Download the Essential Family Tree Forms Library!

Can’t get enough forms to organize family facts? This download contains over 100+ templates, checklists and worksheets to track your research—from conflicting death dates to DNA matches, censuses to source citations.

How Our Ancestors Took Selfies

By RachelF

Although the word “selfie” didn’t become part of the dictionary until 2013, humans have been documenting their own reflections for millennia! In honor of National Selfie Day, we thought we’d take a look back through the years, from self-portraits to Polaroids, to see how our ancestors took selfies.


venus figurine
Venus figurine, the Venus of Willendorf

Venus figurines

These carved figurines were created by humans as far back as 30,000 BCE! Most are of women and are distinguished by exaggerated feminine features. No one knows exactly why these figures were created, but one theory is that they might have been self-portraits. Looking at one of these figures from above, the view resembles what a woman’s would see when she looked down at her own body. This would also explain why Venus figurines typically didn’t include much detail on the heads.


portrait of a man in red chalk
Da Vinci, portrait of a man in red chalk


As artists painted their way through the many artistic movements of history, the self-portrait became a genre all its own. Da Vinci’s portrait of a man in red chalk is widely accepted as a self-portrait of the artist. Raphael and Michelangelo are known to have snuck their own faces into their frescos of The School of Athens and the Sistine Chapel. Many artist’s self-portraits became some of their most famous works, including Van Gogh’s Self-Portrait with a Bandaged Ear, and Frida Kahlo’s many renditions of herself.


robert cornelius
Robert Cornelius

The very first selfie?

In 1839, amateur chemist and photographer Robert Cornelius took a photo of himself which would become the world’s first proper “selfie” taken with a camera. He even wrote a caption on the back: “The first light Picture ever taken. 1839.” All that’s missing is the hashtags!


andy warhol
Andy Warhol


We would be remiss to write a short history of the selfie and not mention the Polaroid. The first Polaroid camera hit stores in 1948, but it wasn’t until the mid 60s that these cameras began to resemble the instant-developing machines we know today. Many artists chose to use Polaroids to photograph themselves, the most famous of which was Andy Warhol with his many quirky self-portraits.


ancestor selfies
Let’s take a selfie!

Which brings us to today…

For better or worse, selfies have ingrained themselves in our modern world. We can’t help but imagine future genealogists using these snapshots as part of their research and rejoicing when they find a long-lost selfie of their ancestor!

Get Your Free Essential Genealogy Research Forms

Sign up for the Family Tree Newsletter and receive 10 research forms as a special thank you!

Get Your Free Genealogy Forms

"*" indicates required fields

This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.