On their website, the U.S. National Archives states their mission is to: “provide public access to Federal Government records in our custody and control. Public access to government records strengthens democracy by allowing Americans to claim their rights of citizenship, hold their government accountable, and understand their history so they can participate more effectively in their government.” (Source: https://www.archives.gov/about/history/about/history/history-and-mission)
Shockingly, as of February 2022 the archives has not been fulfilling that mission for nearly two years! (Source: Visit each facility web page listed at https://www.archives.gov/locations)
Please share and help get the word out.
My guests Geoff Gentilini, President of the Archival Researchers Association, and Jessica Taylor president of the international genealogy research firm, Legacy Tree Genealogists explain:
Geoff Gentilini is the president of the Archival Researchers Association. He is a professional researcher specializing in military records, individual veteran searches, unit histories, and family history research. He is the owner and project manager of Golden Arrow Research. In 2011, Geoff devised a unique process to rebuild the service histories of individual WWI, WW2 & Korean War veterans whose personnel records were lost in the 1973 archives fire. His work has enabled thousands of descendants to gain a better understanding of their ancestors’ military service. He is the president of the Archival Researchers Association, an organization that has been instrumental in advocating (to Congress) for an increase in the budget of the National Archives.
Jessica M. Taylor serves as president of international genealogy research firm, Legacy Tree Genealogists, and as a board member for the Association of Professional Genealogists, the Genealogy Business Alliance, and the Association of Genealogy Educators and Schools. With a degree in Family History – Genealogy and over 20 years of experience, Jessica loves contributing to the genealogy community and pushing the industry forward to better help others discover their roots.
The Scope of the Records at the National Archives
Lisa: Can you give our audience a quick overview of the scope of the records that are housed at the National Archives?
Geoff: There are about 46 facilities, including 15, presidential libraries, 14 archives, 17, federal record centers, and these are spread out across the country. They contain more than 13 billion textual records, 20 million photographs, 40 million aerial images, there’s 75,000 miles of film. These records tell our national story. The holdings are massive.
Today, something like 1% of this material is online. Researchers access the other 99% of these records in our nation’s public research rooms, which are scattered across the country.
I think the National Archives has the goal of digitizing somewhere near 3% of these records by the year 2024. But as we all know, just because something is digitized, that doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s going to be online or usable for research.
Jessica: The first time he said, you know, 99% of the records are digitized, I said “no way, there’s no way that that could be true.” So he sent me information that’s put up by the archives, and I did the math. And I said, “Holy cow, you know, it’s absolutely true.” There are records there that you can’t get any other way, besides going in person to get those records.
Lisa: I did an entire hour show on the National Archives website last year, and it got on my radar as well, that as wonderful as the site is, and it’s got some access to some things, it’s such a tiny fraction! This means there’s a treasure trove remaining, but you have to access it in person.
Jessica, that leads us to the research rooms because that’s where we gain access to the records. What and where are the research rooms? And who uses them?
Jessica: There are 14 National Archives research rooms spread around the country. Washington, DC has a major one. There’s one nearby in College Park, Texas, a few on the West Coast, one in Missouri. So they’re spread out throughout the country.
Each one of these research rooms has different records. So, like we said, they’re all paper still, and in different facilities. If you want a certain type of record, you have to go to that facility to get it.
The people who use these research rooms are obviously genealogists, that’s my primary interest in them, historians, authors, filmmakers, and lots of use for veterans. There are educators, students, I mean, there are so many groups who need these records and have been on hold.
I have a friend who is working on a book that she’s had to put on hold for two years because she needs the information that’s in one of the archives. She can’t complete the book until the archives opens.
The Impact of the Research Rooms Closures
Lisa: Geoff, I know that you work a lot at the National Archives in St. Louis, can you explain to our audience the significance of that particular location, and its closure, and particularly on veterans? How are they affected?
Geoff: The Research Room in St. Louis is really special because it contains the personnel records and military records that tell the story of the men and women who served in the armed forces. These are records from World War I, World War II, the Korean War all the way up through Vietnam, and later.
