2018 July – Fundamentals of Forensic Genealogy

Fundamentals of Forensic Genealogy for the 21st Century

Coordinators: Catherine B. W. Desmarais, CG; Kelvin Meyers; Michael Ramage, J.D., CG

Instructors: Amber Goodpaster Tauscher, Judy G. Russell, CG, CGL, CeCeMoore

Held July 22-27, 2018, at La Roche College, Pittsburgh, PA. Registration Information.

Audience: This course is intended for those with advanced genealogy research skills who are interested in learning more about the field of forensic genealogy as a career. You will find it helpful to be familiar with Genealogy Standards (Washington, DC: Board for Certification of Genealogists, 2014).

Come explore your potential role in the fast-growing field of forensic genealogy. The instructors – all experienced, practicing forensic genealogists – will cover a broad spectrum of topics including the types of work in which forensic genealogists engage, skills in finding living people, work products, and an exploration of the Genealogy Standards relate to forensic genealogy. Throughout the week, students will research an actual case as a practicum, putting what they learn into practice immediately. Additional case studies also will be presented.


8:30 – 9:45      Missing and Unknown Heirs: Law and Procedure for the Forensic Genealogist (Michael Ramage)

Do you want to learn about estate and terminology, estate procedures, important rules of evidence, the potential legal pitfalls of this field, ethics, kinship hearings, use of genetic testing and practical issues involved in this field of endeavor?  Well, you’ve come to the right place to learn about these necessary building blocks.

10:15-11:30      Natural Resources and Mineral Rights Cases (Kelvin Meyers)

Oil and gas has been found in over half of the United States. Many states also have coal, iron and other minerals to mine. New methods of obtaining these natural resources have resulted in greater activity. The forensic genealogist may become involved in locating the rightful owners or heirs to these mineral rights. This lecture will discuss whether minerals are a part of the surface or subsurface, are they real estate or personal estate, and what is the role of the forensic genealogist in these cases.

1:00-1:40        Real Estate Cases for Forensic Genealogists (Catherine Wiest Desmarais)

Why might a real estate attorney or title insurance company hire a forensic genealogist? How does a quiet title action, a reverter clause, or adverse possession come into play?

1:40-2:15         Military Repatriation cases: No One Left Behind (Catherine Desmarais)

Did you know that the military still searches for unaccounted-for soldiers from earlier wars? Learn about the role of the forensic genealogist in finding next-of-kin and family DNA donors to help the military repatriate remains.

2:45-4:00       Other types of Forensic work: Guardianships, Unclaimed Persons, Immigration, and more (Kelvin Meyers)

Have you been contacted by a guardian for an incapacitated person or their estate? Maybe you have been contacted by someone dealing with immigration issues or by the local coroner’s office. This lecture will explore other types of work in which a forensic genealogist may find themselves involved.

4:00-4:30       Wearing 17Hats : Managing a Forensic Genealogy Business (Catherine Wiest Desmarais)

As entrepreneurs, we have to wear many “hats” to meet the needs of our small businesses. Catherine will share how the 17Hats business-management application keeps her business organized.


8:30 – 9:45      Understanding the Probate Process (Judy G. Russell)

This introduction to probate research for the forensic genealogist focuses on the law that governs the probate process to help the forensic specialist understand how the records can be used to identify specific individuals: those who are to inherit land or personal property in an estate; those who own property a corporate entity wishes to acquire; those who can assist in identifying remains for purposes of repatriation.

10:15-11:30      Writing the Forensic Genealogy Client Report (Amber Tauscher)

This class will cover the structure of the forensic client report including the starting point data, the research goal, the research log, the summary of findings, and appropriate use of source citations. Developing personalized report templates also will be discussed.

1:00-2:30        Finding Living People: Resources for the Forensic Genealogist (Amber Tauscher)

Forensic genealogy is built on finding living people — from missing and unknown heirs for probate cases, next of kin and eligible family DNA donors for military repatriation cases or the identification of birth families for unknown parentage cases. However, identifying and locating the living can be challenging due to restrictions and privacy laws not found with traditional genealogy records. Learn how to overcome these restrictions using unique resources to find those missing relatives.

