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Ethical Duties of Forensic Genealogists

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Genealogy has become a hobby for thousands of people. Many of us fancy ourselves amateur genealogists based on our use of public record databases and internet forums to find out more about our family tree. With growing public access to records databases through the internet, as well as the ubiquity of social media, it seems as though anyone could flesh out a family tree or identify a lost family member online. A professional forensic genealogist’s work, however, must meet a far higher standard for reliability and ethical rigor in order to be considered reliable evidence in a court case. Learn more below about the ethical duties of a forensic genealogist.

Genealogy is a broad term to describe the study of lineages and family histories. Many individuals curious about the identities of their ancestors and where they came from might start piecing together a family tree for their own personal use. Forensic genealogy, on the other hand, is the study of family lineage, often involving living people, for use in a legal context. The fact that the subjects of this research are alive, and that the product of these searches can have lasting legal implications, substantially raises the stakes above those of the amateur genealogist.

Whenever living persons are the subject of a search, investigators must show great discretion in gathering information on that individual while remaining respectful of their privacy. In some cases individuals are difficult to locate for a reason, having deliberately hidden themselves from abusive or toxic families. The forensic genealogist must balance the demands of the person or entity who hired them to complete a search with the rights and wishes of the subject of the search.

Forensic genealogists also have a duty to remain objective about the subject of their research. Heir hunters, in contrast, are largely paid only when they have found the heir in question. This contingent fee can result in a substantial conflict of interest. Some heir hunters can be unscrupulous, leading to the use of unreliable evidence or even deception to complete their search, or in demanding that they receive a massive portion of the inheritance which the lost heir stands to collect. Forensic genealogists must conduct their searches in such a way that they can confidently testify about the results of their investigation in court, with confidence both in the accuracy of their research and their ability to answer difficult questions from attorneys.

For assistance with a search for a missing heir or beneficiary, whether in the state of Florida, in the US, or across the globe, contact a knowledgeable, seasoned, and effective forensic genealogist at Von Langen, LLC for a consultation, at 561-748-2936