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Family historians often end up with family heirlooms and documents that need archival storage.
In addition to the items you already have, you may find yourself receiving things from other relatives like family bibles, scrapbooks, and military uniforms.
The task of correctly archiving the family history can definitely get a bit overwhelming. However, with the right tools and supplies you can make a real difference in preserving your family’s treasures for future generations.
Denise May Levenick is the author of The Family Curator blog and writer for Family Tree Magazine and she joins me in episode 81 to share her top ten archival storage solutions for family historians.
Short on time? This week’s video is just 20 minutes and packed with the archival solutions you need. The video premieres on Thursday and features a live chat.
Watch the live premiere of this week’s video and participate in live chat with our Genealogy Gems YouTube channel subscriber family. (Subscribing to our channel is free. Click the red Subscribe button on the video page on our channel.)
1. Video Player (Live) – Watch the video premiere at the appointed time in the video player above. 2. On YouTube (Live) – Click the Watch on YouTube button to watch live at the appointed time at the Genealogy Gems YouTube channel. Log into YouTube with your free Google account to participate in the live chat. 3. Video Player above (Replay) – Available immediately after the live premiere and chat.
(Please note: This interview transcription has been minimally altered for ease of reading and clarity.)
Lisa: I’d love to talk about the archival supplies we need. Because obviously, to complete a task and do a good job of it, we got to have the right tools. That’s certainly true when it comes to archiving. You’ve got 10 of your top tools that I know that you’ve used as an archivist. What is number one?
1. Archival File Folders
Denise: The first thing has to be archival file folders. They are not terribly expensive. And really, what you want to do is put your item, whatever it is, in the highest quality folder or box or something to protect it right away. But since most of us have pictures and paper, a file folder really is a good place to start.
Lisa: That sounds great because often other family members are giving us things, and we may not have time to deal with it right then and there. It sounds like this would be a very safe place to put it.
Denise: It is. You can purchase them in a box of 50 or 100. If you have a lot of items or just 10 or a dozen folders, it really can scale to suit whatever the size of your archives might be.
We really do need to take that extra step and seek out acid-free, lignin-free archival file folders. The kind you buy at the office supply store are just not the quality you need to preserve your papers and your photos. You can actually cause more damage if you put things in those.
Lisa: Because there’s probably acids in those, right?
Denise: Right, because the regular office supply ones, particularly the kind that are just for regular office use, they have so much acid in them that they can cause your item to deteriorate even more.
Lisa: Okay, so number two I see here is flip-top document case. This sounds like a specialty item. What are we talking about?
2. Flip-Top Document Case
These boxes are so confusing when you’re shopping. The names of these document cases and boxes can be confusing. The one I use looks like a mini file folder box. That’s exactly what it is. Examples of the kinds of things you can store in them include old rolled up documents, military photos, and banquet photos. I have a process to flatten these, but meanwhile I needed to store them.
You can reuse this kind of a box for anything. It doesn’t have to just be file folders. But because it’s designed for file folders, it’s really perfect. It’s even got a little tag to pull it out on the shelf if you need to pull it out. There’s a place to add a label.
It’s about five inches wide. I like this size because when you get those file folders in there, it gets heavy and a lot of people store these up on shelves. They can be heavy to move down. I bought some real wide ones that are seven or eight inches. And man, those things are heavy! So, I recommend smaller ones.
Lisa: I have some items that are definitely odd sizes, or like you said they were originally rolled up and I haven’t flattened them out and decided what to do with them yet. So, this sounds great.
The third item on your list is oversized document or photo box. So, it sounds similar. We often have larger items we’re struggling with, and we don’t want to fold it up.
3. Oversized Document or Photo Box
Denise: No, in fact, you want to unfold the item, and let those folds relax.
The archival suppliers make a box that is large, larger than a shirt box. So it might hold a fully open newspaper. Or they work well for portraits or drawings or maps. They’re typically quite shallow. They won’t be necessarily a clamshell kind of opening like the boxes we just mentioned. It might be a lift off top. But you can use it for anything. And the reason it is shallow is you don’t want to put a lot of weight on the things that are on the bottom.
If you can afford it, buy large file folders that will protect your item, and then you put it in the box.
You should keep things like newspapers separate. You do not want to store newspapers with anything else other than newspapers because they’re so toxic. The newsprint is just full of acid. You want that isolated from everything else.
4. Newspaper Preservation Kit
Lisa: So that must be why number four is the newspaper preservation kit. I didn’t realize that there was one.
Denise: Yes, newsprint is a big offender.
When I visited the New England historic genealogical library in Boston, and I got a tour of their upstairs archives. It was so exciting. I felt like I was you know, in the inner sanctum. I was shown rows and rows of archival boxes. And then just stacks of items people have donated like Bibles and books and family papers. They all had to be processed and organized. The archivists there told me they will not accept donations of newspapers. Because they are so toxic, anything they touch will turn brown. And it just degrades everything around it. So ,you want to be sure to isolate your newspapers if you’re going to keep them.
What they do at the library is photocopy the newspaper onto acid free paper. Or they scan it and then print a copy on acid free paper and get rid of the newsprint.
Lisa: That sounds like a really clever way to deal with that problem. So even if grandma gives you her newspapers, and she’s also got other stuff with it, you don’t want to keep it that way. You need to separate it out.
Denise: If you really want to keep like an obituary because it’s an original paper or something, that would be a good case for encapsulating in between two sheets of archival plastic. You can encapsulate it and then you can put it right back in that Bible because it’s isolated.
Lisa: Alright, so next we have acid free tissue paper. What would you be using this for?
5. Acid Free Tissue Paper
Denise: I love this stuff! I keep a stack of it here at home.
One time my dad gave me a stereograph, you know the thing you hold up and there’s double pictures. He gave me one of those. It was my grandfather’s. It was in of all things an envelopes box. A crummy, terrible box. And it was wrapped in red tissue paper! Have you ever like gotten a drop of water on red tissue paper? It bleeds terribly!
In the box along with the stereo cards were photo cards. And, being my dad, (he’s very strict) it’s “my way or the highway.” So, I couldn’t really tell him anything.
I took the box and he said he wanted it right back. I had some acid free tissue paper, so I just took the red tissue paper out, and cushioned everything in that dumb non-archival box with the acid free tissue paper. I took some pictures of it and looked at the cards, and then I gave it back to him. It was in a lot better shape! So, if you have acid free tissue paper, you are golden when stuff like that happens.
