January 25, 2017

Familial DNA Testing Used to Solve Cold Cases

Genealogists love DNA. Many, if not most, of us have tested with more than one DNA company. Why? Because DNA not only allows us to learn about our early ethnic origins, it also allows us to match with other genealogists who share a common ancestor. Like crowdsourcing, this permits us to help each other, to share information that may help us in our ancestral quest.

Familial DNA is now being used by police to hopefully solve cold cases. Familial DNA  is defined as

"A familial DNA search is a search by law enforcement in DNA databases for genetic information indicating a relative of a person they seek to identify."

Rockne Harmon, a forensic cold case specialist, defines familial DNA as "a two-phase process to develop investigative leads to potentially identify close biological relatives of the source of a DNA sample that carries an unknown forensic profile."

Familial DNA is being used in UK and some states in the USA, and Harmon hopes to apply familial DNA to solve some Canadian cold cases. There are legal obstacles regarding current laws governing Canada’s DNA databank which would have to be studied first.

The Ottawa Citizen has the full story at  Familial DNA searches could help crack Canadian cold cases

Image: http://www.slideshare.net/ThermoFisher/familial-dna-searching-technology-to-provide-investigative-leads-51740417 


Paul Caverly said...

Interesting and the fear of many. If you have done no wrong you should have nothing to fear but, your DNA could have been left in many places you have visited. Some of these places may have had police investigations happening. Another problem is that GenealogyDNA has now been around for a while. Early testing recommended using your oldest ancestor for the test and some of these ancestors have since passed on. In addition to convicted criminals having to provide their DNA there are many other groups where employment requires DNA - military, police, fire dept. to name a few. High risk jobs may require DNA in case an unfortunate accident happens that requires DNA to confirm identification.
Another interesting article in Chatelaine Magazine, Jan. 2017, by Carolyn Abraham, "Information Overload".
Crime shows have even showed cases where someone tries to leave someone else's DNA at a crime scene but, I am not sure how legitimate this might be.

Unknown said...

Fascinating, and interesting to realize how familial DNA has already been used in disaster investigations, etc. I wasn't aware that so many states and countries are already using this technique for criminal investigations. And it has at least one supportive example of its value from a bit of non-DNA research.

The state of Oregon, prior to the recession, funded research into whether or not criminal behavior runs in families, with an eye toward trying to understand if there was any way society could intervene to break cycles of crime and incarceration. There was strong suspicion, based on arrest and conviction records, that it is inter-generational. They started with interviews with inmates and extended the interviews to each inmate's family members. The goal was in part to get people to recall their first bad deed and how their own parents responded to it. And how bad behavior on the part of children was regarded within those families over time.

What they found was that male criminals tend to have criminal fathers, sons or brothers, as the article noted. Race, religion, and ethnicity had no bearing. The correlation with women, sisters and daughters, was much less present. But all children want to please their parents and all children gravitate to the parent who seems to have the most power. In a violent household - lots of correlation between domestic violence and crime - that's the parent who hits the hardest and most often. The majority of the men in prison at the time of this study were the sons of teenaged mothers who never gained enough education and personal autonomy to better their lives. The men in their lives, whether the biological father or someone filling that role, encouraged the children at a young age to shoplift candy or other small items, praising and rewarding them for doing so, and encouraging the children as they grew up to attempt more daring thefts.

This kind of data, incomplete as it is, does lend more weight to the results explained in this article from the Ottowa Citizen. I doubt familial DNA research will ever protect innocent people from the Bernie Madoffs of the world, but clearly it's giving results in some of what would otherwise be homicide cold cases. Plus saving some of the tedious and unproductive legwork of police investigations. I'll be interested in seeing where it goes in the near future.

Unknown said...

I hate to think a relative may have committed murder, but if they did I'd like them to be caught. The saying, "The truth will set you free" is something I often think while doing genealogy. No matter how distasteful a discovery I make, I'd rather know the truth than believe in misinformation passed on through decades of deceit. I am a product of my ancestors. Never mind that I never met them or saw their faces, they are a part of who I am today, responsible in part for my mental and physical attributes, how I think and what I think and my standards of behavior. You can't fight illness unless you know what the illness is. I think a Familial DNA application to violent or criminal behavior addresses criminal illnesses and should be used.

I only recently submitted an autosomnal DNA test to Ancestry.com. It was a mental struggle to bring myself to do it. This article fits right in with my fears. I worried about abuse and use of the information obtained or accessed by government sources. Government has no conscience. I grew up knowing what Hitler thought and did to the Jews, and who knows when such a man will be born again? Who will be the next target? I concluded I've led an innocent life, doing no harm to society, and if the information is used as a basis of genocide, then I'd be better off dead than living in such a society anyhow. If I didn't do the test, much of the unique information would be lost, perhaps never to be retrieved. Results may or may not help me break down the brick walls in my tree, but I've come to peace with the questionable privacy issues. If my DNA would help law enforcement catch a murderer, it is welcome to it. If I didn't allow it, as in the case of murderer, I'd be as responsible as the killer for his victim. We all have the right to live without fear, but we also have the responsibility to help others.