2016 June – 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, Bethany Waterbury

Held June 26-July 1, 2016, 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.

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 “reverse genealogy” (descendant research), work products, and an exploration of the Genealogical Proof Standard as it relates 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 (Cathi 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 (Cathi 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.


8:30 – 9:45     Forensic Genealogy and the Genealogical Proof Standard (Michael Ramage)

Learn how a $22 million estate case involving same name/age/place ancestors was solved using the Genealogical Proof Standard.  You will be taken step by step through the methodologies of researching, analyzing and preparing a case study.

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        Reverse Genealogy: Techniques for Locating the Living (Bethany Waterbury)

Forensic genealogy differs from traditional genealogy in part due to its emphasis on locating living people, whether for probate, military repatriation, or unknown parentage cases. However, identifying and locating living individuals can be a challenge, as the techniques used and records available for 20th and 21st-century research are often quite different and may have restrictions and limitations not found with traditional genealogy records. Learn where to find and how to utilize these unique resources that are essential to the forensic genealogist’s work.

3:00-4:30       Practicum Assignment and Extended Guided Work Session (Cathi Desmarais, with assistance from Kelvin Meyers and Michael Ramage)

After signing a confidentiality agreement, you will be presented with a real-life missing-heirs case. With guidance from your instructors, 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.


8:30 – 9:45    Adoption Laws & Procedures for the Forensic Genealogist (Michael Ramage)

Learn about historical and modern adoption laws and methods that may enable you to uncover hidden adoptions with a real life case study.  The course covers both methods to discover pre-closed and sealed adoption records as well as the types of records that can lead you to the desired member of the adoption triad.

10:15-11:30     Adoption and Unknown Parentage Cases (Bethany Waterbury)

Forensic genealogists are increasingly being called on to assist adoptees and others with unknown parentage (donor conceived, foundlings, and those with unknown fathers) to identify and locate their birth families. Some of these cases can be solved with traditional forensic genealogy techniques, while others will require the use of DNA testing and genetic genealogy methodology to reach a successful conclusion. Learn about the forensic genealogist’s role in this new and quickly evolving field of genealogy, including educational opportunities, ethical dilemmas, and legal considerations.

1:00-2:15         More Tips and Tricks for Finding the Living (Cathi Desmarais)

If you don’t have access to specialized databases available to private investigators or lawyers, there are still lots of ways to find living people. Even if they’ve moved out-of-state, have a common name, and are using an unknown married name, it can still be done, often surprisingly easily. Mini-case studies and examples will be provided to illustrate the tips and tricks presented.

2:45-4:00       Practicum Progress Review and Discussion (Cathi 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 (Cathi Desmarais, Kelvin Meyers and Michael 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 (Cathi 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 FamilyTreeMaker, 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 RootsMagic will be included in the syllabus.) You will also learn tips for adding document images as exhibits to their report or affidavit, how to label them, and include a source citation.

2:45-4:00       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.

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

Your instructors will be available for individualized guidance as you practice some of the techniques you’ve learned during the course. You may choose to begin to write up your findings, create a family relationship chart, or add exhibits to your report or affidavit.


8:30 – 9:45     Practicum Solution (Cathi 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?

10:15-11:30      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.

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