You can also use it to stuff the sleeves of a military uniform or wedding dress. You can wrap a pair of baby shoes in it. You can use it between layers of photographs. It’s just really helpful to have on hand.
Lisa: It sounds like we definitely need a stack of it on hand at all times.
6. Acid Free Flip top Photo and Print Box
Lisa: So now we are onto number 6 and another box designed for an unique purpose.
Denise: These boxes are designed in different sizes and colors. It doesn’t matter what color they are. They’re made out of a heavier board. And actually, this little box will protect your contents against even mild changes in temperature and humidity. It’s a really good protection.
I use one that is five inches by seven inches. It’s designed to hold five by seven photos on edge. Putting them on their edge ensures that there isn’t pressure placed on them by the weight of things on top. These come in all sizes. You can get big ones that are more like a shoe box.
If you have a lot of photos, you can get dividers to use in the box. But this would also be fine. You could even use some acid free tissue and put a pair of baby shoes in there.
Lisa: Oh, yeah, absolutely.
Denise: The thing I like about these boxes is you can write on them, or you can add a label.
I cleaned out my parents homes after they died, if I came across a box like this, this says to me, “oh, there’s something special in there.”
Lisa: Yes. I totally agree with that! As I’m putting stuff together in my office, I’m thinking when I’m gone, I want something that signals to people “Keep this! Don’t toss this! This is important!” You’re kind of dressing it up and letting them give them a signal that this has been already taken care of so it needs to continue to be taken care of.
7. Archival Quality Albums
Well, number seven is archival albums. This one resonates with everybody. I mean, is there anybody who doesn’t have magnetic photo albums from 1970s, where we just struggled with things sticking and you can’t take it apart? I imagine an archival quality album would really help us with photos, negatives, letters and anything flat.
Denise: Right! The albums are designated archival quality. You want to look for a binder that is archival, as well as the inside pages. If you want to scrapbook, then you just want the paper and you would probably use photo corners. You could then write with an archival pen.
Something to be careful about is when you put a binder together. You might want to put it on a bookshelf, which is fine, but the dust can still get in from the top. Light and dust are the real enemy of things that you’re trying to preserve. So, buy a slipcover or keep them in your closet. That’s really the best place for these things because they’re protected from the light and the temperature that way.
Lisa: Good point. So, you’re saying that if you want them in your living room where people can pull them off the shelf and look at them, you will want to lay something over the top of the albums so that dust isn’t settling inside.
Denise: Yes. You know how the top of your books can get dusty!
Lisa: Exactly. I hadn’t thought about that with my photo albums. That’s a really good point.
Sometimes we have still have negatives. I know my husband inherited a lot of negatives from his side of the family. And, you know, we may or may not be ready to make prints out of all of them as soon as we get them, but we want to keep them What do you recommend for that?
8. Negative Preserver
You can use a box that is designed for negatives. It’s shorter.
Typically the 35mm negatives came in a little plastic sleeve, and that is good to use. A lot of times you can get archival supplies at a camera store. They use good quality, and I think they have something called a print file available.
Another option for negatives is binder sleeves. They’re a full page and they have little slots to put the negatives in, and then you put them in a binder that has sort of a clamshell closing. I have several of those and they work pretty well. They protect the edges of the negatives.
9. Archival Slide and Media Boxes
Number 9 takes us into even more kinds of media with Archival Slide and Media Boxes. I know when I got all my VHS tapes digitized, I couldn’t bring myself to throw them away. So you’re saying that if we want to keep different forms and media, there are special boxes for that too?
Denise: Right. There are boxes that are acid free, like the ones I showed you that are sized for media and slides. You can get metal slide boxes that are pretty nice. I would avoid wooden ones. I have a few of those we inherited. But even metal ones I found at the thrift shops. People got rid of their old slide boxes.
The Kodak slide boxes that they came in aren’t bad. Slide carousels just take up a lot of space. Remember those carousels? But you can get them and they make boxes for all kinds of things. You don’t have to only use a box that is labeled a slide storage box. You can put it in something that fits.
Lisa: Good to know.
Denise: They also make them uniquely for the different types of films.
Lisa: Yes, I think I’ve got some home movie on every type of media ever created over the decades which is a good problem to have, but it’s a challenge.
Number 10 reminds me of when you and I first met gosh, probably a dozen years ago at least. And I remember talking to you about quilts. One of your specialties is really your knowledge of dealing with textiles. So often we’re thinking photos and paper but if we’re fortunate we might have a uniform, tablecloth, quilt or other textile. Tell us what this kit can do for us.
Denise: I love these! The archival boxes that I showed earlier are wonderful, but they’re heavy. Just the box itself. Imagine you have a full size bed quilt. You need a big box which is expensive and heavy.
The E flute is a kind of plastic. You’ve probably seen it used as packing material. It’s got little ridges. And it’s kind of translucent plastic stuff. That’s the best description I can think of, but it’s very lightweight. You can order one of these boxes, it comes folded or flat and you kind of assemble it. There are other types too.
Archival quilt storage solution box
I bought one for my quilts. The only trick is because the E Flute is translucent, it won’t keep the light out. I have a beautiful old velvet album quilt, and I have folded that inside a sheet and put that whole thing in the E flute box, and then stored it in a dark. I have a little archive space where I keep that kind of thing.
They make them different sizes and in kits. I really do recommend them.
Lisa: Well, that’s the next thing on my list. I have my husband’s father’s military uniform. Part of what was holding me back in storing it was getting the right kind of box. I was thinking it was going to be one of these really heavy big boxes. So, this sounds like a really nice alternative.
Denise, you’ve given us 10 fantastic archival heirloom solutions. It’s wonderful to hear that they’re available in such a wide variety. Thank you so much, my friend. It’s wonderful to see you and I really appreciate your sharing your knowledge with us.
Denise: Thank you. It’s been nice to talk with you again, Lisa. And hope to see you again sometime soon.
The Library of Congress (LOC) is a dream destination for many U.S. genealogy researchers, but most of us can’t get there in person. Here are 4 ways–all online–to access the mega-resources of the Library of Congress for genealogy.
1. World Digital Library: for the bigger picture
The Library of Congress is home to the World Digital Library, “a collaborative international project led by the Library of Congress. It now includes more than 10,000 manuscripts, maps and atlases, books, prints and photographs, films, sound recordings, and other cultural treasures.
