A few weeks ago I mentioned that I had obtained a new book, entitled "Forensic Genealogy." It sat on my desk for some time as I was busy with other things. Now I have had a chance to read through this book. I only wish that I had done so earlier. It is a good one.
Serious genealogists usually conduct scholarly research. After all, we use the same materials the scholars use, and many of us were trained by scholars. It is only natural that we would use the same techniques that scholars use to examine old documents, transcribed lists, and other sources. However, author Colleen Fitzpatrick suggests that scholarly methodology alone is not enough. She suggests that we should also use the methods of detectives, crime scene investigators, geneticists, criminologists, and FBI laboratory technicians. Dr. Fitzpatrick shows how to further your genealogy investigations by using a mix of the methods used by Sherlock Holmes and by CSI: Miami.
One section of the book that I particularly enjoyed was how to determine the dates of photographs and to even determine (sometimes) who is in the photo. This book is filled with suggestions on how to find the clues -- suggestions that become obvious AFTER the author explains what to look for. I must say that I certainly guessed very few of them before reading the accompanying text.
For instance, when examining an old photograph, Colleen Fitzpatrick tells why you always turn the photograph over and closely examine the back. She also tells why it is important to examine the edges and borders of the photograph. Finally, she tells why you should turn a group of photographs over and try to line up the photos side-by-side while looking only at the reverse sides, matching the edges together. This can often give clues as to the dates of the photographs.
Of course, Colleen also spends a lot of time looking at the front side of photographs, as you might expect. In one example on page 7, she publishes a photograph of a wedding party and then walks the reader through a step-by-step analysis that finally suggests that several people in this picture probably were actresses, even though their names are unknown. Such a clue can open up new areas and records to investigate. In this case, Colleen even suggests the name of the play involved. This photograph also shows the name of the photographer. Old records exist that detail the cities and years of operation of most photography studios of long ago. Armed with that knowledge, the genealogist can check old newspapers for that city to see the dates the play was performed and who starred in it.
Colleen also describes methods of dating photographs. Many people have long compared the clothing and hairstyles of the people in the photograph against the fashions that were popular in the late 1800s to early 1900s. However, Colleen Fitzpatrick also tells how to determine age from the type of photography paper used. For instance, anything labeled as VELOX photographic paper was from the 1920s or later, although no later than the mid 1950s.
Dr. Fitzpatrick also shows how to take a fresh look at the genealogist's traditional tools: birth, death, and marriage records. She tells why it is often helpful to trace not only the ancestors whose information you seek, but also the friends, relatives, and even casual acquaintances of the person. Most of us are familiar with tax records and military records. Colleen tells why hospital, insurance and other records can often be effective as substitutes for census, birth, marriage, or death records. In many cases such records are easily available, often more available than the traditional records used by genealogists.
Another chapter in this book is devoted to DNA analysis in a manner I have not seen before. Colleen shows how to calculate a DNA network and how to generate Maximum Parsimony trees from a Reduced Median network.
NOTE: If that terminology is all "Greek" to you, welcome to the club! I didn't understand it either before reading this book. Colleen shows how to use such genetic tools to help find clues about family history.
All in all, "Forensic Genealogy" provides a fresh view of the many methods and objects that genealogists have used for decades. The author does not refute any of the established, scholarly research practices. Instead, she describes additional research techniques to be used when traditional methods do not supply the needed answers.
This one is a "keeper." I enjoyed reading "Forensic Genealogy" and suspect that you will also. You can learn more about this book and some of the techniques discussed at http://www.forensicgenealogy.info.
"Forensic Genealogy" sells for $26.50 plus shipping. You can order it directly from the author's web site: http://www.forensicgenealogy.info.