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Forensic genealogy

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Forensic genealogy is genealogical research, analysis, and reporting in cases with legal implications, often involving living individuals.[1][2]:337 Forensic genealogists may be called upon to appear in court to provide expert testimony, and typically furnish affidavits and research reports to their clients that adhere to the Genealogical Proof Standard[3] established by the Board for Certification of Genealogists.[4]:1


Forensic genealogy is defined in a legal context, specifically when conducting research in the following manner:

  • Estate or probate research to identify unknown and missing heirs, and potentially provide expert testimony in a courtroom;
  • Military repatriation: Assisting branches of the United States military in reuniting the remains of service members with their families using DNA analysis (a.k.a. DNA profiling);
  • Kinship determination: Identifying family members in regard to cases of adoption, foster care, and guardianship;
  • Land and real estate issues involving title, adverse possession, rights of way, lis pendens, or muniment of title, and oil, gas, and mineral rights and royalties. Oil, gas, and mineral rights cases may be dealt with the same as unknown and missing heir cases, or quiet title actions, depending on the state with jurisdiction and the situation of the case;[6]:454
    • Established law in Texas gives landowners the rights to oil and gas beneath their property.[7]
  • Research to help clients establish U.S. citizenship or support dual citizenship in a foreign country;
  • Assisting coroner’s offices in identifying relatives of unclaimed remains;
  • Provenance, class action claimants, intellectual property rights, etc.

An alternative definition of the field has been explained by author and scientist Colleen M. Fitzpatrick, PhD, in her 2005 book Forensic Genealogy,[8] in which a forensic science approach is used in genealogical research. The author describes various research methods, approaches, and genealogical knowledge she has determined to be forensic in nature:

  • Examining photographs for clues to pinpoint a place or time of an event. For example, a house in the background of a photo may reveal an address number, or the type of clothing worn by people can suggest when a picture was taken. Colleen Fitzpatrick has stated “The most important lesson a digital detective can ever learn is to notice what a photograph is really saying.”;[8]:4
  • Estimating birth dates by scrutinizing marriage age laws of a jurisdiction;
  • Researching “the historical context of your family”[8]:3 to provide more insight into their lives;
  • Understanding that immigrant name changes did not occur at Ellis Island, but either at the immigrant’s embarkation point or years after entry to the United States;
  • Analyzing DNA test results to study both matches and non-matches, as well as estimating one’s most recent common ancestor (MRCA), and discovering non-paternity events;
  • Using a Y-chromosome cladogram “to identify the main branches of a family”; etc.[8]:3

Genetic genealogy

Law enforcement may use genetic genealogy to identify criminal suspects and deceased individuals. Some genetic genealogy sites allow their databases to be used by law enforcement and some DNA technology companies do DNA testing and genetic genealogy research at the request of law enforcement. This investigative, or forensic, genetic genealogy technique became popular after the arrest of the alleged Golden State Killer in 2018.[9][10]


  1. "About". Retrieved 25 July 2018. 
  2. "Ramage, Michael S. (2018). "Chapter 15: Forensic Specialization". in Shown Mills, Elizabeth. Professional Genealogy, Preparation, Practice & Standards. Genealogical Publishing Co.. p. 337. ISBN 9780806320724. 
  3. Board for Certification of Genealogists (2014). Genealogy Standards (50th Anniversary ed.). Nashville, Tennessee:, an imprint of Turner Publishing Co.. pp. 1–3. ISBN 978-1-630-26018-7. 
  4. Ramage, Michael S. (2016). "Standard and Forensic Genealogy". OnBoard 22 (September): 1. Retrieved 25 July 2018. 
  5. 5.0 5.1 Ramage, Michael S. (2005). "Missing and Unknown Heir Law Practice and Procedure". Pennsylvania Bar Association Quarterly 76 (July): 125. 
  6. American Bar Association, Committee on Administration and Distribution of Decedent’s Estates (1975). "Clearing Title of Heirs to Intestate Real Property". Real Property, Probate and Trust Journal 10 (Fall): 454. 
  7. "Oil & Gas Exploration and Surface Ownership". 
  8. 8.0 8.1 8.2 8.3 Fitzpatrick, Colleen (2005). Forensic Genealogy. Rice Book Press. ISBN 978-0976716006. 
  9. Molteni, Megan (24 April 2019). "What the Golden State Killer tells us about Forensic Genetics". Wired. Archived from the original on 25 April 2019. Retrieved 25 April 2019. 
  10. Greytak, Ellen M.; Moore, CeCe; Armentrout, Steven L. (2019). "Genetic genealogy for cold case and active investigations". Forensic Science International 299: 103–113. doi:10.1016/j.forsciint.2019.03.039. 


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