2. Chronicling America: for finding ancestors in the news
The Chronicling America newspaper site, hosted by the Library of Congress, catalogs U.S. newspapers and provides free access to more than six million digital newspaper pages (1836-1922) in multiple languages. Run searches on the people, places and events that shaped your ancestors’ lives. Results may include:
Advertising: classifieds, companies your ancestor worked for or owned, store ads, runaway slaves searches and rewards and ship arrivals or departures.
Births & deaths: birth announcements, cards of thanks printed by the family, obituaries and death notices, funeral notices, reporting of events that led to the death, etc.
Legal notices and public announcements: auctions, bankruptcies, city council meetings, divorce filings, estate sales, executions and punishments, lawsuits, marriage licenses, probate notices, tax seizures, sheriff’s sale lists.
Lists: disaster victims, hotel registrations, juror’s and judicial reporting, letters left in the post office, military lists, newly naturalized citizens, passenger lists (immigrants and travelers), unclaimed mail notices.
News articles: accidents, fires, etc. featuring your ancestor; front page (for the big picture); industry news (related to occupations); natural disasters in the area; shipping news; social history articles.
Community and social events like school graduations, honor rolls, sporting and theater events; social news like anniversaries, church events, clubs, engagements, family reunions, visiting relatives, parties, travel, gossip columns, illnesses, weddings and marriage announcements.
With Chronicling America, you can also buy medicine online china subscribe to receive “old news” on many of your favorite historical topics. Sign up for weekly notifications that highlight interesting and newly-added content on topics that were widely covered in the U.S. press at the time. (Click here to see a list of topics.) To subscribe, just use the icons at the bottom of the Chronicling America home page.
3. Flickr Creative Commons – Library of Congress Photostream for old pictures
Flickr Creative Commons describes itself as part of a “worldwide movement for sharing historical and out-of-copyright images.” Groups and individuals alike upload old images, tag and source them, and make them available to others. The (U.S.) Library of Congress photostream has thousands of photos and a growing collection of front pages of newspapers.
Tip: The Library of Congress isn’t the only library posting cool images on Flickr Creative Commons. Look for photostreams from your other favorite libraries and historical societies. (Use the main search box with words like “Ohio library” and limit results to groups. You’ll see who’s posting images you care about and you can even follow them!)
4. Preserving Your History video for archiving your family history
The Library of Congress has a FREE video about how to create and properly preserve digital or print archival scrapbooks.
It’s a 72-minute video by various experts with a downloadable transcript on these topics:
Basic preservation measures one can do at home for long-lasting albums and scrapbooks
Pros and cons of dismantling old scrapbooks and albums in poor condition
How to address condition problems
Preservation considerations for digital scrapbooks and albums
How to participate in the Library’s Veterans History Project.
Show Notes: Over the years I’ve talked a lot about how to use Evernote and Snagit. Both are amazing tools for research and make it easy to do web clipping. If you’ve been wondering what the difference is between these two powerful tools, or if you haven’t and you’re trying to figure out which one you should start using, you’re in the right place. Today we’re doing a head-to-head comparison of Evernote and Snagit (with a focus on web clipping) and figuring out which one is best for you and your genealogy research.
I got an email from one of our Premium Members named Nancy, and she says, “Can you help me understand why I would need Evernote and Snagit? I have both installed on my computer, but need to spend time becoming proficient in both. If they duplicate one another wouldn’t want to spend time learning both if Snagit is superior.”
This is a really smart question because like the old saying, time is money. And in the case of genealogy, time is ancestors! No one wants to stop and learn yet another tech tool if they don’t have to. So, let’s look at Evernote vs. Snagit, in a head-to-head comparison, and dig into their strengths and weaknesses. If you have both, this will also help you decide what to use in any given situation.
Evernote is a cloud-based notetaking tool that includes a web clipper.
Snagit is a screen capture / AKA web clipper tool.
So, first and foremost the thing they have in common is that they both can capture all or a portion of content that appears on your computer screen. You can clip exactly the part you want and save it as an image for future reference or use.
That’s a pretty simplified description – but essentially, web clipping is the common denominator. But from there, they diverge.
Evernote is primarily a note taking tool. It takes all kinds of notes (audio, photo, video, documents, web clipping, typed, handwritten.) All notes are added to it, and you work in it like a workstation where you can organize and quickly search and retrieve your notes. It can apply OCR to your screen captured notes, making them keyword searchable and editable. Evernote allows you to instantly access your notes from any device that you are signed into your account.
Snagit is primarily a screen capture tool. In fact, it’s screen capture on steroids compared to Evernote. It’s not a place to store notes, but it’s a fantastic way to web-clip or capture information, edit, annotate and manipulate it, save it, and use it in other programs (and we’ll talk more about that in a moment.) Snagit can capture both images and video of content on the web, and it can do other things like use OCR to convert the text that appears in the web content you’re clipping as an image and turn it into editable text. When you web clip with Snagit, you are creating an image. That image must be saved to a cloud service like Dropbox in order to be able to access the note from all your devices.
You can learn a lot more about what these two tools do in my other videos:
Another thing they have in common is that they are both software programs.
Evernote: In addition to being able to use it as a software program on your computer, you can also use Evernote on your mobile device by downloading the app from your app store. You can also use it on any computer by simply signing into your account at Evernote.com. That being said, the software is preferred over the website because it resides on your computer and is faster.
Cost: About $9/monthly or about $80 for the yearly subscription ($6.67 / MONTH).
There is a free version, but you can only use it on 2 devices, it doesn’t include OCR and there are very strict limits on storage, which we’ll address in just a moment. If you’re going to use Evernote for your research and other things, you’re going to need the yearly subscription.
Snagit: Snagit is software that you download to your computer (whether desktop or laptop.) You can buy it as a stand alone purchase, or you can also purchase an ongoing maintenance subscription which provides you with upgrades. There is not mobile app.
Cost: About $64 for one software license + 1 year maintenance (free upgrade). You don’t have to pay for ongoing maintenance.
Conclusion: Unless the free version of Evernote is adequate for your needs, Snagit it more economical. 10 months of Evernote on-going subscription would cover the cost of the one-time purchase of Snagit. However, if you need all the features of Evernote, then go for the yearly subscription to keep the cost down.
