“I never became a genealogist – I was born a genealogist” – dr. Colleen M. Fitzpatrick [interview about forensic genealogy]

You are a scientist, how did you become a professional genealogist?

I was born in New Orleans, Louisiana, one of the most culturally interesting cities in America.  I knew all four of my grandparents into my adulthood, and sometimes their brothers and sisters and aunts and uncles.  I grew up around living history.  I never became a genealogist – I was born a genealogist.

dr. Colleen M. Fitzpatrick
dr. Colleen M. Fitzpatrick

What is forensic genealogy?

Forensic genealogy is the study of identity and kinship in legal contexts. This includes finding family references for DNA identification, fraud exposure, locating heirs for probate matters, clearing real estate titles, determining mineral rights inheritance, and more. The tasks that forensic genealogists address are similar to those dealt with by conventional genealogists – establishing bloodlines, researching family genealogies, using DNA to prove kinship, but with a standard of proof that is acceptable in court.

Some projects tackled by forensic genealogists have indirect legal relevance. For example, I have been a part of three Holocaust fraud exposures – bestselling books about the Holocaust that were marketed as nonfiction but that were discovered to be fabrications. Each research group worked with the support of the Holocaust survivor community, and not directly with attorneys. As a result of our efforts, the books or their associated movies were withdrawn. There were legal consequences for those exposed, but we were not directly involved.

Forensic genealogy has also been called “CSI Meets Roots”, since it involves the application of scientific methods to solve genealogical mysteries.

The American Academy of Forensic Science (AAFS) does not yet recognize forensic genealogy as a forensic discipline, since the AAFS only recognizes those disciplines that are practiced by a sufficient number of its members.  As of February 2017, I will be the only forensic genealogist who has been promoted to full member.  This took me five years to accomplish this. Hopefully in the future, more forensic genealogists will become members of the AAFS so that forensic genealogy will gain official recognition.

In Poland, the term “forensic genealogy” is completely unknown – how did this field of genealogy come to being?

Genealogists have assisted attorneys with probate matters and searching for missing heirs for a long time. It was only in 2005 when we published Forensic Genealogy that the term was first used to describe the application of scientific techniques to solving genealogical mysteries.

Since then the term “forensic genealogy” has taken on a more formal legal context. Forensic genealogists still work for attorneys on probate and missing heir research, but they also assist the Department of Defense on the location of next-of-kin for military identifications, police departments on cold cases, real estate speculators to trace property titles, and collectors to establish the provenance of art pieces.  Forensic genealogists can also apply their skills to cases that have legal implications, but where they do not directly work for attorneys.  I have been involved in the exposure of several literary frauds about the Holocaust – bestselling books that were supposedly biographies of child survivors, but were proven to be fiction.  There are also some forensic genealogists who specialize in photo analysis.

What are the differences between traditional genealogy and forensic genealogy?

Forensic genealogy is the application of genealogical research to support the legal identification process. Forensic genealogists do not work only for attorneys.  Forensic genealogical techniques are often applied beyond the legal system.  Just as a forensic anthropologist might be consulted on an archeological project, a forensic genealogist might be consulted by an adoptee to find his birth parents for personal, and not for legal reasons.

How much forensic genealogy has in common with traditional genealogy?  

Forensic genealogy and traditional genealogy both use the same resources and techniques for researching kindship. These include photo analysis, database mining, and DNA analysis. The difference between the two is that forensic genealogists must meet genealogical proof standards so that their results may be used by the legal system.

This is only part of the interview with dr. Colleen M. Fitzpatrick. The entire interview is available here.

Dodaj komentarz

Twój adres e-mail nie zostanie opublikowany. Wymagane pola są oznaczone *

Previous Article

Czym jest chmura? [nowoczesne technologie w rękach genealoga]

Next Article

Jak odczytywać łacińskie metryki? [chrzty, śluby, zgony]

Related Posts