I posted an article yesterday about the formation of the Council for the Advancement of Forensic Genealogy. Several newsletter readers asked, "What is Forensic Genealogy?"
The word "forensic" means “relating to the use of science or technology in the investigation and establishment of facts or evidence." In this case, forensic would mean to use science or technology in addition to traditional records. In short, Forensic Genealogy is the use of something OTHER THAN standard records to add to your family history.
This is not to say that forensic genealogists ignore the records. Quite the contrary. Forensic genealogists always start with the available records. If those records are insufficient to prove a relationship, the forensic genealogist then looks for other clues. In other words, forensic genealogists think differently.
Heritage Forensics offers the following definition at http://goo.gl/ZqorA:
Forensic Genealogy is the use of science or technology by investigation through due diligence to establish facts or evidence in a court of law that pertains to a direct descendant; creating a record, pedigree, or lineage of a person, family, or group from an ancestor.
The term "forensic genealogy" is often misused as part of heir searches: finding heirs who stand to inherit property or goods left by a deceased individual. Actually, heir searchers often do use forensic genealogy to locate heirs, but the terms are otherwise unrelated. Forensic genealogy can be applied to almost all genealogy studies, whether heirs are involved or not.
The standard reference for forensic genealogy is Colleen Fitzpatrick’s book of the same name, Forensic Genealogy.
GenealogyToday has a review by Elisabeth Lindsay of Colleen Fitzpatrick’s book, Forensic Genealogy, which offers a lot of insight. That review is available at http://goo.gl/bCIg2.
Here are several examples of forensic genealogy:
Forensic genealogists will digitally scan old photos and then magnify them greatly or use photo editing software to emphasize certain colors to find details not otherwise visible. Don't know where the photograph was taken of the old automobile? Scan the picture at very high resolution, and then see if you can decode the license plate information. How about a distant sign in the background? What is unique in the photo?
Would you like to determine the date of an old photograph so that you can find approximate dates of birth of the family members in the photo? If the photographer has his studio name on the photo, you might research the years he was in business.
When you cannot determine the ancestry of some individuals, you start researching the relationships of the person's neighbors. Families often lived close to each other. Sooner or later, you will often find a connection.
Tamura Jones wrote an interesting article about the work of Dudok van Heel, a Dutch genealogist and Rembrandt specialist. In an effort to identify the subjects in Rembrandt's "Night Watch" painting completed in 1642, van Heel spent years researching archives and inventories of estates of those suspected of being models in the painting. In several cases, van Heel found that clothing and other items depicted in the painting were later mentioned in inventories of estates. Those inventories clearly identified who was wearing what. He also consulted with experts in firearms to determine the value of the muskets shown in the 1642 painting; and then was able to determine the relative wealth of each musket owner. This helped align the musket owners with certain families and paved the way for later identification of the individuals.
(Click on the above image to see a very large picture of the painting.)
You can read Tamura Jones's interesting article at http://www.tamurajones.net/NightWatchIdentitiesRevealed.xhtml.
A more formal definition of forensic genealogy written by Dee Dee King is available at the Forensic Genealogy Services web site at http://goo.gl/T9NS7.
You can find several definitions online; most of them are similar to each other.
Forensic genealogists look "beyond the records" to gather all available clues.
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