How Forensic Genealogy Works
If you are in probate attempting to administer an estate, especially if the deceased party died intestate, it’s vital to have a comprehensive picture of the decedent’s family tree. You need to know whether the deceased has any surviving heirs, their relationship to the deceased, and how to track them down. Even if there is a will or there are otherwise known heirs, you need to be able to find those heirs and to provide proper notice of their legal rights to the estate. With help from a seasoned, professional forensic genealogist, you can ensure that you have completed all of your due diligence to get the estate’s assets in the hands of the parties to whom they are legally entitled.
What is Forensic Genealogy?
Forensic genealogy, or probate genealogy, is a research field dedicated to identifying, locating, proving, and reporting on missing heirs and beneficiaries in testate and intestate matters. Forensic genealogy is genealogical research conducted in connection with estate matters or a determination of heirship; forensic genealogists are professional forensic researchers. They employ a variety of research tools to identify rightful heirs to an estate, validate or invalidate the claims of purported heirs, track down legally required documentation and reports, generate a complete family tree where requested, and provide expert testimony where necessary.
Traditional genealogists work backward in time to find ancestors. Forensic researchers, instead, start with a decedent, go backward in time only as far as necessary given the state’s applicable intestacy laws (i.e., how distant a relative may be to still qualify as an heir to an intestate estate), and then research forward from that point to find potential qualifying, living relatives. For example, if the intestacy laws allow first cousins to inherit (should no other surviving heir exist), then the genealogist would identify the decedent’s grandparents, then go forward in time to the decedent’s surviving parents, siblings, spouse, and cousins, and then look for the children of those parties, should no cousins or siblings survive the decedent.
What Does Forensic Genealogy Entail?
As DNA matching is only an indication where very close relationships exist and DNA evidence can only serve to prove those immediate heirs, forensic or probate genealogists rely on a variety of research tools, databases, and methods to find accurate, complete information about a decedent’s close as well as distant familial relationships. Forensic genealogists may investigate public databases of marriages, divorces, obituaries, property sales, and others, as well as database mining, photo analysis, and all other data obtainable in order to track down the rightful heirs to an estate. A good forensic genealogist will rely on a combination of “high-tech” data, such as searchable databases, along with “low-tech” research measures such as combing through hard copies of family data and conducting investigations at locations in person.
Ultimately, the deliverable depends upon the needs of the client. If an estate administrator is trying to validate the claims of a purported heir, the genealogist will research the heir’s claims to learn if they are actually related to the decedent, and provide documentation sufficient to show that they are (or are not) related as they claim. If the estate administrator needs to find a missing heir, the genealogist will utilize their research tools to find the location of the missing heir and produce current contact information, so that the estate administrator can provide them with proper notice of their legal rights. If there is a general lack of information about potential heirs, the genealogist can produce a workable, comprehensive family tree, as far back as necessary given the state’s intestacy laws, and provide sufficient documentation to serve as legal proof of that family tree, to aid the administrator’s efforts and to demonstrate their due diligence in probate court.
If you’re an estate administrator in need of seasoned assistance identifying and locating missing heirs to an estate and for determination of heirship proceedings, or heir research services in order to satisfy due diligence requirements, contact the knowledgeable and persistent forensic genealogists at Von Langen, LLC at 800-525-7722.