Storage and Retention
Because Evernote is a subscription, this brings up the question of whether you can use your notes after you stop subscribing. And storage limits are also a concern.
Snagit: No storage limits. All the content you capture is stored on your computer, not the cloud. It’s yours forever. There’s no limit to how much you can clip or create.
Evernote: Evernote does store your notes on your computer, but it also stores them in the Evernote cloud. While Evernote doesn’t have an overall storage limit, it does have limits on how much you can create each month. There is a free version that allows you to 60 MB of monthly uploads. This is talking about the size of your notes. If you add photographs to Evernote, you’re going to use that up very quickly. There’s also a 25 MB maximum note size limit. No note or clipping can be larger than 25MB. With the subscription you get 10 GB of monthly uploads (which would be pretty hard to max out) and the note size limit is 200 MB.
Conclusion: You’ll need the yearly subscription to really be able to use Evernote for genealogy. And while there are limits, you’re likely never to reach them. And you can use it offline because notes are on your computer.
Snagit has no limits and stores only on your computer unless you share your content to other sources. And that brings us to comparing how these tools allow you to export your content. In other words, can you get stuff out that you put into it?
The necessity for an ongoing subscription to Evernote brings up to the next important comparison: how can you export and use your web-clippings and in the case of Evernote other types of notes?
Evernote: Not easy. You can export your notes as the Evernote file format called ENEX or as HTML, which is used in structuring web pages. Keep in mind that web clippings are image files, and we normally need image files in JPEG or PNG format to be able to use them in a variety of other programs.
In the menu click File > Export Note. Available file types are limited.
Snagit: Easy. You can export your clippings in countless ways. Pretty much all major file types are supported. You can easily add content directly to a large number of popular programs such as Word, PowerPoint and even Evernote! So, if you’re writing a family history story or book and you want to clip something on the web and include it, Snagit can send it right to your document with just a click.
Conclusion: If you need to be able to easily get web clippings and captured content out of the program and use it in other ways, use Snagit. If you want to keep your clippings and notes all in one place and be able to keep them organized and find them easily, use Evernote.
When it comes to sharing content with other researchers or your family, both Evernote and Snagit do a great job in their own way.
Evernote: Each note has a convenient Share button that allows you to invite other people to view just that note. It also gives you a unique link to the note that can be shared. And you can email notes. You can also put a group of notes into a notebook and then share the entire notebook. You can control whether the person being shared with can just view the notes or if they can edit them. So, it does facilitate collaboration by allowing you both to edit the same note. That permission can also be turned off. That all being said, Evernote is really a tool for you, and it’s not focused on sharing as a priority, or on sharing in order to be able to publish the content in many other ways.
Snagit: With Snagit, if you want to share with someone else to collaborate, you’ll need to send it to them, either by email or shared cloud storage. They can then edit the item in their Snagit software and send it back. So, it doesn’t offer the ability to collaborate quite as easily as Evernote. However, Snagit’s sharing and publishing capability is one of its greatest strengths and priorities. Just click Share in the menu and you’ll have the ability to save the content as a file to your computer, email it to someone, upload it to your own website, your printer, a wide range of software programs and cloud storage services, and yes, even to Evernote!
Click Share in Snagit’s menu
Conclusion: If you want to share with other people, both tools can do the job, although Evernote inches ahead because it facilitates both people being able to edit the same note within Evernote. If you want to share your content for use in other programs and publish it in other ways, Snagit is the best choice.
Evernote vs. Snagit Conclusions
After a head-to-head comparison, we’ve discovered that your selection between these two tools depends on your task and your goals:
Use Evernote if you want to be able to:
keep all your work in one place organized and searchable
create a wide variety of notes such as audio, video, web clippings, PDFs, typed notes, etc.
have OCR automatically applied to web clippings and images
collaborate with other people on your notes
easily create notes on mobile
Use Snagit if you want to:
create high-quality web clippings and videos in universally usable file formats that are exportable
create web-clippings of hard to capture content like wide screen family trees, and information that appears further down a web page that you can’t see all on the screen at the same time
be able manipulate your content with annotations or drop it into project templates
easily export your captured content into a variety of other programs
not have to pay an ongoing subscription.
Another way of looking at it is that Evernote is more of a final destination for content you’re collecting, and Snagit is a content collector that makes it easy to use that content wherever you need it.
If you want to have one place to store and use a wide variety of notes including web clippings, Evernote is the best choice. If you want full flexibility in capturing and creating online content and using it in other programs and projects, Snagit is the best choice. I like to use them in combination. I keep my genealogy and other notes organized in Evernote, and then I use Snagit to capture web content exactly the way I want it and send it into Evernote as needed. And I use both programs for a whole lot more than just genealogy! I clip recipes, projects and ideas, and I use Snagit for all the images I create for Genealogy Gems.
Have you ever wondered what it takes to be a Forensic Genetic Genealogist. Dr. Claire Glynn joins me to talk about the field of investigative genetic genealogy, criminal cold cases solved, and the new Forensic Genetic Genealogy certificate program she has developed at the Henry C. Lee (notable for his work on the OJ Simpson case and many others) College of Criminal Justice and Forensic Sciences at the University of New Haven.
Video: How to be a Forensic Genealogist
This video premiered live on YouTube on January 13, 2022 at 11:00 am CT. Click here to watch the video replayat the Genealogy Gems YouTube channel. Scroll down to read the complete show notes article.
Forensic genetic genealogists are continuing to make the news as they’re helping law enforcement solve cold cases. And some of these are really old cases! It’s an emerging career field, and there are courses online that can help you learn what it takes to be a forensic genealogist, and as well how to do it professionally.
One of those courses is the online graduate certificate in forensic genetic genealogy. It’s at the University of New Haven, Connecticut. Dr. Claire Glen is the founder of that program. She’s an associate professor in the Department of Forensic Science in the Henry C. Lee College of Criminal Justice and Forensic Sciences at the University of New Haven. CT. It’s really the first program of its kind in the country.
Dr. Glynn is a sought-after consultant and expert in this field. She teaches undergraduate and graduate courses and conducts extensive research focused on forensic biology, forensic DNA analysis, and forensic genetic genealogy. I’ve invited her to the show today to talk with us about what the forensic genetic genealogist does, how you might be able to become one and what we can look forward to in the future in this really exciting field.
(Please note: This interview transcription has been minimally altered for ease of reading and clarity.)