Many living veterans and veterans’ advocates rely on researchers to work on these more complex research cases. They help to reverse denied benefits claims in many cases. This type of work has been stalled for two years!
From the historical record side of things, this is the work that I used to do primarily in St. Louis. I would rebuild the service histories, the individuals whose records were lost in the 1973 fire, primarily veterans of World War II but also World War I, and the Korean War. Families who really knew nothing about their loved ones service could gain closure by understanding their contribution to the war effort.
This research in St. Louis also helps to do things like correct grave markers for veterans and locate the remains of fallen soldiers who were lost on the battlefield.
At this point, there hasn’t even been a minimal reopening in St. Louis, the way that there was at some other research locations.
Lisa: You’re talking about veteran records. I imagine that people are trying to verify benefits. Don’t you guys work with people who volunteer to help veterans get the records they need so that they can apply for their benefits or is that stalled?
Geoff: Yeah. There is a massive backlog right now of requests that come in from veterans and their families for DD 214 records. These are like the military discharges that you can use to when you’re seeking benefits to get a home loan and things like that. What has happened is that the historical research portion of the archives there has not been reopened, because of that enormous backlog. But at this point, it’s been two years, and they’ve sort of locked the doors. But that that backlog is still growing. The St. Louis Research Room is also a smaller Research Room, and we believe it can be reopened by leaving a smaller footprint.
Lisa: Jessica, can you give us a sense of the financial impact of these closings on the people who rely on access to the research rooms for their work?
Jessica: When when COVID first hit in 2020, and they were closed, that’s the time period when I got in contact with Geoff. What drew me to trying to help his organization initially was people like Geoff who are completely out of work. Their businesses revolve around access to archives, to the National Archives, to specific facilities in specific regions. And so, I thought, wow, I’ve got to help them be able to work again, right?
So we’ve tried and now two years have gone by, and I just can’t imagine how these people are faring. Because they’ve been out of work for two years. I just talked with somebody on LinkedIn who reached out about this petition, and he was so thankful that we have this petition and said, “Well, I’ve been so frustrated. I was actually told, you know, shame on me for building my business model around relying on the National Archives.” And I thought wow, how sad that we can’t rely on the National Archives to open. It just hurts my heart. I mean, beyond that, there is this author I mentioned who is trying to finish her book can’t finish it. It’s been two years!
And of course, we have many clients who have ordered genealogical research that we can’t finish. Many have asked for refunds, because two years is a long time to wait for something like this. So unfortunately, it definitely has had an impact in the genealogy industry and other industries as well.
Geoff: The work that we do is important work. It’s specialized skills, too. And after two years, we’re starting to see our colleagues quit and move on to other things, because how long can you sustain yourself without being able to access these records that enable you to do your job? So that that’s something else too. It’s a loss for the public. We’re losing the expertise and the people that help to tell these stories by accessing these records.
Will the National Archives Reopen?
Lisa: Let’s talk about the reopening because right now, we’ve looked at two full years of closure and lack of access. I was doing some research in anticipation of getting together and talking today and I was looking at what the National Archives is saying about their policy and what they call high, medium and low risk. Even if the risk is considered low, they’re not saying full reopening. They’re talking about appointments and screenings and things.
I know that David S. Ferriero, Archivist of the United States, put out a letter, the most recent one I could find was November 8 of 2021. He says “at low transmission level staff will be on site to complete all types of work, and research rooms are expected to remain open by appointment only.”
Geoff, does that sound like an organization that’s planning on and anxious to get back to full time access?
Geoff: Yes, well, it certainly sounds like a difficult system for someone who would need to be able to do their job five days a week and get in there and really access these records in the way that we need to, to do our jobs. We really are trying to look past that. The restrictions, until we can get back to a level of normalcy, at least in the level of access to records, the sliding scale system with the case rates, and how they open and close. This appears to be how the federal government has structured things for the agencies that fall underneath of the executive branch, the IRS, and the Social Security Administration. Some of this is out of the hands of the archives management.
