FAQs About Forensic Genealogy

handcuffs and fingerprint information

Forensic genealogy is the latest tool in the genealogist’s toolkit. Although law enforcement officials are still cautious about its use, it could  be the next big thing in investigative work since the introduction of DNA and fingerprint analysis.

Since it’s a new—and expansive—field, you may be curious to learn more. That’s why our team of forensic genealogy service experts has answered all your frequently answered questions right here.

#1. How does forensic genealogy work?

Forensic genealogists use genetic information to identify potential suspects in cold cases involving sexual assault and murder. They do so by matching the genetic information of suspects to persons who have done DNA testing.. Many forensic genealogy service providers utilize databases like GEDMatch that allow consumers to upload and match DNA data. These platforms have clear opt-in/out requirements that allow consumers to make determinations about whether or not to share their results with law enforcement personnel.

GEDMatch holds over a million genetic profiles, which can be used to identify at least a third cousin of 90% of the American population. As direct-to-consumer DNA testing becomes more popular, we can expect this database to grow substantially.

#2. Has forensic genealogy helped solve any cases?

Forensic genealogy has helped identify suspects in hundreds of cold cases now. The first person convicted using forensic genealogy was the Golden State Killer, he committed 50 rapes, 13 murders, and 120 burglaries from 1973 through 1986. For decades, authorities couldn’t figure out who he was.

Then, investigators decided to match DNA from a rape kit to publicly available profiles on the GEDMatch database. They found several people who shared the killer’s ancestors. Soon, the investigators began building a massive family tree with the help of a genealogist and narrowed their search down to Joseph James DeAngelo. After having eluded the police for decades, the Golden State Killer was finally arrested in 2018 and sentenced to life in prison soon after.

 inmate in a prison cell

#3. Does forensic genealogy work all the time?

Although forensic genealogy has some excellent applications that can help law enforcement agencies crack cold cases, there is a margin of error.   There are numerous variables – ranging from a lack of matches to situations in which there may be a group of individuals, such as a group of brothers, each of whom could plausibly be implicated.  Using forensic genealogy without utilizing other important  investigative tools is irresponsible.  The correct way to proceed with these complex investigations is to utilize a blend of methodologies including genetic and traditional genealogy, as well as other investigative methods in order to include – or exclude – a person of interest.

#4. How can DavisDNA help?

At DavisDNA & Family Research, we have a team of genealogy experts with decades of experience and knowledge in the field. Our forensic genealogy services include forensic genealogy methods, proof standards, DNA analysis applications, and DNA analysis limitations.

Our genealogists have helped solve many challenging cases by interpreting, analyzing, and reviewing genetic information. They also are available to train detectives and law enforcement agents to effectively and correctly use genetic information for investigations. Based in Tampa Bay, Florida, our online DNA analysts offer forensic genealogy services and traditional genealogy services nationwide. Get in touch with us to learn more.