What is a Forensic Genetic Genealogist?
Lisa: I think we should probably start at the beginning and answer the question what is a forensic genetic genealogist?
Dr. Glynn: That’s a great question to start off with, because lots of people are always very curious about it, especially because it’s such a brand-new field. We can say that this field was established at the forefront of forensic investigations in early 2018. Now, the term forensic genealogy had actually been around since I think 2002. But forensic genealogy is really a different thing to forensic genetic genealogy.
Forensic genetic genealogy is all about taking everything that we know about genetic genealogy and applying that to a criminal investigation. Either into an investigation of what we call unidentified human remains or UHRs, or as the public more commonly known as Jane and John Doe cases. So, identifying unidentified human remains, or in what we call suspect cases, whereby we have DNA left behind at a crime scene by a perpetrator of a violent crime, such as homicide or sexual assault, and trying to identify who that perpetrator is by using our genetic genealogy skills.
It’s amazing how it just kind of burst onto the scene. And as you mentioned, it is quite different than forensic genealogy. So, this is all about the genetics, the DNA.
Forensic Genealogy used on criminal cold cases.
(3:36) You said that it kind of came out more around 2018 or so. The Golden State killer case really had a lot to do with bringing this to the forefront, didn’t it?
it certainly did. It’s what brought it to the forefront of the media for sure. And it’s certainly the most highly publicized case for forensic genetic genealogy. However, right at the exact same time as the Golden State killer case was announced, there was also the other application of forensic genetic genealogy to unidentified human remains cases.
The DNA Doe Project at that time, right before the announcement of the Golden State killer, had used successfully forensic genetic genealogy as we know it now, to identify the remains of the Buckskin Girl, which was a case from the early 1980s of unidentified human remains. So really, it was the kind of culmination of several people doing this all at once, but independently on different cases. And then it was the announcement of the Golden State killer that really brought it to the forefront of people’s minds. Because I mean, can you think of a more prolific serial homicide investigation in US history? I mean, there are several but that has certainly been one that’s been very high profile over the last four to five decades.
Listen to Genealogy Gems Podcast episode 217 on the Golden State Killer case and Your DNA
What kind of background should a Forensic Genetic Genealogist have?
(5:15) Lisa: I’d love to hear a little bit more about your background and kind of how you got into this. I know that you’ve worked with law enforcement and things in the past. Tell us a little bit about where you come from.
Dr. Glynn: I was born and raised in the west of Ireland, in County Galway, the most beautiful part of Ireland the most beautiful place you’ll ever seen in the world. I come from a very education focused family. Both of my parents worked at a university. They’re both retired now, my father is a physicist. And so, I grew up on a university campus, essentially going there every day after from a very young age to do my homework. So when it came around to the time for me to be applying to university and things like that, my father actually brought me the front page of the Irish Times newspaper. And on that front page was an article about a brand-new bachelor’s degree program that was being brought into Ireland at BS in pharmaceutical and forensic science. There had never been a forensic science educational program in Ireland prior to that. My father said to me, I think you’d be a great forensic scientist.
Bear in mind, we’re talking 2000, at the turn of the millennium, when CSI had just come out on the TV, right, so it was just out, people were kind of enthralled with the show. So was I. I was like, “what is that? Is that actually a really a career?” Like, do people actually do that? And as the more I looked into it, it is indeed. It has been around for decades, as a career.
And so, I was very intrigued by this. And my father said to me, as well importantly, with his great insight, he said, you know, you should choose a degree program and a career based upon the qualities and characteristics that you have, not just because it sounds cool. He said a forensic scientist should be very good at science, which I was, that was where I was getting all my A’s in school – not many A’s and the other subjects -but also you should be very compassionate and wanting to help people which I was constantly rescuing animals off the street and bringing them home without my parent’s permission. And also, my dad said, importantly, you’re very nosy. So that would lend itself very well to the career as a forensic scientist.
I decided to become a forensic scientist based upon that. Though, coming from Ireland, where university education is completely free – well, it was at the time – my father said, you know, don’t be their guinea pig for this new program, let them kind of find their feet for a few years. Go do another undergraduate degree first, and then do that one. So, I went and did a BA in psychology because I thought it will be important to understand about human behavior, and the human mind and indeed, criminal behavior. That that would lend itself well to my future career as a forensic investigator. So, I did that degree, and then immediately afterwards, I did my bachelors of science in pharmaceutical and forensic science.
During the third year of that program, so in US terms, the junior year of that program, you have to do a six month industrial placement, which is kind of a fancy way of saying internship. For that internship, I went to the UK to a private company called LGC Forensics, because in the United Kingdom, all of the forensic science industry is completely privatized, it’s not government run at all. I managed to get a research position within that within that company. I worked my bought off for six months for them for free working on a research project in the forensic Biology Unit there.
(I went) home and finish my senior year, and then immediately returned to LGC Forensics, where I started working immediately as a full-time forensic biology examiner. That job entails working major crime, investigations of homicide and sexual assault that occur all over England and Wales. It was a very high volume lab. I think the biggest surprise I had in that job was the volume of major crime that comes into one lab. You know, you don’t see them all reported in the newspapers, so whenever you’re actually working in that laboratory, and you see the number of homicides, the number of sexual assaults that do occur, it really is quite shocking.
So then after a couple of years, and after amassing probably working 1000 Major Crimes during that time, I decided it was time to get my PhD because I had always wanted to get one. Because I wanted to kind of be a part of solving a big puzzle. I wanted to help the society in any way possible and, contribute to something important.
With that, there’s not many doctorate programs or PhD programs that are focused on forensic science across the world. It’s really due to a massive lack in funding for research topics such as that. So instead, I decided to enroll in a doctorate program that would teach me a lot about genetics, that would teach me a lot about molecular biology, because all of the skills that I would learn there would be transferable back to the forensic science or forensic DNA industry.
I did my PhD in breast cancer research. I did my PhD and one of the most phenomenal labs in the world. They are really truly making a huge impact in helping patients, patient outcomes and patients diagnosis for breast cancer research.
Then, I said it’s time to return back to the forensic science industry. I was thankfully offered a position at the University of New Haven as an assistant professor at the time. If any of your listeners know about forensic science, they’ll know that the University of New Haven is the number one university in the United States for forensic science education.