Other things we think they might be able to do when they do open to kind of prioritize the research rooms and get them back to functioning at pre pandemic levels. That’s really what we’re seeking. We kind of feel like where there’s a will there’s a way. And when 99% of the records that you work with are physical, it really demands that you have the staff and be open to meet that public demand.
Lisa: I noticed on the petition website, which we are going to talk about, there is a way that our viewers can help try to get the message forward to those in power to make a different decision and maybe open this up.
One of the things that’s interesting is that the museum in the Washington DC area is open. It’s in the same building as the research rooms, and those are closed.
Geoff, have they told you anything about ‘here’s the mark, here’s the goalpost? When this happens, we will welcome you all back.’ Do you have any sense of what that place is?
Geoff: I think that the pandemic has been so unpredictable that no one is willing to make any type of you know, there’s no clarity. Everyone is sort of seeking cover. And in this hyper partisan environment that we live in today, nobody’s willing to kind of stick their neck out and say, ‘Well, this is what we’re going to do to take initiative, be imaginative.’ And that’s really what we need so that we can function in a type of new normal when it comes to research.
We know that we’ve got vaccines – 95% of the federal workforce is vaccinated. I believe that you have to either show proof of vaccination status to get inside of the archives or show that you’ve had a negative test. And then of course, you’re required to wear a mask. So, there are things in place to make sure that we have a safe environment when we’re researching. So, the public is safe, and the staff are safe. We just need to figure out how to get back to pre-pandemic levels of access, even if we do have some new restrictions in place, like masks or vaccines or things like that.
Jessica: Geoff mentioned to access the archives, showing that you’re vaccinated, using a mask. So that was in place during the couple of weeks that two of the archives were actually opened in November. We had two archives opened for a couple of weeks, in November. And we did follow all of those protocols. However, they were closed, and the other facilities around the country have never opened since March 2020.
Lisa: And of course, since then, with the coming up Omicron, we know that the vaccinated get ill just like the unvaccinated. So, you’re right, it keeps changing and keeps moving. And that’s where the lack of the goalpost is kind of a challenge.
Let’s talk about some of the ways you’re trying to communicate with the National Archives to see what could be resolved so that everybody feels good about what’s happening and can participate and get what they need.
How You Can Make a Difference in the Reopening
Jessica, you’ve put a petition together. This is what first came to my attention. Tell us about what that is and what your goals are.
Jessica: Absolutely. A main goal that I have with this petition is I just thought ‘I can’t let over two years go by with these important archives being closed, and the leaders of the archives not receive a united strong message from our communities that we care about this, and that it affects us.’ So a major goal is I just want to be able to show them how many people care that they’re closed, especially because it affects us not only now, but genealogists and historians have a long history of having to fight for public access to records.
I don’t want those leaders to look back on this event, years into the future and think ‘well, nobody really seemed to mind that they couldn’t access those records.’ I want them to know that many, many thousands of people cared that they couldn’t access the records.
The ask of this petition is that they reopen by sometime in March 2022. That will be a full two years that many of these facilities have been closed. We’ve seen many other events and businesses and groups have been able to safely reopen, I think that the National Archives is capable of doing the same. I think that it’s important that we ask for that strongly and in the united fashion.
The petition is at https://change.org/reopen archives. We want thousands of signatures. We have about 3000. We’d like to at least double that. We want them to know that these archives matter to the citizens of the United States and the world.
Lisa: I wholeheartedly agree. And I know you’ve just had it up a couple of days, and that’s an amazing start right out of the gate.
As you said, there’s a lot of different players involved who make the decisions, but it’s so important that we make our voice known and our needs known because how else would they incorporate that into the decision-making?
Anything else Geoff that you want to mention about this and things that you would encourage people to do?
Geoff: Something else folks might think about doing is reaching out to your house representative to your senators and just letting them know that you care about this issue that you want to see the archives open all the research rooms back open again. Citizens need and deserve access to government records. That’s the archives mission.
Lisa: it certainly is, and I really appreciate and respect that the two of you have taken some action and made your voices known and hopefully we will ask everybody here watching to help do the same.
