Genealogy Research

Genealogy by Tattoo

Have you ever used a tattoo to determine a death date in your genealogy research?  No?  I didn’t think so.

I actually had the opportunity to use the information from a tattoo to determine a death date range on the mother of a research subject.

Let me explain….

I was researching a gentleman who was sentenced in jail at the Deer Island House of Correction in Boston, MA in March 1940.  Upon entrance all his articles of clothing and possessions were cataloged. His tattoos and other marks of distinction were cataloged as well.

genealogy, tattoo, jail records
Lt. L. a. cross-memory of mother
Eagle w/Liberty

From the listing above, this gentleman had two tattoos.  One was an eagle with the word Liberty. The other was a tattoo on his left arm with a cross in memory of his mother.

Since this gentleman’s mother was dead by the time of his incarceration, his mother died prior to March 1940.  While this is not a specific death date, the clue can be important in further research of this man’s mother.

Other inmates on the same record page had “sailor girl”, an anchor, a “name”, and an “old broken heart”.

This got me thinking. What information might be found on a tattoo that could be useful in genealogy research?

  • Military Tattoos – indicate if an individual had a military connection. This could lead to a search for military records.
  • Memory Tattoos – as in the example above, these can provide clues to a death date.
  • Dedication Tattoos – show a dedication to a loved one or a special someone. This type of tattoo could lead to searching for a spouse.

Tattoos add color to an individual’s story, if not just his skin! As a researcher, look beyond the description of the tattoo and look to the “why” of the tattoo. You might just discover genealogy clues in this most unusual source.

Did your ancestors have tattoos containing genealogy clues? Leave me a comment below and let me know.


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