2023 July – Beyond Fundamentals: Hands-on Forensic Genealogy

Beyond Fundamentals: Hands-On Forensic Genealogy
Coordinator: Catherine Wiest Desmarais, CG

Instructors: Linda Hunter; Kelvin Meyers; Michael Ramage, JD, CG, Franchesca Werden

Held 9-14 July 2023, In-person at La Roche University, Pittsburgh, PA. Registration Information. THERE WILL BE TWO SECTIONS of this course, each with a slightly different session order. This the LAST TIME this course will be offered.

This course is designed for students who understand the fundamental methodology of forensic genealogy work and wish to gain experience and confidence by engaging with real-life scenarios. Each session will involve a “hands-on” activity. Students will work through portions of probate, real estate, mineral rights, and dual citizenship cases in a collaborative setting. We’ll add some fun by interspersing quick questions in a lightening round format and close with a game show. Please note that this is the last time we expect to offer this course.

Student prerequisites: 

  • This course is for aspiring or practicing professionals. Students need to have taken Fundamentals of Forensic Genealogy at GRIP or SLIG, or CAFG’s Forensic Genealogy Institute.
  • If you have professional forensic genealogy experience working on cases for attorneys, the previous course requirement may be waived with coordinator permission.
  • Please be familiar with Genealogy Standards, Second Edition (Washington, DC: Board for Certification of Genealogists, 2019).


9:00 AM and 10:45 AM – Ghost Busting: Finding Elusive Folk and What to Do When You Can’t (Desmarais)
We’ll work together to develop strategies for tracking down elusive relatives and practice reporting due diligent efforts to the court when someone can’t be found. This will include reporting on records access limitations and record destruction. Creative and unexpected solutions to successfully find relatives will be shared.

1:30 PM – How Diligent is Due Diligence? Efficient Case Management (Hunter)
Effective forensic research must be mindful of the client’s budget while maintaining genealogical standards and conducting due diligence. This requires decisions such as which records to access and the balancing of research time versus reimbursable expenses. Using case studies, the class will explore strategies to conduct strong research efficiently.

3:15 PM – Interactive Unknown Heirs Research Practicum (Ramage) This hands-on practicum is based on a recent missing and unknown-heirs case. This will be an interactive research class in that students are provided the background and known facts of the case and will find relevant records. As they do so, they will share their results with the instructor and class. A discussion of the found record will take place, continuing until time is up. All enrollees will receive free copies of and licenses to use the instructor’s syllabus and slides to his marketing presentation, “Forensic Genealogy for Death & Dirt Lawyers,” given in 2019 to real property and estate lawyers (it may be used for paralegals, too).

4:30 PM – Work Session: Interactive Unknown Heirs Research Practicum (Ramage)


9:00 AM – Title Insurance Work: Gold Mine or Tar Pit? (Ramage)
Learn about what type of forensic genealogy work title insurance companies may need you for and how you might reach out to these companies. Advantages and disadvantages of this type of work will be explained. Find out what the major differences are between quiet title and estate research.

10:45 AM – The Tangled Web of Property Inheritance (Hunter)
The inheritance path for unknown interest in real property can take many twists and turns. In this session we’ll discuss some considerations and complications – such as state-to-state intestate succession differences, multiple marriages, adoptions, and trusts. Case studies will be incorporated to provide hands-on experience following the path of inheritance and charting the results.

1:30 PM – Do I Own All the Land I Live On? (Meyers)
The doctrine of adverse possession protects someone who has honestly entered and held possession in the belief that the land his or her own. We will look at the six elements of adverse possession and what the forensic genealogist may be called upon to do to help clear title to the property.

3:15 PM – The Case of the Unsatisfied Mortgage: Issues, Research and Answers (Ramage)
This class will take you through the important stages of an actual unsatisfied mortgage case (where the mortgagors are missing) from factual background, legal issue evaluation and research, and resolution of the problem. This practicum will teach students not to assume anything when the law is involved.

4:30 PM Enhancement Session: Resolution: Unknown Heirs Practicum (Ramage)


9:00 AM – Real Estate or Personal Estate: How Do You Handle Mineral Rights? (Meyers) Are mineral rights real or personal estate? Can a person own both? Can a person own only one or other? These and other questions about dealing with mineral rights will be answered. The class will learn terminology that is exclusive to mineral rights cases and how the distribution of said monies may differ from other probate cases.

10:45 AM – When you Need to Prove a Negative (Desmarais)
When no direct evidence exists, how do you provide documentation to satisfy a judge that a person had no children? Or never married? In this session we’ll review multiple examples of short proof summaries. Students will then practice creating a research plan and outline a proof summary for a case that hinged on showing there were no unidentified children.

1:30 PM – Jure Sanguinis: Deciphering the Complexities of Citizenship by Descent (Werden)
Dual citizenship research is a specialty area for some forensic genealogists. Every country that offers citizenship by descent has its own criteria for qualification. This session will provide a broad overview of the dual citizenship process and a discussion of the applicable laws with the focus on Italian dual citizenship. Students will be given a practical exercise to determine eligibility in an Italian dual citizenship case study.

3:15 PM – The Swiss Doctor: Who and Where was Betty’s Father? Part 1 (Hunter)
In the first session, students will conduct preliminary research online and with documents provided by the instructor. After comparing their work to the instructor’s research path, additional sessions will involve teamwork to develop a research plan to document the identity and location of decedent Betty’s father. The successful solution will be shared.

4:30 PM Enhancement Session: Resolution: The Case of the Unsatisfied Mortgage (Ramage)


9:00 AM – The Swiss Doctor: Who and Where was Betty’s Father? Part 2 Resolution (Hunter)

10:45 AM – Legal Research for the Forensic Genealogist (Ramage)
This hands-on workshop will take you through the readily available legal resources and how to research them. Issues will include such topics as: (1) Does my state have any statutory or appellate case law on the use of DNA in forensic genealogy cases? What do you do if your state has no law on the subject? (2) How do I locate the old statutory intestate succession laws in my state that were in effect at the date of death of an early owner of real estate (required for many quiet title cases)?

1:30 PM – Concisely Resolving Conflicting Evidence (Desmarais)
In a report or affidavit, should we just provide our conclusions, or should we explain conflicting evidence such as varying names, birthdates, and extra or missing children in a census or obituary? If so, how do we write a concise proof summary to do so? After reviewing examples, students will write a brief conflicting evidence proof summary from a real-life example.

3:15 PM – Sole Heir or No? (Meyers) An heir comes forward believing he is the sole heir to real estate that he wants to sell. He has lived on the land and paid the taxes for several years. The attorney in the case asks you verify his claim. You will be given the two documents provided by the attorney. The class will work on this case and then be provided with the solution.

4:30 PM Enhancement Session: Resolution: Citizenship by Descent (Werden)


9:00 AM – Ethical Conundrums: When There is No Clear Answer (Desmarais)
Sometimes we have to make decisions where there is no single right answer. In small groups and as a full class, we’ll consider several scenarios requiring ethical decisions.

10:45 AM – Forensic Genealogy Game Show followed by Everything You Wanted to Know About Forensic Genealogy You Now Can Ask (All)
Here’s a chance to show what you know about forensic genealogy! We’ll divide into teams and review what we’ve learned in a fun environment and raise a little money for charity at the same time. After that, your instructional team will be happy to answer (or try to!) any questions pertaining to running a forensic genealogy business. Please bring specific questions with you to this session.

Wrap-up and presentation of course certificates before lunch