3:00-4:30       Practicum Assignment and Extended Guided Work Session (Catherine Wiest Desmarais)

After signing a confidentiality agreement, you will be presented with a real-life missing-heirs case. With guidance from your instructor, you will set up your research report, summarize the information provided by the attorney, and write the research goal. You will then begin the online research, entering your source citations and findings in your research log as you work, putting into practice what you have learned so far in the course.

4:00-4:30       Extended Guided Practicum Work Session (Desmarais, Meyers, Ramage)

Your instructors will be available for individualized guidance as you continue to research your case and work on your research log and report.


8:30 – 9:45      Genealogy Standards and Forensic Genealogy (Michael Ramage)

Learn why forensic genealogists need to adhere to both Genealogy Standards and evidentiary rules that underlie the acceptance of expert testimony in legal matters.  We will also explore why the reliability of an expert’s opinion is most often the determining factor as to its admissibility in court.  Examples of what courts consider to be reliable and unreliable will be given.

10:15-11:30      Adoption History and Traditional Birth Family Search Resources (CeCe Moore)

In this session we will discuss the history of adoption and the current laws affecting the information available to adoptees seeking insight into their biological roots. Resources and strategies successfully utilized by forensic genealogists and other birth family search experts will be highlighted.

1:00-2:15         Resolving Adoption and Unknown Parentage Cases through DNA (CeCe Moore)

The introduction of autosomal DNA for genealogical purposes has dramatically changed the approach to adoption search and reunion. Genealogists are enjoying significant success using DNA testing to discover the roots of adoptees and other individuals without knowledge of their biological heritage. Techniques developed for and used in this quest will be explored through case studies.

2:45-4:00       Practicum Progress Review and Discussion (Catherine Wiest Desmarais)

Students may present their findings to date, and discuss any “aha moments” or roadblocks they encountered. Successful problem-solving techniques will be shared.

4:00-4:30       Extended Guided Practicum Work Session (Desmarais, Meyers, Ramage)

Your instructors will be available for individualized guidance as you continue to research your case and work on your research log and report.


8:30 – 9:45      Forensic Genealogy Fees and Contracts/Ethics & Liability (Michael Ramage)

Contract elements, forms, special clauses and liability risks will be covered.  There will be opportunity for questions about your own contracts.  The ethics and legality of contingent fee contracts in estate cases will be discussed along with alternate ways to charge in these cases.

10:15-11:30      Affidavits for the Forensic Genealogist (Catherine  Wiest Desmarais)

An affidavit is a sworn statement of fact in writing, voluntarily made under oath. Learn about the required parts of an affidavit, and various formats used by forensic genealogists.

1:00-2:15         Family Relationship Charts and Supporting Document Exhibits (Amber Tauscher)

Learn how to create family relationship charts using RootsMagic, including deciding which data to include, how to add a relationship field, and how to edit the charts and insert them into reports and affidavits. (Instructions for doing the same with FamilyTreeMaker and Legacy Family Tree will be included in the syllabus.) You will also learn tips for adding document images as exhibits to reports or affidavits, how to label them, and include a source citation.

2:45-4:00       Practicum Solution Discussion (Catherine Wiest Desmarais)

The final results of the case will be discussed. How many living heirs did you locate? What sources did you find the most helpful? What were your greatest challenges? What would you like to do differently the next time?

4:00-4:30       Extended Guided Practicum Work Session (Desmarais, Meyers, Ramage)

You may choose to write up your findings, create a family relationship chart, or add exhibits to your report or affidavit. Your instructors will be available for individualized guidance.


8:30 – 9:45      Where Does the Evidence Lead? The Forensic Genealogist as Expert Witness (Kelvin Meyers)

Are you an expert witness or a disinterested third party?  This lecture will define, and discuss briefly the difference of the two and what you need to know to be an effective expert witness. You also will be given tips on how you can be in control during a deposition or on the stand.

10:15-11:30      Unknown Heir Research From Intake to Report (Michael Ramage)

This course will take you through all stages of an actual unknown heir estate case from first client contact to preparation of the affidavit of due diligence.  This case led to the discovery of unknown first cousins. Participants will receive the actual affidavit of due diligence, list of all citations, and invoices that show the steps taken to successfully complete the research and writing.


11:30                Wrap-up and presentation of course certificates before lunch