The captain of our ship is Dr. Henry C. Lee, one of the world’s most world renowned forensic scientists. And so just having that opportunity to even be associated with Dr. Lee and the University of New Haven, I jumped at it. So, I joined the faculty at the University of New Haven in August 2014. And I’ve been there ever since. I said I would move over across the pond to the United States to Connecticut to New England. I would give it a year, and if I didn’t like it, I’d move on elsewhere. And eight years later, I’m still there. So, it looks like I’m staying for the long haul. I’m very happy in my position there at the University of New Haven.
In terms of forensic genetic genealogy, bear in mind, I am and was at the time considered a forensic DNA expert. That was where all of my expertise lay and forensic biology. So, body fluids analysis, being able to correctly identify a particular body fluid from a crime scene, or from a piece of evidence, and then extracting a DNA profile from that and interpreting that DNA profile from that with our regular forensic (Short Term Repeat) STR profiling.
However, I had a long running history on passion for genealogy, it was my hobby, right, as many people’s hobby is genealogy. And so I’ve kind of been doing that all along on the side as my hobby. I had also worked several adoption cases and unknown parentage cases, including my own as I am also adopted, I knew who my biological mother was, but I didn’t have any idea of who my biological father was. Then using genetic genealogy, I made that identification. On the high of that I started to help other people do that. I’m sure you’ve felt that as well, in the past, you get those solves, and you get so excited that you just want to help more.
Then in April 2018 when the Golden State killer investigation was announced, and the prime suspect had been identified, I thought, oh my gosh, my two worlds have collided, my hobby of genetic genealogy, and then my career and expertise as a forensic DNA scientist. I was like, this is the perfect mesh for it. And ever since then, I’ve just been hooked.
So, with that in mind, and having been a self-taught, genetic genealogist, I thought, Okay, well, there’s a massive need out there for a coherent program of study for forensic genetic genealogy. Who better and where better else to establish that than at the University of New Haven?
Lisa: In hearing your background, what you’ve really done I think for our audience is kind of lay out the career path and also show that, to a certain extent, this is all new territory. You can kind of follow your passions and create the situation that works best for you.
The Origins of Forensic Genealogy in Criminal Cases
(15:30) I remember watching a TV series, I think it was on crime TV or something. They were talking about the Golden State killer case, and it was before it was solved. I remember just practically yelling at the television and saying, why don’t you go check the DNA databases! and then very quickly, all that started happening. So, it’s exciting to see these worlds colliding.
Dr. Glynn: Yeah, it really is! I wish I had been the one that came up with the idea to apply genetic genealogy to criminal investigations. I should have because of the industry that I work in, but I didn’t. Thankfully there were trailblazers ahead of me, such as Margaret Price, Colleen Fitzpatrick, CeCe Moore, and Barbara Ray Venter. Those individuals that were already doing it before many of us even had the idea to do it.
Lisa: Well, and we’ve had many of those distinguished women on the Genealogy Gems podcast, and I like you, I had some ideas about it. I’ve got all kinds of friends in the industry, and yet I never said anything to anybody. So, they all figured it out.
What is a Certificate Program?
(16:36) I love what you’re doing. It sounds like you’re really creating a structure so that more people can enter the field. I’d love to have you tell us about the program. You mentioned it’s a certificate. So, my guess is at this point, there’s not certification available yet, but there is a certificate and a field of study. Tell us about that.
Dr. Glynn: Yeah, absolutely. Well, with certification, and then doing a graduate certificate in anything, there are two very different things.
You can do a graduate certificate, or even an undergraduate certificate in many fields of study. Especially today, in the last three to five years, higher education has seen a huge demand for what we call micro credentials, which are certificates, because they’re not full degree programs. They aren’t 33 credits, or 120 credits for a bachelors, 30 plus credits for a master’s degree. A certificate here in the state of Connecticut by the Office of Higher Education, a certificate is 12 credits or more. It needs to be a minimum of 12 credits, 12 University credits. With our graduate certificate, the program itself is 12 credits. So, it’s four courses of three credits. There is an optional elective or additional elective that’s available as well, so could be 15 credits if you want.
How the Forensic Genetic Genealogy Program was developed.
(18:07) With the program, when I sat down to kind of say, ‘Okay, I need to plan a program, I need to develop a program in this,’ we have the infrastructure here at the University of New Haven to be able to do so. We have the Online Learning Management System. Also, we have kind of the prestige in the criminal justice and forensic science field that people would want to take a program like this with us.
So, I said, ‘Well, what would I include in a program such as this?’ What I was seeing, and I have to say a thanks to all of the online Facebook groups and forums and everything surrounding forensic or investigative genetic genealogy. I was reading the comments, and I was reading the questions of what people want to learn and what they’re lacking in their knowledge currently and what they’re hungry for.
I could see that there is a lot of not misinformation but confused information as to what already happens in a forensic DNA investigation. What do we currently do forensic genetic genealogy aside, when we have a crime? What is the physical evidence that is on a crime scene? How do we collect it? How do we preserve it? What do we do with it? How do we say that this red stain is blood, or this whitish stain is semen? How do we tell that what chemical tests do we use to do that?
Then importantly, what DNA information can we get out of that sample? What type of DNA analysis do we perform to either compare it from a suspect DNA profile that has been collected, or run it through our criminal DNA database such as CODIS, here in the United States, (or it’s called something else other countries), and what’s the process for all of that. What are the rules and the regulations and the criteria and the standards that we have to adhere to for analyzing all of those types of samples.
Also, things like touch or transfer DNA analysis, so minute quantities of DNA. Or recovering mean DNA from heavily compromised samples such as skeletal remains, highly decomposed bones, teeth, things like that. I could see that a large portion of the comments that I was seeing was people being curious about. ‘How do we do this? Why can’t we connect Gedmatch to CODIS? And I’m like, oh, no, they’re apples and oranges. They’re two very different things.
Forensic Genetic Genealogy Certificate Program Courses
(20:41) So, I thought the first course in the program should be a fundamentals of forensic biological evidence. (It would include) what do we currently do? What is our regular forensic DNA profiling process? What is CODIS? And what are what are our national criminal DNA databases? Then importantly, this is one people often get confused is, what is familial DNA searching? Because that is not forensic genetic genealogy at all. That is something else that we’ve been doing for years in the forensic community, whereby we’re comparing STR (short tandem repeat) forensic DNA profiles within a criminal DNA database looking for first order direct relatives, so aunts, uncles, parents, siblings.
