This collection was generated by the Eugenics Record Office which was created as a department of the Carnegie Institute of Washington Station (CIW) for Experimental Evolution at Cold Spring Harbor New York. The Carnegie Institute of Washington engaged in research in biology from 1904 using a tract of about 9 acres leased for 50 years from the Wawepex Society in Cold Spring Harbor NY. With Charles Davenport as the Director, a laboratory was built and the “station” opened in June 1904; it was named “Station for Experimental Evolution” (SEE) in 1906. In 1910, with funding from Mrs. E. H. Harriman, an 80 acre farm near the SEE was purchased, and an office building was erected to establish the Eugenics Record Office (ERO). In 1918, Mrs. Harriman transferred the farm and building to CIW along with an endowment for its maintenance. In 1921 the SEE and ERO were combined into the CIW Department of Genetics with Charles Davenport as the Director. After Charles Davenport retired in 1934, Dr. Albert Blakeslee served as Director of the CIW Department of Genetics until 1941 when Milislav Demerec was named Director. The ERO closed in December 1939 and materials including the collection of forms containing hereditary and genealogical information records were put into storage. At this point the name of the ERO was changed to Genetics Record Office. In 1948 the records from the Eugenics Record Office were donated to the University of Minnesota for use by the Dight Institute of Human Genetics. That material was ultimately dispersed amongst three institutions: the American Philosophical Society, Jackson Laboratories and The Genealogical Society of Utah.
The ERO was devoted to the collection and analysis of American family genetic and traits history records. These eugenics studies collected information such as inborn physical, mental and temperamental properties to enable the family to trace the segregation and recombination of inborn or heritable qualities. The family study files include individual analysis cards, field worker reports, pedigree charts, and special trait studies. Davenport was president of the American Society of Zoologists and in 1910 he founded the Eugenics Record Office at Cold Spring Harbor, and appointed Harry H. Laughlin to direct it. H. H. Laughlin became a spokesman for the programmatic side of the previous eugenics movement, lobbying for eugenic legislation to restrict immigration and sterilize "defectives," educating the public on eugenic health, and disseminating eugenic ideas widely. The Record Office formally came under the aegis of the Carnegie Institution of Washington in 1918.