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Genealogy Research Solving Crimes

I love history and all the events that built our great country. I also love to travel and I love genealogy research.


DNA Research

Over 26 million people have shared their DNA with various ancestry firms. Gedcom is one of the largest firms designed to help people research their ancestors. The acronym for GED is GEnealogical Data COMmunications and it was established by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. People exchange and store their DNA information so they can use any ancestry computer program. Ancestry, RootsMagic and Family Tree are popular programs used to keep family tree information organized.

Researching Family Trees

When you research a family tree that is not your own, the steps are a bit different. When you research your own tree you may have grandparents or other relatives that can give you a wealth of information, You will probably also have access to your parents birth certificates, military service and many other documents.

If you are researching a family tree that is not your own you will begin with the individual’s DNA and attempt to match it to anyone in a program like GEDmatch. The match will never be identical as everyone has different DNA. Usually people use their true name and email address at GEDmatch but some people do use an alias. There may be other information available on GEDmatch if the person chose to share it, such as sex, address, etc.


Genealogy and Forensics

Many people like genetic testing and genetic genealogy because they are interested in what they might learn about their family beyond what they learn from family members. They would like to know of health problems, where their ancestors came from, wars they fought, their occupations and so on. An examination of DNA variations may reveal where the ancestors may have come from and we learn about the relationships between families.

Many people research their family tree using a variety of programs.

Some of these programs include:

  • Ancestry
  • Family Tree Maker
  • Roots Magic
  • Legacy Family Tree

You can easily get a DNA test done with Ancestry, 23andMe, Migration and FTDNA. These the most common DNA tests seen on GEDmatch.

There are specific types of genetic testing used also, which includes:

  1. Y chromosome testing - The Y is a strictly male chromosome passed from a man to his son, so this test can reveal two men with the same last name that are related
  2. Mitochondrial DNA testing - It is passed down from the mother, it can be used for either sex, but for genealogy it reveals the direct female ancestral line

Getting Started with GEDmatch - A Segment of DNA

Crimes Solved Using Genealogy

In 2018, genetic GEDmatch began to assist forensics to solve crimes and some of those crimes are forty years old. Cold cases may be the best benefit for using genetics at this early stage.

Two cases has been solved recently one in San Diego and one in Terre Haute, Indiana using the FBI’s forensic genetic genealogy team. They were able to arrest a serial rapist with crimes dating back to 1994. In Indiana a case was solved where a nineteen year old was murdered on the college campus.

In December, 2018, the team stated that due to DNA testing, GEDmatch and genetic genealogy a total of twenty-eight cold cases had been solved, which included rape and murder. Additionally, Family Tree DNA let the law enforcement agencies upload DNA profiles from crime scenes.

By April 2019, GEDmatch was used in approximately 59 cases, with the work being done by Parabon Nanolabs, along with their chief genetic genealogist, CeCe Moore. The notorious Golden State Killer was also caught, along with forty other suspects.

There was a murder forty years ago in Iowa that has finally been solved with genealogy. The victim was an 18 year old girl in Cedar Rapids who disappeared from the mall parking lot. The DNA was tested without results. There is a private genetics firm who solved this case using GEDmatch. They found DNA evidence of a cousin, and they ultimately found the killer. The perpetrator was found guilty of first-degree

There were eleven Jane and John Doe identifications, which was funded by the DNA Doe Project. In May, 2019, the rules concerning privacy were tightened by GEDmatch, which has made it more difficult for law enforcement.


Problems Using DNA Files

There are really not many rules in using information gleaned from genealogy records. The Department of Justice has put out some guidance as to how officers should use genetic genealogy, but this is not a law. Obtaining information from a private or public database without a warrant is considered illegal by some. The Supreme Court hinted that it may reexamine the privacy rights to digital information.

How to Save Genealogy Gedcom Files Easily: Simplify Transfers to Online Trees


Most of the cases being solved using genealogy are cases that are old. More than fifty cases have been solved using this technique. At this time there are police departments and the Federal Bureau of Investigation that have formed their own dedicated family tree-building unit.