Jessica: And please share, you share it, sign it and also share!
Lisa: Yes, That’s the best way to get the word out. Everybody knows another genealogist!
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.
Elevenses with Lisa is our little slice of heaven where friends get together for tea and talk about the thing that never fails to put a smile on our face: Genealogy!
The National Archives is a wonderful resource of unique genealogical records. Though the archives are closed, the website is open, and it’s a great place to search for records and prepare for future genealogy research trips.
The National Archives website and online catalog can be a bit mystifying. If you’ve ever tried to search it and wound up frustrated, you’re not alone. This is often the case because the nature of the archives and the search function of the online Catalog are not genealogically focused. Armed with an understanding of how and why it is set up the way it is, and the know-how to search, refine, and download documents, you’ll be ready to add it to your genealogy toolkit.
In this video episode and article, we’ll be answering important questions such as:
What kind of genealogy records can be found at the National Archives website?
Which genealogy records are not available at the National Archives?
How do I search for records at the National Archives online Catalog?
How can I retrieve only digital items from the National Archives Catalog?
How can I get better search results in the National Archives Online Catalog?
How do I download files from the National Archives Website?
What Kind of Records Can be Found at the National Archives Website?
To understand the types of records we can expect to find we must first understand the role and mission of the National Archives. Their role is preserving and making available only the permanent Federal Government records. Some have genealogical value.
These records are arranged as the agencies created them, so there is no master subject or name index.
While they have 110 million + digitized pages in the Catalog, this represents just a small fraction of the holdings.
The Catalog contains descriptions for their nationwide holdings in the Washington, DC area, regional facilities, and Presidential Libraries.
The Catalog currently contains descriptions for 95% of the records, described at the “series” level.
You can find basic information about the records, including size and location, from the catalog description.
The National Archives is regularly adding more file unit and item descriptions, many of which include digital files.
Some traditional genealogy records can be found at the National Archives such as:
Passenger Arrival Records (Immigration)
Military Personnel Records
Fugitive slave cases
Applications for enrollment in Native American tribes
Most if these records are available in person. However, all National Archives locations have been closed since March 13, 2020 and remain so as of this writing.
Genealogy Records You Will Not Find at the National Archives
Because the following genealogy records are not created at the federal level, they would not be cataloged or found at the National Archives:
Deeds and wills.
To obtain these records, check with the appropriate state or county.
What to do before you search the National Archives Catalog online
Before you begin your online search:
Write down your research question.
Decide what topic you want to browse.
Think of possible ways your ancestor interacted with the Federal Government.
On the National Archives website they provide a great example of a research question that a genealogist might have and how it can lead to records.
QUESTION: Why did my ancestor have a significant decrease in net worth between the 1860 Census and 1870 Census?|
ASK YOURSELF: How might your ancestor have interacted with the federal government that could help explain this discrepancy?
RECORDS TO SEARCH FOR: The Bankruptcy Act of 1867 allowed many people to file for voluntary bankruptcy. The genealogists could search in the National Archives Catalog for bankruptcy AND [state where you ancestor lived during that timeframe] to see if bankruptcy records are available that could help answer the question.
How to Search the National Archives Catalog Online
There are three key types of searches you can conduct in the catalog:
Let’s start with a keyword search:
Go to https://catalog.archives.gov
Enter keywords in the search box in the center of the page.
(If you are looking for an exact phrase using two or more words, put them in quotation marks example: “bounty land”)
Press the magnifying glass button to run your search.
The results will be returned starting with best results at the top.
To view a description, click on the blue title.
You can use the filters on the left side of the results page to narrow down your results.
Refine your search results by type if you know the type of material you want. Example of material type include photos, maps, or textual records.
It’s important to remember that just because the item appears in the result does not mean that it is available online. Many of the descriptions don’t include digital images of the records.
How can I retrieve only digital items from the National Archives Catalog?
You can dramatically narrow down your search results to include only digital items that you can review from home. To do this, on the search results page, click on the filter Archival Descriptions with Digital Objects. This will revise your results list so that you will only see descriptions of items with images attached.
