Forensic Genealogy – Revised

ya006Forensic Genealogy – Revised was written to help genealogists dig deeper, examining sources with greater scrutiny to achieve greater success.

Usually, when someone is said to be wearing the proverbial rose-colored glasses they are said to be viewing the world, or a situations, as better than it really is. The idiom suggests not positive thinking but rather a choice to ignore the hardships of reality. However, I used to teach a class on Internet research in which I took the rose-colored glasses concept and flipped it over. Sometimes researchers need take pause, evaluate their progress and reconsider their evidence. In other words, put on some rose-colored glasses and gain a new perspective. Sometimes a different perspective, a new way of looking at information, is just what the researcher needs to take the next step. Analyzing resources in a new way, with deeper understanding, may lead to new areas of research and greater success.

Colleen Fitzpatrick wrote the original Forensic Genealogy. This time around, Dr. Fitzpatrick teams up with Andrew Yeiser to update and extend the volume; including, what is probably the most up-to-date information in print on genealogical DNA research.

This book is divided into three key sections, similar to those a forensic scientist would use, analyzing photographs, mining databases for information, and DNA studies. Fitzpatrick helps the reader see these tasks in a different light. She hopes that through the book the reader will come to:

  • use unconventional tools to make surprising discoveries
  • gain an understanding of how your ancestors lived
  • develop fascinating insights into your family history

An investigative journalist once taught me the value of reevaluating your resources, looking for what fits or doesn’t fit, to put on the rose-colored glasses, and to follow the paper trail. He told me the best genealogists learn to think like investigators. Forensic Genealogy is your investigator’s handbook. This guide goes deep into forensic analysis often missed in other books. For example, most books discuss dating a photograph by the material it is on, the clothing being worn, and hairdos. Fitzpatrick warns of problems with such analysis. Hairdos didn’t always proclaim a specific time period. Clothing, especially for children, was often handed down. Older relatives may suffer from memory lapses, providing incorrect information about photographs. The author points out often pictures can be evaluated to determine the type of camera used and the placement of logos on the back can suggest time periods. These and other observations, when understood, can lend strength to or improve upon evaluations of photographs, or any other information source.

If the example seems to obvious, consider some of the other sources the author has used; including, “five hundred year old weather patterns, information on the breeding cycle of mosquitoes, old almanacs, how babies were delivered in the middle ages, old hospital admission records, the 1909 National Cash Register catalog, the history of the railroad in Canada, the backs of photographic prints form the 1950s, the history of the Spanish Armada,” and more.

The book comes with a bonus CD described as follows:

“This Forensic Genealogy CD is meant to supplement the information found in the accompanying book.  For those of you who are avid photo-detectives, there are higher resolution color versions of the photos found in the chapter The Digital Detective. For in-depth photo analysis, there is a premade spreadsheet for calculating the time of day and the day of the year when a picture was taken, based on the size of a shadow relative to the size of the object creating it, and the latitude of the location where it was taken.

There are fascinating excerpts drawn from unusual databases to tease the Database Detectives in the audience.  Although these samples are drawn primarily from New Orleans records, similar information can be found relating to many other cities and towns and covering other periods of time.

The DNA spreadsheets are interactive and allow you to see the effects of varying the parameters for Most Recent Common Ancestor (MRCA) calculations.  They are based on the binomial expansion and the Poisson probability distribution as described in the book. A sample file of STR results is included that you can use as a model to input into the cladogram-generating freeware found on the Fluxus Engineering web site at By replacing the sample data with your own STR marker names, participant IDs, and marker values, you can create your own dataset with a minimum of effort.

The references provided at the end of each chapter are given on this CD, and include hotlinks to a wide range of topics, such as the history of the Canadian Pacific Railroad in Canada, the reconstruction of 1000-yr-old weather records, and a description of the effects that ergotism has had on western civilization.”


Table of Contents


The Digital Detective

  • Introduction
  • Getting Started
  • Location, Location, Location
  • When?
  • Stumpers

A Case Study in Digital Detective Work — Where, Who, When, and Why

The Database Detective

  • Introduction
  • Getting Started
  • Periodical Databases–Using City Directories
  • Event Databases
  • Unusual Reference Materials
  • Using Multiple Sources to Construct a Family Story
  • Cultural Profiling

Case Study in Database Detective Work — The History of the Ulmer Family

The DNA Detective

  • Introduction
  • About DNA
  • Mutations
    • Single Nucleotide Polymophisms (SNPs)
      • Mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) Clades
      • Y-DNA Haplogroups
      • X-Chromosome SNPs
      • Autosomal DNA Testing
    • Y-DNA Short Tandem Repeats (STRs)
  • Single Name Studies
  • Non-Paternity Events
  • Genetic Genealogy Testing Companies and Testing Options
  • Online Databases
  • The Most Recent Common Ancestor (MRCA)
  • Cladograms
  • There Will Always Be Mysteries Left

Appendix A – A Short Discussion of the Mathematical Models Used for MRCA Calculations

Appendix B – How to Construct a Spreadsheet for MRCA Analysis

Appendix C – Creating a Cladogram

Appendix D – Pairwise Mismatches


Order a copy of Forensic Genealogy – Revised from Family Roots Publishing; Price: $25.97.

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