Genetic genealogy can provide a wealth of information to detectives, when the suspect does not have their DNA in a law enforcement database. People that use GEDcom do not expect privacy as they are looking for relatives. They store their email addresses in the program to hear from people.

Genealogy Data to Solve Crimes


This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2020 Pamela Oglesby


Pamela Oglesby (author) from Sunny Florida on July 26, 2020:

Hi Alyssa,

You are surrounding by family members researching the family history, which is nice for you and for your children also. Thanks so much for your comments.

I hope you are enjoying the weekend as well.

Alyssa from Ohio on July 25, 2020:

This article was fascinating,Pamela! A few weeks ago, my mother-in-law was telling me about her new favorite show, The Genetic Detective. She has been heavily engrossed in the family's genealogy for the past few years and I always love hearing the stories of my husband's ancestors. Growing up, we spent many summers traveling our state and neighboring states, visiting libraries and cemeteries for my own mother's research. It's so interesting how technology has helped the whole process. Being able to give closure on those old cases is wonderful, I think, but does bring up questions about privacy.

I hope you are well and enjoying the weekend!

Robert Sacchi on July 20, 2020:

Thank you for posting. It's good to know the pluses and minuses of new technology.

Pamela Oglesby (author) from Sunny Florida on July 20, 2020:

Hi Maria,

I thought about closure for those people when a crime was finally solved. Thanks for commenting.

Love and hugs.

Pamela Oglesby (author) from Sunny Florida on July 20, 2020:

Hi Robert,

I completey agree with you. Thanks for commenting.

Robert Sacchi on July 19, 2020:

It seems the lesson here is be very wary before giving a company access to anything about you. There is no telling how the company will use the information or how a government might use the information when they get it from the company.

Maria Jordan from Jeffersonville PA on July 19, 2020:

Dear Pamela,

I can't imagine the anguish that victims and their loved ones deal with in the cases of sexual assault and murder.

If genealogy helps in the solving of these crimes, I am all for it.

Thanks for sharing this fascinating information. Love, Maria

Pamela Oglesby (author) from Sunny Florida on July 19, 2020:

Hi MG,

It is one way to solve murders and rapes. Thanks for reading and commenting

MG Singh emge from Singapore on July 18, 2020:

Very interesting article, yes DNA can be a great help in solving a host of problems in the world including crime.

Pamela Oglesby (author) from Sunny Florida on July 16, 2020:

Hi Nell,

That is so great! I think the possibility of finding a relative is the reason we keep up the search. I did my DNA with Ancestry. I did find a cousin but it was not the DNA just someone who was also searching.

Thanks for your comments.

Pamela Oglesby (author) from Sunny Florida on July 16, 2020:

Hi Ms Dora,

Genealogy is a great method for meeting family members that you didn't even know about. That is the best part. I appreciate your comments.

Pamela Oglesby (author) from Sunny Florida on July 16, 2020:

Hi Devika,

The has genealogy DNA successfully solved some cases. It is great when they solve a really old case. Thanks for your comments.

Devika Primić from Dubrovnik, Croatia on July 16, 2020:

Important and definitely a way to track criminals by their ancestry traces. I am glad this has finally come to life and a great breakthrough indeed.

Dora Weithers from The Caribbean on July 16, 2020:

Good that the genealogy data can be helpful in solving crimes. My concern is that the information be accurate. If it isn't now, I hope the accuracy factor will improve. The best part of the research is the discovery and reunion of families.

Nell Rose from England on July 16, 2020:

I love Gedmatch. I remember emailing the founder, can't remember his name now. He was 80 years old and now handed it over to others to carry one. I am with Myheritage, and always checking my DNA. I found a girl in my town who is a cousin I never knew!

