Skip to main content

Using Genealogy Research to Solve 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

Scroll to Continue

Read More From Soapboxie

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.

Police Begin Studying Family 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

Related Articles