Archive for May, 2012

What is forensic genealogy?

In an effort to explore some of the different career opportunities for genealogists, the following interview was conducted via email with Leslie Lawson, President of the Council for the Advancement of Forensic Genealogy.

Note from Leslie: Some of the answers to these questions I have pulled straight from the website for the Council for the Advancement of Forensic Genealogy at: We worked long and hard to define ourselves and our goals for all the world to see!

1. What is “forensic genealogy”?

Forensic genealogy is research, analysis, and reporting in cases with legal implications.

Using methodology and ethics consistent with the highest standards of the profession, Forensic Genealogy is conducted by unbiased, disinterested, third party practitioners with no personal or professional stake in the outcome.

2. What is the difference in methodology between forensic genealogy and traditional “ancestral” genealogy?

Whether going back in time or coming forward in time it takes an educated research skill and knowledge about the available databases that can help you with this search. Each state decides what records will be available. Some states are extremely difficult to research in and others try to make it fairly easy. Going back in time is easier to a point, usually about 1850, and then it takes a different skill set, or mind set, to figure out how to go back further. To come forward from 1930 to today you must have knowledge about the place you are researching in and what information is available for that place. Are there newspapers, city directories, voter’s registers? Can you access the SSDI to help bridge the years? Is there an online tree somewhere to help you locate living family members?

3. What are some of the issues that forensic genealogists confront?

Broken families where siblings don’t talk to each other; they also don’t talk to other living family members. Fifty years ago there was almost always a family member who was the one person that kept up with every person in their extended family. Today people are so busy that they often don’t know what is going on within their immediate family.

There is the constant threat of closing record sets. Some records that are closed to researchers might include funeral homes or cemeteries that refuse to give answers citing privacy issues or HIPPA [dead people don’t have HIPPA coverage]. Some businesses want to charge a large sum of money to open a book or access a computer. With all the scams in the news the next difficulty comes when we try to contact living people. Many are very wary, as they should be, but it does make it difficult at times to convince them to speak with us. I usually start the conversation talking about their grandparents, information that scammers wouldn’t necessarily be aware of.

4. Who are the most common clients of forensic genealogists?

Most of our clients are attorneys; oil and gas companies; banks; trust accountants; guardians for the elderly.

5. What is the mission of the Council for the Advancement of Forensic Genealogy?

From the homepage of our website, under “Our Objectives”

  • Advance public awareness and understanding of the profession.
  • Encourage broader use of the services of qualified forensic genealogists.
  • Promote and maintain high standards of professional and ethical conduct.
  • Encourage best practices in client services and business models.
  • Promote interchange of information among members through electronic forums, trade publications, meetings, and seminars.
  • Provide education and training for professional advancement of membership.
  • Assist fellow members in professional development though mentorship, full membership, credentialing, and awarding of fellowships.
  • Influence legislation that impacts the profession or the ability to access public records.

6. What advice would you give a genealogist who is considering a career in forensic genealogy?

Understand that these cases can be very challenging; time sensitive affairs. If a judge is nipping at an attorney, you can bet that attorney will be nipping at you. Know the law of the state you are working within. Ask a practicing forensic genealogist if they can mentor you so that you can learn the ropes. You might not be able to access the professional’s files because of their confidentiality agreements, but you can certainly practice on your own family by picking a line you know nothing about and bringing all those lines forward to today; then contacting said family members. Perhaps you’ll have a fmily reunion with that new information you’ve uncovered. Understand that we are constantly learning about available records, and networking with others to be our legs on the ground when we need onsite researchers.

If you want to pull records for anyone, learn how to write citations! We’re not looking for perfection; we’re looking for accurate citations. If I receive a document with citations you can be pretty sure I’m going to call you again if I have work in that area. And you can also bet I’ll share your name with others. Understand if you are a record puller, forensic genealogists need prompt response, follow through, and citations.