So that’s the first course. That gets people up to speed of what do we do in a regular forensic investigation. Currently, as the Department of Justice interim policy regarding forensic genetic genealogy, all of that has to happen before and FGG investigation is even begun.
Then the second course is what is forensic genetic genealogy? What can we do with the results from consumer DNA testing? What are the databases that we are allowed to use, such as Gedmatch and Family Tree DNA? What can we do with the genetic data that we can harvest from those databases? What’s a centimorgan, what does share DNA mean, and what tools are out there to help us decipher this information. So, that’s the second course. It’s going through all of that in depth: going through the X chromosome, the Y chromosome, autosomal, consumer DNA testing. Also importantly, the ethical implications and privacy implications of doing this type of analysis.
Then, after the genetic genealogy component – so we’ve put it into our database, into Gedmatch or Family Tree DNA, we find our top 10 matches, we have our centimorgan value, we use our shared cm project tool to infer what potential relationship that is, then we start to build a family tree using that genetic data or genetic information. And then how do we build those trees out further of the non-genetic matches because they’re not in the database? And how do we use traditional genealogy, as I like to call it some people don’t like it when I call it traditional genealogy, though. I understand their reasoning, though, because it sort of makes it sound like that’s the old way of doing it. But it’s not. It’s what we currently do with our regular genealogy of finding those records, and also, importantly, verifying those records and making sure that they’re true and accurate. All of the different genealogy standards, and the genealogy proof standard, and adhering to all of essentially the rules, as I like to call them, from the board for the certification of genealogists. So, you’re taught, what are we doing forensic investigations? What’s genetic genealogy? What’s regular genealogy, so genealogy principles and methods.
The fourth course, the final course in the program, is our Forensic Genetic Genealogy Practicum. That practicum is not a traditional course. There’s no lecture material. There’s no videos to watch each week, there’s no readings for you to do. It’s “here’s a mock case, go solve it.” Everything that you’ve learned over the three previous courses, apply that to this case.
I create mock cases of Jane and John Doe’s or they could be suspect cases. And basically, I provide the student with a Gedmatch kit number that I’ve uploaded. I’ve gotten permission. It’s gone through our institutional review board approval for inclusion in this and the volunteer who gave me the DNA, their DNA dataset has provided informed consent, and I anonymized that sample. I provide the students with the kit numbers and I say, “Here’s your case. This is a Jane Doe, estimated aged 30 to 50 years, possibly Caucasian or possibly Latina or possibly African-American. Then they have to run with it. They have to apply everything that they’ve learned to try and solve the case.
And from this past cohort the results were phenomenal from the practicum. I was overwhelmed and overjoyed with the excellence of the students from our first cohort and their ability to correctly identify people within their practicum.
We have some internships available because we’ve established very collaborative partnerships with some of the forensic genetic genealogy providers out there. And many of them are reaching out to me now asking, “Can we take some of your students next year?” which is great to see. And so, this past year, we had some students intern with the DNA Doe Project where they were mentored by the excellent people at the DNA Doe Project, I have to give a shout out to Gabrielle Vargas, and also to Margaret Press there, they were truly phenomenal with our students. And they worked actual real cases on identified human remains. They successfully identified at least one, I think there’s been two now.
So, for that type of outcome, I mean, I couldn’t have asked for anything better than that. To know that the students have been trained to a professional level that they’re as successfully able to apply everything that they’ve learned. Similarly, with the mock cases that the other students were given to see that they were able to successfully identify really was just absolutely outstanding,
Lisa: It must have been exciting for you just as the instructor and seeing it all come together.
What type of student applies to the Forensic Genetic Genealogy certificate program?
(27:06) Did you find that the people who were signing up for that course, were they interested in trying to do this professionally, make a paid career out of it, or were there just lots of people who would give anything just to donate their time and be part of this kind of work?
The short answer to that Lisa is both. What I get asked quite a lot is like what type of student applies to this program? And I was just going through my spreadsheet this morning for the upcoming program that starts in just two weeks. The breakdown is pretty much the same as our first cohort. I like to look at it as there’s the law enforcement affiliated group. Then there’s the non-law enforcement affiliated group.
The law enforcement affiliated group of students are the ones that already work for law enforcement in some capacity or another, be it their death investigator, a DNA analyst in a crime state or federal or private Crime Lab. There are police officers, they’re detectives, they’re intelligence analysts, they’re already working in law enforcement in some capacity. And so, they’re enrolling in the program because they want to add this additional skillset to their portfolio or to their resume, and apply the knowledge that they learned through this program to their current work. They’re not looking for employment, right, they already have it. They’re just looking to add it. This is the whole kind of push that we see massively and demand for micro-credentials. People already in their career that want to add to their credentials to help them move further within the career, the current jobs that they have.
Then, the other side of it, where there’s non-law enforcement affiliated students, they come from such a diverse background, it’s fascinating to see. In last year’s cohort, I had a librarian I had an airline pilot, I had an attorney, non-criminal attorney, a business attorney, I had a lighting specialist. I remember thinking, I’m a little bit nervous accepting some of these students into the program, because where are they going to go with this? And are they going to be able to keep up with the program because of not already knowing the law enforcement side? I’ll tell you, they were some of the best program. They really were. They absolutely blew my mind away.
I’m seeing very similar backgrounds in the applicants and the accepted students into the program that I have for this coming 2022 cohort. Very, very, very diverse backgrounds. Some of the non-law-enforcement people are already working professionally as genealogists, not specifically forensic genealogists. I have a couple of already board-certified genealogists. I have some people that have been working as search angels for several years or are already working for one of the private forensic genetic genealogy providers. Once again, this credential is essentially to add to their resume.
Employment opportunities for Forensic Genetic Genealogists
(30:22) Whenever I get asked – I get emails on a near weekly basis – what are the employment opportunities? What are your statistics for employment upon graduation, you can’t really give statistics for a micro-credential such as a certificate program, because not everyone’s in it to get a job at the end. And also, as you mentioned, and this is true for certainly a handful of the students from last year’s cohort and probably for this coming year’s cohort is, people just want to add to their skill set and their knowledge and volunteer their time, as a retiree, or they’re taking a break from work for a while, and they just want to do this on a volunteer basis in the future. So really quite a diverse group.
