When you hear the words “Forensic Genealogy,” what is the first definition you think of? One of my first thoughts is “DNA and documentary research.” Using DNA to solve unknown parentage cases is one of my areas of focus as a genealogist, and it is a significant aspect of Forensic Genealogy.
I recently had the great opportunity to take the virtual Beyond Fundamentals: Hands-on Forensic Genealogy course at the Genealogical Research Institute of Pittsburgh (GRIP). The pre-requisite for this course was Fundamentals of Forensic Genealogy, which I took in Pittsburgh in 2018. There was a fantastic team of instructors! Catherine West Desmarais, CG, was the course Coordinator and an instructor along with Linda Hunter, Kelvin Meyers, and Michael Ramage, JD, CG.
Forensic Genealogists have opportunities to specialize in some of the following topics:
– Adoption and Unknown Parentage Cases
– Military Repatriation –identify the next of kin of fallen soldiers and verify the connection via DNA so the fallen service member’s remains can be brought home
– Unclaimed persons – Use DNA results to identify living relatives of the deceased person
– Assist Law Enforcement to identify people who have committed crimes and left DNA behind
– Oil and Gas companies – trace the living owners of mineral rights inherited from the original owners
Real estate cases
– Trace the heirs to estates
– Quiet Title Cases
– Abandoned Property/Adverse Possession Cases
– Verify that a person is the sole heir of land that they want to sell
Other areas of focus:
– Dual Citizenship and Immigration
– Expert Witness testimony
During the course, the students had the opportunity to work in teams to solve forensic genealogy cases. We all signed non-disclosure agreements to protect the privacy of the people involved in the cases, and deleted the research when we finished the course. The class allowed the students to gain experience solving a variety of forensic genealogy cases.
As we worked, it was apparent that several steps in forensic genealogy cases apply to all aspects of genealogy. The steps and techniques in the Research Like a Pro method apply to forensic genealogy as well as traditional genealogy cases. All aspects of the research should meet the Genealogy Standards.
Research Like a Pro
Create a research objective
– Work with the client to clearly define what they are seeking.
– Start with what you know.
Analyze the sources
– Create a timeline of events and cite the sources that establish the connection between the research subject(s) and events.
– Review all documents, identify each piece of information.
– The information may lead to the discovery of other documents.
– It may be used as evidence to solve the case.
– Analyze the document asking yourself the following:
– Why was the record created?
– Who was the informant?
– Did the informant give accurate information?
– Identify records in the locality that may hold the information you need to solve the case.
– Consider all records that may pertain to your research.
– Create a plan with prioritized sources to search.
– Cite the sources used in your research
– Record the records and information found during your research.
Create charts to illustrate family connections
– Charts will quickly show the family structure and connections.
– Add identifying information, dates, and locations.
– Write as you go by recording your analysis and reasoning and correlating your research findings.
– Resolve conflicting evidence: address the conflicts and explain why or why not the evidence corroborates what is known or negates it.
I recommend taking a Forensic Genealogy course taught at GRIP or the Salt Lake Institute of Genealogy (SLIG). You’ll learn more about the exciting field of forensic genealogy and improve your skills in ways that will make you a better genealogist!