How can I get better search results in the National Archives Online Catalog?
It never hurts to try searching by name, although many record descriptions will not name the people who are named in the records. You can improve these searches by using quotes around the entire name, or just the surname. This will restrict results to only items that exactly matches what appears in the quotes.
You’ll notice that there isn’t a specific search field for names in the National Archives Catalog. Here are several additional search strategies you can use when searching for the names of people:
Search on the person’s full name in first name-last name order.
Search for last name – first name within quotes
Search on the surname only. Again you can use quotes.
Search on spelling variations using the search operator OR. This works well when searching name variations such as: Burkett OR Burkette.
Search on variant spellings of the first name, including “Americanized” versions.
Example: Joseph Maggio OR Guiseppe Maggio.
Again, keep in mind that most descriptions in the National Archives Catalog do not include the names of people mentioned in the record. If you know an individual participated in event, search for related keywords and look within the records. You will need to read them to see if your ancestor is mentioned.
Another way to improve your search results is to shift your focus from people to topics. This is strongly recommended by the National Archives. You are much more likely to get a greater number of results because people aren’t usually named in descriptions. Be sure to read the description carefully to see if the item will be helpful and worth requesting.
When searching topics, think about and make a list of relevant phrases and keywords. For example, when searching for Land Records, try searching for phrases such as:
How to Download Files from the National Archives Website
After clicking the description on the search results page you will be on the record page. If there is a digital image, it can be downloaded. Look below to see if there are additional pages. You can click to select the desired page and then click the download icon just below the image.
If you would like to download all of the images, look below the list of images to see if a compiled PDF is available. This will allow you to download and save all of the images in one convenient file.
The Record Group Explorer at the National Archives Website
Allows you to browse NARA’s holdings by Record Group
Use it to get a sense of the scale and organization of records
Explore what is available online via the Catalog
Provides an overview of the digital scans available online within a Record Group: textual records, photographs, maps and charts, electronic records, and more.
Records are grouped by specific government agencies. Each group is represented visually in a section. The section is light blue, signifying the total volume of textual records. If a dark blue bar appears in the section, it is an indicator that some of the records are digitized. The percentage or number (depending on the view you select in the grey Record Group Explorer Tools bar across the top) of digital images will be shown.
If the section is green, that indicates that there are records online but they are not textual records. They may be items like photographs or films.
If the section is grey, there are no records available online at all.
Click a section to learn more about that Record Group and explore the records.
Record Group Highlight: Motion Pictures
The National Archives holds a surprising number of motion pictures. As you browse or search, focusing on topic will likely be more helpful than searching by name. Consider looking for your ancestors’ homes, businesses, military service, events and associated locations.
“A series of films: 306-LSS, a group of more than 400 black and white reels of stock footage that ended up in the hands of the United States Information Agency (USIA).”
Answers to Live Chat Questions
One of the advantages of tuning into the live broadcast of each Elevenses with Lisa show is participating in the Live Chat and asking your questions.
From Sue M.: Do they hold WPA and CCC records? From Lisa: Yes to both!
From Steve S.: Can you use the * and ? as search operators in the NARA catalog? Also thanks for de-mystifying this site! you have made it much more understandable. From Lisa: After the show Steve did some searching and found this handy page providing additional search tips and operators supported by the website. Thanks Steve!
From Michael R.: Are the Naturalization records in the National Archives different from those in local courthouses? From Lisa: I haven’t looked lately, but about 15 years ago I filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request and received my great grandfather’s federal naturalization paperwork. It included a photograph that was not included at the county court level.
From Lynnette B.: I had my parent’s old home movies put on DVD’s several years ago. What is the next step in making them more available? Adobe spark video? YouTube? I want to identify each person on them? From Lisa: An easy way to get started is by making Adobe Spark Videos (see episode 16) which is free and easy. Use the Titles feature to add text explaining who is who. Uploading them to your free YouTube account channel is a super easy way to share them.
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