Frequently Asked Questions about Forensic Genealogy


How is forensic genealogy different?
Forensic genealogy is when heirship determination is undertaken specifically to answer a legal question, such as who is the heir to an estate, the beneficiary to a trust or life insurance policy, or for other legal reasons. The purpose is always to find living persons, not to determine ancestors.

What is the final product for the client?

A meticulously prepared report or affidavit is prepared that is suitable for submission in a court of law and which may be accompanied by expert testimony. This report meets specific professional criteria as set out by organizations such as the Council for the Advancement of Forensic Genealogy (CAFG). 

Do forensic genealogists have different educational training?
Yes, a different skill set is necessary because the purpose is to find living persons and the supporting documentation on each potential heir must be at the highest level of due diligence. The annual Forensic Genealogy Institute, which I have attended since 2012, is sponsored by CAFG  and it provides training for new and experienced forensic genealogists. There is also an advantage to hiring a forensic genealogist who is an attorney because I have access to personal information on living persons that is not available to the general public and I have a better understanding of the applicable laws and legal issues. In many jurisdictions only an attorney or licensed private investigator can legally search for living persons.

How are Professional Ancestry Research's (PAR's) services different from an heir search firm?
When you engage the services of an heir search firm you rarely know exactly who you hired, or how much experience and training the researcher has. Most heir search firms charge a contingency fee that not only takes a large percentage of the estate, but also makes them a party interested in the outcome of the case and disqualifies them as a disinterested witness. PAR charges a reasonable hourly rate and remains a disinterested third party. When you hire PAR the work is either done by, or under the direct supervision of, an attorney who is an experienced credentialed forensic genealogist. Forensic genealogy cases often require a better understanding of the pertinent law than a non-attorney has.

How can Professional Ancestry Research (PAR) save me or my client time and money?

Experienced researchers work faster, and already have access to and are already familiar with the quirks of researching in different databases. Proper training and experience means solid leads are identified more quickly and less time is wasted on tenuous connections. Experience and training mean higher quality results in less time. In many cases PAR's hourly fees are less than attorney ad litem hourly fees and can mean significant savings to the estate.

What is the process for hiring Professional Ancestry Research?

After the initial phone consultation on the issues at hand the client emails the information and documents they have already acquired to me for my review. Depending on the potential size of the case and type of problems known at the outset (such as the decedent died intestate and was the only child of an only child) I then spend some time on preliminary research.  Typically within 24-48 hours I will respond with an estimated number of hours that I'll ask to be authorized. Most cases require between 20-50 hours to complete.

In cases where the issue is clearing title to real property (where the court is not involved and no attorney ad litem will be appointed) the client hires PAR directly. If the case involves an estate or trust, then usually the executor or administrator of the estate or trustee of the trust works in cooperation with the attorney ad litem to file a Motion to hire PAR with the appropriate court. Once the court approves hiring PAR and the retainer is received then work begins. Small simple cases might be resolved in a few weeks, but large complex cases (see examples below) may require more than a year to complete.  

What does the FGC credential mean?

ForensicGenealogistCredentialed(SM) is a peer-reviewed accreditation bestowed by the Council for the Advancement of Forensic Genealogy (CAFG). The process requires peer-review of a portfolio of work samples and successfully passing a comprehensive exam. Testing is only open to members of CAFG who have attained the highest level of membership, Level IV. For more information click here.

Thorough Research Means Results You Can Trust!

Examples from Recent Cases:

  • Client provided a list of 90 names believed to be the complete list of heirs to an estate and asked PAR to document each person and their relationship to the decedent. At completion of the case, more than 60 additional living heirs had been fully documented and located.
  • Client provided a list of 20 heirs believed to be a complete list, and at completion of the case over 150 living heirs were fully documented and located. 
  • Trust terminated upon death of last beneficiary. Client provided a list of eight known heirs. Upon completion of research, over 165 living descendants had been identified, documented, and located.
  • Client provided a list of 8 children born to the decedent who was married once, but who had fathered children with five different women. Each child was fully documented even though the father's name was not on most of their birth certificates.  
  • Several cases in which the client required documentation regarding a child who had been purportedly born to an unwed mother and adopted out at birth. In Texas and some other states a child who has been adopted out usually retains the right to inherit from the birth parents and the adoptive parents.
  • Client had a complete list of 22 heirs, but needed a disinterested third party to properly document each person and their relationship to the decedent in an Affidavit that could be submitted to the Court.
  • Client's stepfather had allowed his children from an earlier marriage to be adopted some decades earlier. Title had to be cleared on the community homestead when he died intestate. Adopted children successfully found and contacted.
  • Client's mineral rights were tied up in complex case involving two wills, stepchildren, and a royalty deed. 
  • Client attempting to buy rights to an easement required identifying and locating living descendants of persons listed in a decades old deed.