Wednesday, April 2, 2014

2014 Forensic Genealogy Institute a Great Learning Experience

I've been back in California for a few days since returning from the Council for the Advancement of Forensic Genealogy 2014  Forensic Genealogy Institute, where I attended the "Advanced Forensic Evidence Analysis" track.  The lectures covered a wide range of topics where forensic genealogy ("genealogical research, analysis, and reporting in cases with legal implication", from the CAFG site) can be applied.

Half of the first day was devoted to DNA and the current state of the technology as it applies to genealogy casework.  Those lectures were complemented by two talks about how the U.S. Department of Defense's Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command searches for, identifies, and confirms MIA and POW military personnel in order to repatriate
remains to family members.  DNA is often used in these cases, in addition to research into military actions in the locations in which remains are found, identification of artifacts found with the bodies, a lot of ruling out possibilities by exclusion (it can't be this person, this person, or that person, so it has to be this other person), and much more.  DoD wants to be absolutely sure before making an ID.

A large portion of the second day covered how oil and gas industry companies go about looking for land that is viable for energy use and then try to find all possible owners and/or heirs to the property so that they can begin exploration and extraction of the resources.  While genealogists are not involved in the energy side of things, it was interesting to learn how they do things (with a decided slant in favor of the oil and gas companies, of course).  The second presenter that day discussed dual citizenship cases, with details about procedures for Irish and Italian descendants.  I learned that my stepsons are not currently eligible for Irish dual citizenship but might be some time in the future — once the pool of eligible candidates with Irish ancestry begins to dry up due to descendancy restrictions (at most, someone must have had a grandparent with Irish ancestry), it's possible the Republic of Ireland might extend eligibility back to great-grandparents to maintain the revenue stream.  (You did know that the main reason countries offer dual citizenship through right of descent is to bring in [mostly American] money, right?)  The final talk of the day was about translation, when someone might need it, the difference between a translator and an interpreter (translation is written, interpreting is spoken), and certified translators (less common in the United States than in Europe, for various reasons).  Having done translation for many years, it was refreshing to hear a speaker explain to others the benefits of hiring a professional translator with experience versus merely using Google Translate (helpful in a pinch, but still only machine translation).  (By the way, if you need a translator, the best place to start a search is at the American Translators Association site.)

The final half-day we heard about two very different heir search case studies, both of them coincidentally involving Jewish and overseas research.  In the first case, the researcher who was contracted to find heirs had no prior experience with Jewish or overseas research, so was extremely surprised at many of the twists and turns involved, including formal and informal name changes, changing country borders, and the necessity sometimes to "grease the wheels" at repositories before research access would be granted.  The case has not yet been closed, but the researcher's running total was thirteen countries and eight languages.  (A couple of us found this somewhat entertaining, as these obstacles are very familiar to those of us who have done Jewish research.)  The second case study should have been pretty straightforward, as the deceased had left a will and "all" that was needed was to verify noninheriting heirs per state law.  This case again had surprises due to unexpected name changes, Jewish ancestry which some family members had tried to cover up, and the difficulties of conducting reearch in multiple countries with multiple rules and restrictions.

As advertised, the institute covered a lot of very relevant material, and the presenters were experts in their fields.  The opportunity to network was also important, and I was able to meet several people with whom I have been corresponding via e-mail.  It was well worth the investment in time and money to attend.  I definitely learned new things at the institute, but I was also pleasantly surprised to find that I had a good amount of knowledge already about the topics that were discussed.  I'll be looking for the announcement for next year's institute to see what subjects will be offered.


  1. Replies
    1. It's easy to give great feedback when it was such a good experience!

  2. Great article! I agree, the institute was a great learning experience!

    1. And great roommates, too! (


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