So much fascinating information is locked in that old family photograph, document,
or story just waiting to be brought out! All that’s needed is a few new tools and
some creative curiosity. This book is intended to give you those tools; all you need
to provide is the curiosity.
Every fan of the popular television shows Forensic Files, CSI, and Medical
Detectives knows that the FBI uses all the resources it has at its disposal to solve a
crime. The FBI does not limit its investigations to conventional sources of evidence
such as fingerprints and eyewitness accounts, but makes use of its large reference
libraries of plants, carpets, shoes, string, wrapping paper and anything else that can
be critical to a successful investigation.
Likewise, a good forensic genealogist makes use of the wealth of information he
has available on the Internet along with any hard copy, digital and microfilmed
reference materials that might be at his disposal. He realizes the value of all sources
of information, not just conventional materials such as birth, marriage and death
records. My investigations have led me to examine five hundred year old weather
records, 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 from the 1950s, the history of the Spanish Armada, and many
other unconventional reference materials–resulting in intriguing family insights.
Forensic scientists and genealogists share the same goal–to find out who was who,
and who did what and when. Whether you are investigating a crime or researching
your family tree, photographs, databases and DNA analysis are the three most
important resources that you can use for answering these questions. For this
reason, I devote the major sections of this book to how to use these three kinds of
sources to the best advantage. In explaining how to analyze photographs, to mine
databases, and to use DNA analysis to reveal family history, Forensic Genealogy
emphasizes the creative parts of an investigation over the mechanics. Have you ever
thought of looking at the edges of old photographs to find out if they are from the
same roll of film, or the backs to place them in chronological order? Have you
considered looking at a city directory to figure out if your ancestor and his wife lost
any children? How about using DNA analysis to tie your family to the history and
politics of a religious conflict?
Using the forensic investigation techniques presented in this book you will:
- make unconventional discoveries from surprising sources
- gain an understanding of how your ancestors lived
- develop fascinating insights into your family history.
Forensic Genealogy will give you a sense of coming from a long line of real people
who are not just names on a page.
Here are some samples of the suggestions and insights you will get from reading
- To date a photograph, what can the position of the brand name on the back tell?
Are there clues to geographical location in the picture? How can you tell what
camera was used to take a picture and when it was in use? How can knowing this
tell you who is in the photo? What resources can you use to match items in the
picture with a particular time period? These are just some of the questions that are
answered in the chapter The Digital Detective.
- Do not ignore the historical context of your family in your eagerness to fill in
names on your family tree. The time your spend studying seemingly unimportant
background information may prove most rewarding. Knowing how your ancestors
lived can offer more insight to family history than discovering that Great Great
Uncle John worked for the gas company in 1875. Wouldn’t it be interesting to
know that he survived a yellow fever epidemic that year? Read more about this in
the chapter The Database Detective.
- In DNA analysis, mismatches can be far more interesting and revealing than
matches. In reviewing the implications of two startling mismatches in my own
Fitzpatrick DNA study, I came across a possible link between members of my
surname group and the sinking of the Spanish Armada. DNA can be a useful tool
for more than estimating a date for a Most Recent Common Ancestor (MRCA) or
for determining which 50,000 year old clan mother you descend from. DNA can tie
you to world history, it can be used to give you the geographical location your
ancestors came from in recent centuries, and it can reveal unsuspected liaisons
between seemingly unrelated families through nonpaternity events. There is as much
information as you probably will want to know about this in the chapter The DNA
For more useful suggestions, see the Introduction to Forensic Genealogy book.