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So he lobbied city officials to create a local history and genealogy room, which opened in January , and which he staffed for most of the summer while he readied for his senior year in Charleston. Staton, who is double-majoring in history and historic preservation at the College, dug into the documents and began assembling his family tree.

His research methods and dedication were so impressive that in the National Genealogical Society awarded him its Rubincam Youth Award. When researching family history, Staton says most people hope to uncover scandal or associations with celebrities. Just as importantly, Staton was able to set the record straight when it came to family rumors and legends. In fact, he says, 95 percent of his genes can be traced to ancestors from the British Isles.

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But while a subscription to Ancestry. Interview your family members, collect family papers and learn as much as you can from the loved ones you see and speak to on a regular basis. Family Bibles can often be important documents, as names of generations of family members are often inscribed on interior pages. By reviewing census and death records, both of which are relatively easy to find and free to the public, you can confirm information shared by relatives and also fill in holes in your research.

Genealogy and Family History

Cemeteries can provide a lot of information to genealogists, especially if one discovers a family plot. When visiting a cemetery, Staton recommends visiting the cemetery office and asking for a cemetery map and a list of persons buried. In the case of neglected cemeteries, one might have to carefully clear away vegetation to learn the identities of the interred. Make friends with your extended family over Facebook and easily swap information and photos.

Never has it been easier to connect with a long-lost relative and to collaborate with them as you fill in your family tree.

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For those who really enjoy genealogical pursuits, a subscription to Ancestry. DNA testing, too, can be useful, says Staton, and the cost of testing is becoming more and more affordable. Once you submit a saliva sample, you can expect results in about six weeks. Law enforcement DNA databases are usually very effective because criminals typically start with small violations that get them entered into the database before they progress to more serious crimes that they can be connected to using information from their initial entry.

NDIS contains more than 17 million offender and arrestee profiles that are regularly compared with almost 1 million crime scene profiles. Over the past 20 years, NDIS has assisted about , law enforcement investigations. However, many cases go unsolved because the perpetrator operates under the radar. That all changed a year ago ….

This arrest had come using a game-changing nontraditional approach. Gathering DNA from arrestees and the practice of searching databases for DNA profiles that were similar to that of the suspect's had been started a decade earlier in California in an effort to find the elusive Golden State Killer, but even with these additional efforts, the trail to this killer was still cold.

The prosecutor said it was possible that the Golden State Killer had already died or was sitting in a Nevada prison but had not yet been entered into that state's DNA database. A few years ago, I was invited to speak at a family history conference in Charlottesville, Virginia, regarding DNA testing and its potential use in genealogical research.

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  7. No surprises there! The other company I used took a little longer but produced similar results. However, what I was not expecting was that enrolling my DNA sample in a genetic genealogy database would result in almost overnight connections to cousins whom I would not have located otherwise. I now regularly get emails from these distant relatives or invitations via the genetic genealogy companies to reach out to them to explore our shared genetic heritage. Since that initial talk in Charlottesville, I have been invited about half a dozen times to speak to members of the general public and genealogy enthusiasts in Virginia and Maryland.

    People seem eager to learn more about their heritage through DNA testing, and typically I find that about a third to a half of the audiences I address have had their DNA tested. According to a news article earlier this year, more than 26 million people have taken a DNA ancestry test.

    5 Tips from a Genealogical Sleuth for Investigating your Family Tree

    The audience asked some excellent questions, and we discussed the capabilities and limitations of genetic genealogy—and the Golden State Killer investigation and its impact on criminal DNA investigations. The development of a publicly accessible database known as GEDmatch for DNA data in and the rapid growth in the number of DNA ancestry tests being uploaded are what have enabled genetic genealogy to assist criminal investigations, including the breakthrough in the Golden State Killer case.

    Several different things had to come together to make this possible. First, the police needed to have a single-source crime scene sample of sufficient quality and quantity to obtain a profile with all the DNA markers used in genetic genealogy.


    In the Golden State Killer case, it was an old semen stain from a sexual assault kit. Second, the police needed a large number of genetic genealogy tests, i. Third, the police needed a high density of DNA markers to provide a tighter fishing net.

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    Biogeographical ancestry and information, such as eye color, can be helpful here. These types of markers are not typically used in traditional forensic testing. Fourth, the police needed a community resource to share information. In this case, it was GEDmatch where law enforcement discreetly introduced the crime-scene sample as an individual. This is essentially the fishing hole. Fifth, the police had to do a lot of dedicated detective work to create family trees and track down potential leads.

    In our analogy, this equates to having the time to fish along with a quiet means releasing the wrong fish when hooked. Regular DNA testing with traditional forensic markers is used to confirm a match of the individual under suspicion to the original crime scene results. Since that time, several dozen other cold cases have been solved in a similar manner—with genetic genealogy and many, many hours of careful investigative work to follow the genetic leads.

    I enjoy working at NIST where we can do world-class research, collaborate to solve important problems and share what we learn with others. Although I personally had nothing to do with the genetic genealogy investigation that led to the arrest of Joseph DeAngelo, the words I had written years earlier proved to be prophetic. With the research we do at NIST, we often do not know the impact that we can have on the future.

    I am now working in the Special Programs Office on a congressionally funded effort to examine the scientific foundations of forensic science disciplines. Perhaps a future blog post will cover this topic and the impact of our work here at NIST. Very much enjoyed this article, and I'm also an avid genetic genealogist.