And if you really want to learn about forensic genealogy, come to the Institute! At this writing there is one slot left open. You can learn more about what we are offering at the website. It will be an intense 2 ½ days, and your mind will be swimming when you return home. It is our intention to walk you through all kinds of real life scenarios that we have run in to while doing this work. We hope to give you answers to many of the common and not so common questions. Our hope is to truly stretch you as a professional genealogist.

UPDATE: For another perspective on this subject, see Barbara Matthews, “Response to ‘What Is Forensic Genealogy?,’” The Demanding Genealogist blog, posted 23 May 2012 ( : accessed 23 May 2012).


Notable Genealogy Blog Posts, 13 May 2012

The following recent blog posts are those that I consider important or notable. Unlike other similar blog lists, I cannot guarantee that they will all be from the past week. (Some weeks I simply do not have time to read any blogs.) But I will try to write this on a fairly regular basis.

NOTE: As this post appears, I will be driving from Ohio to Delaware, coming home from the National Genealogical Society annual conference. Since I have been there all week, there are only a few posts noted here.

Anne Morddel, CG, “Sourcing and Annotating the French Way,” The French Genealogy Blog, posted 2 May 2012 ( : accessed 6 May 2012). Ms. Morddel discusses the work of a French genealogist to describe sources in France, using original records. Though Evidence Explained holds a dear place in the hearts of American genealogists, it does fall somewhat short on international records. (That could take another 800 pages!) But standards in genealogy are not unique to American genealogy, so I love to read about similar efforts in other countries. The post refers to …

Sophie Boudarel, “Comment utiliser les sources en généalogie ?,” La gazette des ancêtres blog, posted 18 April 2012 ( : accessed 6 May 2012). Finally those seven years of French instruction (and a healthy dose of Google Translate) come in handy. Ms. Boudarel does a very good job discussing the use of sources. And she points me to another French blog …

Roland, “Les sources en généalogie,” blog, posted 17 April 2012 ( : accessed 6 May 2012). I love that these French genealogy blogs have been talking about the nature of sources, etc.—topics close to my own heart as any reader of this blog knows.

J. H. Fonkert, CG, “Why do Editors ask You to Write?,” Four Generations Genealogy blog, posted 6 May 2012 ( : accessed 6 May 2012). Jay responds to Harold Henderson’s post “Why We Don’t Write” (see last week’s Notable Genealogy Blog Posts), from the point of view of the managing editor of the Minnesota Genealogist, a publication of the Minnesota Genealogical Society. Very good input for those who love to write.

Notable Genealogy Blog Posts, 6 May 2012

The following recent blog posts are those that I consider important or notable. Unlike other similar blog lists, I cannot guarantee that they will all be from the past week. (Some weeks I simply do not have time to read any blogs.) But I will try to write this on a fairly regular basis.

Harold Henderson, “Why We Don’t Write,” Midwestern Microhistory blog, posted 6 May 2012 ( : accessed 6 May 2012). This is the best blog post I have read in some time. I have written quite often about the need to form written conclusions in our research, but here Harold describes why so few genealogists appear to do so–or at least why they don’t submit this research to the local society newsletters and journals that are starving for content.

Jill K. Morelli, “Do you ever go back and re-read reference books?,” Genealogy Certification: My Personal Journal blog, posted 15 April 2012 ( : accessed 15 April 2012). Jill discusses her recent re-reading of Professional Genealogy, edited by Elizabeth Shown Mills. Now further along in her genealogical career than the first time she read it, Jill notes how her perception of various parts of the book has changed.

Chris Staats, “Fixing Your Genealogy Jalopy: A Metaphor,” Staats Genealogical Services blog, posted 29 April 2012 ( : accessed 30 April 2012). Chris uses the metaphor of car repair to illustrate genealogy education vs. experience.

Thomas W. Jones, “Dr. Thomas W. Jones on Research, Teaching, and SLIG,” Utah Genealogical Association blog, posted 1 May 2012 ( : accessed 3 May 2012). Dr. Jones discusses some of his “favorie” ancestors, and how he uses them in his teaching.