Pamela Oglesby (author) from Sunny Florida on July 16, 2020:

HI Mel,

I am glad you know now that many people typically have access to DNA results, depending on where they are posted. In one of the cases I reviewed a murderer was found by matching his DNA with a cousin's DNA. So, I guess that says don't leave your DNA at a crime scene. Some people check their DNA because they have so few relatives or maybe because they are adopted.

As for the accuracy of the DNA, I did not know that was a problem. I appreciate your generous comments.

Mel Carriere from Snowbound and down in Northern Colorado on July 16, 2020:

So, what I gathered here is that these DNA tests we innocently send away for, wanting to discover perhaps what part of the world we come from, are then being used by law enforcement? I never knew that. Of course I'm not a criminal, but it seems like some kind of insidious trick to get us to upload our DNA so they can track us better.

Furthermore, I'm not convinced of the accuracy of these DNA tests. My Father sent away his DNA to two different companies, because he didn't like the first result. One said we were Finnish, the other said Northern European, as in France and Germany. All the passed down family lore says we are German, so the second case makes more sense. Nevertheless, I am wary of these tests, and even more so now that you say the results become part of a public database.

Great work. Very revealing article.

Pamela Oglesby (author) from Sunny Florida on July 15, 2020:

Hi Sp,

Yes, that is definitely a positive outcome. Thank so much for reading and commenting.

Sp Greaney from Ireland on July 15, 2020:

I've never done a family tree but you've given some good advice here on how to attempt one. That's a postive outcome if they can use it to trace criminals.

Pamela Oglesby (author) from Sunny Florida on July 15, 2020:

Hi Peggy,

I really like that cold cases are solvled. When you submit your DNA to one of these websites it is with a name or alias, but also an email address, as they are hoping to her from some relative that they have lost touch with or that they didn't know. Some orphans look for their parents. I appreciate your comments.

Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on July 15, 2020:

I think that it is terrific that old crimes can now be solved with the aid of using DNA. As to privacy issues, if it is used for this purpose, I think that it should be allowed to continue. As you mentioned, most people who voluntarily submit their DNA for genealogy purposes have already given up some personal privacy.

Pamela Oglesby (author) from Sunny Florida on July 15, 2020:

Hi Drew,

I'm glad you found this article interesting. I appreciate your comments.

Drew Agravante from Philippines, Currently in Qatar on July 15, 2020:

Woah! Time to get some genealogy courses. Thanks I learned a lot!

Pamela Oglesby (author) from Sunny Florida on July 15, 2020:

Hi Rajan,

It is hard not to be concerned with the privacy buy it is also difficult to not try to solve those cold cases. Thanks for your comments.

Rajan Singh Jolly from From Mumbai, presently in Jalandhar, INDIA. on July 15, 2020:

Although a great tool the privacy issue is something I am concerned with. Still, it is good that even old unsolved cases have a chance of getting solved using DNA.

Pamela Oglesby (author) from Sunny Florida on July 15, 2020:

Hi Linda,

I'm glad you found the article interesting. Thank you for commenting. Stay safe and healthy!

Linda Crampton from British Columbia, Canada on July 14, 2020:

This is very interesting information. Genetic analysis could have many benefits, though I do have some concerns about the way in which the information is used.

Pamela Oglesby (author) from Sunny Florida on July 14, 2020:

Hi Manatita,

I didn't know you had been in the police force. I am glad you found this article informative and your comments are appreciated.

Pamela Oglesby (author) from Sunny Florida on July 14, 2020:

Hi Vidya,

It is great that there are so many programs available. I imagine that helps solve some of these old cases.

Thank so much for your comments. Stay safe and healthy.

Pamela Oglesby (author) from Sunny Florida on July 14, 2020:

Hi Ruby,

Boys do like to have something to brag about. I think it is nice to solve those cold cases too. I appreciate your comments, Ruby.

Stay safe and healthy!

Ruby Jean Richert from Southern Illinois on July 14, 2020:

I think it's great that we now have the ability to solve cases through DNA. I have never done any genealogy research. My first husband's mother was a Grant and they traced her back to General Grant. My son used to brag when he was in grade school that General Grant was his uncle. Lol. Great educational article!