Demographics of Forensic Genetic Genealogy Students
(31:08) I think it’s fascinating to know, and you probably won’t be surprised about this, but 95% of the students in this coming year’s cohort, 95% are female, and 5% are male. And interestingly, as well, the average age is exactly 45 years of age, with our youngest student being 21 years of age and our oldest being 72. So again, a very diverse demographic of students.
Lisa: Wow, that is fascinating.
Dr. Glynn: One last thing on the demographic, sorry, I forgot to mention. I just pulled it up this morning was going through it. We have nearly 30 states represented of students coming from nearly 30 different states, and then several from Australia, Canada, and also the UK.
Lisa: Not surprised. I know, there’s lots of genealogists down there. I’ve talked a lot of them.
Prerequisitesfor the program at the University of New Haven
(32:08) It’s an online course. Tell us a little about logistics. How long is the course? Do they need to have a particular background or particular degree in order to be accepted?
Dr. Glynn: The prerequisites for applying to the program is that you have a bachelors in anything. We will consider anything. We do prefer a bachelors in a scientific discipline just because it will help you with understanding a lot of the biological terms. We don’t have necessarily the time to explain ‘this is a cell and this is the mitochondria of the cell’. But I find that most adult learners already know all that, never mind what degree they already have. So, a bachelor’s degree is the first prerequisite because it is a graduate certificate. If you don’t have a bachelor already, you can’t be awarded a graduate certificate. It is just as simple as that.
Then I consider anyone with any background. It doesn’t matter if your bachelors was in sociology or your bachelors was in forensic science, everyone is considered for that.
With the application process, it is: submit your application online, submit your resume. Thankfully, we don’t require that dreaded GRE. That’s no longer required. Nor do we require letters of reference or anything like that. It’s resume, transcripts and your brief statement of purpose, the statement of purpose being so that I can get an idea of where you want to go with this. Why do you want to do this? If someone has ideas of ‘oh, I want to work for the FBI and be a DNA analyst for them’. I’m like, okay, but this isn’t your ticket into that, right? Because you need to have a degree in forensic science or traditional science first to do that.
The program is, as you mentioned, fully online. It’s taught asynchronously. I wouldn’t call it self-paced because it’s self-paced is that’s kind of interpreted as you just go at your own pace, and you do the work here and there. It’s not like that at all. It’s very much we have modules published on a weekly basis, the assignments for those need to be completed on a weekly basis. Each week a new module will publish in each course. That will have pre-recorded lectures. It will have assignments, both written and then practical assignments as well. There’s the usual end of term exam, online exam, or final paper. It really depends upon the course which one we’re doing that for.
I designed the program so that it would be four courses, but it would be sequential semesters that their delivered in. The first course, that fundamentals of forensic biological evidence, that’s delivered in spring one mini term. Many of your listeners may not be familiar with mini terms or accelerated terms, because certainly it’s a relatively new thing in higher education. Most of us there used to that 15 week semester of the fall for 15 weeks in the spring for 15 weeks. Whereas with online education, and especially for micro credentials, such as certificates, there’s much more of a demand for many terms. So, it’s 15 weeks worth of work, but it’s it delivered in seven and a half weeks, so it’s half the time. But the intention is to only take one course at a time, whereas in a traditional master’s program you’re taking four or five courses at one time.
The first course is delivered in the spring one mini-mester every year which runs from mid-January to mid-March. Then the spring mini term is mid-March to mid-May. That’s the second course forensic genetic genealogy. Then we have the summer semester, which makes it a little bit tricky, because the summer semester is typically about 12 weeks long. If you were to do a mini term, that would only be six weeks. And for that, it would be the traditional genealogy course, or we’ve renamed it Genealogy Principles and Methods. Six weeks is too short for that. Plus, it’s the summer, it’s the summer! People have vacations planned, or things like that. We found last year that six weeks was just too short of a time period, people were under way too much pressure, and were too overwhelmed with the volume of information that they were taking in, and just a six week period. So, what we’ve done for the 2022 cohort is that that same core same volume of work, same curriculum is just being delivered in a 12 week period, as opposed to six week period so that it gives people a little bit of breathing room and they’re not overwhelmed.
Then the final course, the practicum, that will be in the fall one mini-mester and it runs from end of August to mid-October. And that’s the completion of the course. You can do the whole program in 10 months, from beginning to end with one course per semester or mini-mester or however you want to call it.
Is a background in genealogy required to become Forensic Genetic Genealogist?
(37:44) Lisa: Did you find that most people had a background in genealogy? Or did you have some people who that was not something that they were into?
Dr. Glynn: No, I had a lot of complete novices. A lot of those people were law enforcement affiliated. The majority of those were. They had heard a genealogy, they’re a little bit interested that taken a 23andme test many years ago, but had never looked at the results. And they were fascinated by this new forensic field that we have, and so wanted to add it to their skill set.
Whereas it was really the non-law enforcement affiliated group that had already been doing a lot of them, not all of them, a lot of them have been doing genealogy for quite a number of years. So, we really do have quite a wide berth in terms of experience and skill level.
With that being said, for the third course in the program, the Genealogy Principles and Methods, which is kind of all the traditional genealogy stuff, there were a few people in last year’s program who had quite a bit of experience in genealogy themselves already. Some of them had taken Boston University’s certificate course in genealogy research. I was wondering at the time maybe they’re not going to find this extremely useful, but maybe they will. Whenever I asked those people afterwards, they’re like, oh, no, I learned a lot in this! It really supplemented what I already knew. And it really strengthened their foundation in that area. I was delighted to hear that.
How to Apply to the Forensic Genetic Genealogy Certificate Program
(39:24) Lisa: So everybody’s dying to know, where do they find you online? How do they learn more about the program and perhaps even apply?
Dr. Glynn: Sure. If you go into Google, and you type in University of New Haven, and my name Claire Glynn, I should be the first thing that pops up. Or if you just go to the University of New Haven website, which is www.newhaven.edu and in the search bar there, just type in forensic genetic genealogy, the program will pop up. You’ll learn more about the program there and more about the course descriptions, and the application process. On the right hand side of the page there is an Apply Now button, and you can go ahead and apply.
Bonus Video: Phenotyping and the Future of Forensic Genetic Genealogy
There was so much to discuss with Dr. Glynn in the video How to be a Forensic Genetic Genealogist that we kept the cameras rolling. The result is this bonus Premium video on Phenotyping and some predictions about the future of Forensic Genetic Genealogy.