Lorine McGinnis Schulze, “Assumptions vs Working Theories – The Good and the Bad,” Olive Tree Genealogy blog, posted 28 April 2012 ( : accessed 3 May 2012). Ms. Schulze uses one of the most common assumptions in genealogy to express why we cannot assume anything, instead looking for evidence to form conclusions.

Ed Payne, “Unionist Naming of Mississippi Children–Revisited,” in Victoria Bynum’s Renegade South blog, posted 21 March 2012 ( : accessed 15 April 2012). This is a very interesting study of the naming of children in Mississippi during the Civil War and Reconstruction periods–and what these patterns might say about Union sympathies in the Deep South. Very interesting for anyone researching in the South during this era, and anyone interested in the Civil War.

Jeff Hurt, “Small Groups Of Friends Are The Key To Influence Not Swaying Influential People,” Velvet Chainsaw’s Midcourse Corrections blog, posted 20 March 2012 ( : accessed 15 April 2012). This article’s intended audience are marketers and those involved in education, discussing one aspect of social networks (the real-life ones, not the online ones like Facebook).

Blogs by Board-certified genealogists

According to the Geneabloggers website, there are currently over 2500 blogs.

In an effort to recognize the work of those who have achieved the Certified Genealogist(sm) credential awarded by the Board for the Certification of Genealogists, I would like to present this list of blogs by Board-certified genealogists. The broad range of topics discussed in these blogs shows the range of interests and specialties that credentialed genealogists pursue.

Not all of these authors are professional genealogists. Not all of them conduct research for clients. Yet all of these authors share a dedication to upholding the high standards of research proscribed by the Board.

Claire Ammon, CG, Once Upon A Time in New Haven (

Susan Farrell Bankhead, CG, Susan’s Genealogy Blog (

Karen Miller Bennett, CG, Karen’s Chatt (

Amy Johnson Crow, CG, Amy Johnson Crow blog (

Catherine Becker Wiest Desmarais, CG, No Stone Unturned (

Jay H. Fonkert, CG, Four Generations Genealogy (

Ladonna Garner, CG, The Leafseeker (

Linda Woodward Geiger, CG, Anamnesis: Musings by Linda (

Linda Woodward Geiger, CG, Musings by Linda: My Family Research (

Linda Woodward Geiger, CG, Musings by Linda: North Georgia Families (

Myra Vanderpool Gormley, CG, Shaking Family Trees (

Michael Hait, CG, Planting the Seeds: Genealogy as a Profession (

Jean Wilcox Hibben, CG, Circlemending: Completing the Family Circle (

Melanie D. Holtz, CG, Finding Our Italian Roots (

Cecile Wendt Jensen, CG, Michigan Polonia (

Brenda Joyce Jerome, CG, Western Kentucky Genealogy Blog (

Polly Kimmitt, CG, PollyBlog (

Rachal Mills Lennon, CG, Finding Southern Ancestors: A Blog (

Connie Lenzen, CG, Connie’s comments about genealogy and family (

J. Mark Lowe, CG, Keeping the Story Alive (

J. Mark Lowe, CG, Kentucky & Tennessee Stories (

Barbara J. Mathews, CG, The Demanding Genealogist (

Brenda Dougall Merriman, CG, Brenda Dougall Merriman blog (

Elizabeth Shown Mills, CG, Evidence Explained: QuickLessons (

Donald W. Moore, CG, Antecedents (

Anne Morddel, CG, The French Genealogy Blog (

Judy G. Russell, CG, The Legal Genealogist (

Craig R. Scott, CG, As Craig Sees It (

Craig R. Scott, CG, Stump Craig (

Christine Sharbrough, CG, Genealogy in 2012 – The Next Generation (

Christine Sharbrough, CG, Cyrus E. Dallin, American Renaissance Sculptor (

Paula Stuart-Warren, CG, Paula’s Genealogical Eclectica (

Cath Madden Trindle, CG, CSGA Copyright: Copyright Issues for the 21st Century Genealogical Community (

Debbie Parker Wayne, CG, Deb’s Delvings in Genealogy (

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