VIDYA D SAGAR on July 14, 2020:

A very informative and interesting article Pamela. It's amazing that genealogy can be used to solve old crimes. It gives relief to the victim's family. It is interesting to research family trees, gives an insight into our ancestors lives. With a that a variety of programs available it is much easier to do it nowadays.

manatita44 from london on July 14, 2020:

We have come a long way and not too much of us remain hidden now. I was in the police force. I had very high grades and they wanted me to do CID or forensic. I did neither and left the job after 3 years 6months.

Very informative Hub. I see a lot of American cases being solved in court this way.

Pamela Oglesby (author) from Sunny Florida on July 14, 2020:

Hii Linda,

It is fascinating to me to knw they solved from 52 years ago. I am glad you enjoy this topic and I appreciate your comments.

Linda Lum from Washington State, USA on July 14, 2020:

Pamela, this stuff fascinates me. A few cold cases in Washington State have been solved with DNA from Ancestry.com. One was 52 years old!

Pamela Oglesby (author) from Sunny Florida on July 14, 2020:

Hi Bill,

They have come a long way in forensic science and DNA. I have been fingerprinted to get a passport, which is probably true of many.

They have used the DNA of some relative to catch a killer for a 40 year old crime in one case and I thought that was amazing.

I am quite sure that you live on a high moral ground. LOL

Thanks for reading and commenting, Bill.

Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on July 14, 2020:

The advancements in forensic science, and DNA, etc, make it amazing to me that there are still unsolved cases from the last ten years. I know I've been fingerprinted, so I'm on file somewhere. That and a strong case of morality make it unlikely I'll commit a crime. :)

Pamela Oglesby (author) from Sunny Florida on July 14, 2020:

Hi Lorna,

Some people do work on their family tree to find out about any diseases. I have no doubt their are some innocent people behind bars. Maybe the geneology research wiell ultimately help sovle these problems. Thank you for your comments.

Pamela Oglesby (author) from Sunny Florida on July 14, 2020:

Hi Rosina,

I am glad you enjoyed this article. Thank you for your very nice comments.

Pamela Oglesby (author) from Sunny Florida on July 14, 2020:

Hi Flourish,

I think it is great that crimes are solved years after they happened. I am sorry to hear about your cousin. There are several questions, like the ones you listed.

I appreciate your coments.

Lorna Lamon on July 14, 2020:

Such an interesting topic Pamela and having the ability to identify and eventually imprison those people who have committed heinous crimes is incredible. I often wander how many innocent people are behind bars because this science was not available then.

Genetic testing is also useful when it comes to certain inherited diseases and many couples are benefiting from this.

My Great Granmother kept an account of our family tree, however, it would be interesting to add to this. Another enjoyable and informative read.

Pamela Oglesby (author) from Sunny Florida on July 14, 2020:

Hi Chitrangada,

I am glad you found this article interesting. Thank you for your comments.

Chitrangada Sharan from New Delhi, India on July 14, 2020:

I have been reading about Genealogy on the Internet. This looks like a vast subject. Want to know more about this. Your article provides a good reference, and it sounds interesting to me. Would check out the reference reading articles too.

Thank you for sharing this interesting article.

FlourishAnyway from USA on July 13, 2020:

It’s really amazing that justice can finally be served decades later. You have no control over whether you are potentially traceable via these DNA databases because a distant relative could have signed up thus making your genetic information compromised. As long as you don’t commit a crime you shouldn’t worry. But then there’s the question of trust in the system and how the sample was acquired, etc. Alas, my cousin was murdered and if they could have used this to somehow help solve her crime I’m sure it would have been welcomed.

Rosina S Khan on July 13, 2020:

It is very interesting to know that using genealogy many old criminal cases can be solved. I loved the article. Your articles are always so knowledgeable. Thanks for sharing, Pamela.

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