too; not terribly far from average height today.
Unlike height, however, weight has changed dramatically. For example, at 5 feet 8 inches and 143 pounds, the average Civil War Union soldier was about 40 pounds lighter than the average man of the same height today.
Myth No. 2: Our ancestors died young.
Myth No. 3: Our ancestors were mostly illiterate.
Sizing up your ancestors
- In very old (pre-Civil War) portraits, a head high or cropped on the plate could indicate a very tall subject because photographers could make only limited adjustments to early portrait cameras.
- In later, full-body images, you can estimate a subject’s height by comparing it against an object of known size in the photo (such as a buggy wheel), provided that both were nearly at the same depth of field (distance from the camera).
- In a large, front-facing photo, use calipers to measure the distance between the subject’s eyes, from pupil to pupil. Then measure the subject from head to toe. Divide eyes into height, and multiply by 2.5. This gives the height in inches. Using this method, which is based on anatomical patterns observed by mathematicians including Leonardo Fibonacci, an 1862 photo of our 16th president scales him at 6 feet 3¾ inches, very near Abraham Lincoln’s true height of 6 feet, 4 inches.
See Archives.com for more on this and other strategies to estimate a person’s height based on a photograph.
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Six genealogy myths to avoid
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