is an attempt to furnish the amateur genealogist with an array
of tools used in forensic research, in order to enhance their
capabilities of retrieving information in every type of
material encountered. It has three main sections, referring
respectively to the analysis of photographic material,
generating databases of known and available data for research,
and the use of DNA-related information in genealogical
section seeks to offer advice on how to obtain the most
information possible from old photos, focusing in two
principal methods of analysis:
One of the
methods of analysis is the inspection of the material that
contains the photo, and in that respect the book gives a brief
outline of the early history of photography, starting with
daguerreotypes, up to the middle of the twentieth century.
Also included are valuable tips for dating, at least
approximately, photographic material, with examples about how
to obtain information from the details of the material that
could easily be overlooked on a superficial examination.
method of analysis focuses on how to obtain the maximum
information from the images themselves: Street names, brand
names, styles of dress, traffic signals, car models or licence
plates, even patches of snow in a photo, all this can
contribute to finding out where your uncle lived during the
section, referring to the analysis of photography for
genealogical research, concludes with a case study in digital
detective work, showing how to figure out the where, who, when
and why from an apparently meaningless photo. It includes some
material about how to deduce the year in which the photograph
was taken, analysing how some objects project their shadows,
and using certain concepts of cosmography and projective
geometry in this process. This is accompanied by a prototype
spreadsheet on the CD, so that readers may experience this
section, while containing much material of interest, is
lacking in some aspects. When analysing a photo, it is assumed
that the date of the copy is coterminous with the date that
the photo was originally shot. Another point is that there
have been, and still are, many different types of photographic
material and cameras, that only receive a brief mention. A
similar comment relates to the analysis of the photographic
paper used in the copies: it is centred on two brands of paper
(Kodak and Agfa), without mention of other brands such as
Ilford, Perutz and Ferrania. A very common material used,
particularly between 1950 and the late 1980s, the diapositive,
is similarly bypassed.
no mention of the possibility that one could be working with a
falsified or altered photograph. Another point that might be
commented upon is that mention is regularly made of technical
aspects of digital photography such as contrast, gamma
correction, and high resolution. The neophyte reader would
benefit from brief explanations of such terms. Particularly
conspicuous is the absence of face identification and
recognition from the book.
section refers specifically to the use of databases, from
different sources (city directories, seaman’s protection
certificates, fire victims, police reports, coroners’ records,
hospital records, BMD records etc.,) and how to combine them
in what may be described as a genealogical process of ‘data
distinct methods of research are also outlined in this
section. The first is what Fitzpatrick describes as ‘cultural
profiling,’ that is, establishing general or particular
patterns of behaviour in a community from data in a given
database, as a method of identifying different guidelines for
method of research is the recording in a database of data from
various different sources. In the book, these are grouped into
two different types: the periodical database, that is, a
database that is compiled for specific periods (census, city
directories, etc.), and events databases that contain records
that are updated continuously, for example, BMD registers.
basis of numerous examples, Fitzpatrick demonstrates how to
create your own databases from the given material, and how to
process them (sorting by different criteria, rearranging the
data, etc.). She also offers advice on creating a database of
databases, that is, a database in which you may register which
databases you have researched for each surname of interest.
would benefit from a clear definition of what a database is,
and the fact that databases are mainly used for transactions
and ‘data mining’ processes. Fitzpatrick’s information on
commercial genealogy software is accurate, yet she neglects to
mention that when data sources are mainly on paper or
microfilm, extracting information can be a painstaking task.
Furthermore, a spreadsheet does not strictly qualify as a
database, due to its many restrictions in terms of size.
section, on the use of DNA analysis for genealogical research,
is certainly the most innovative of the approaches covered by
the book. It begins with a brief introduction to the
fundamental notions of the constitution of a DNA molecule, the
fundamental building block of life in all its expressions, and
how is it present in the chromosomes and in the mitochondria.
description of the principal terms used in DNA analysis is
also provided, and an explanation of the differences between
the forensic, medical and genealogical uses – and the
extension – of DNA analysis.
Fitzpatrick subsequently provides commentary on Sykes’ book
The Seven Daughters of Eve and the conclusions which he
arrives at on the basis of research on the Mitochondrial DNA (MtDNA)
of the modern European population, and the detection of groups
(haplogroups or clades, in technical genetic jargon) that
share the same mutations of MtDNA.
pages that follow, there is a more technical description of
the two principal avenues of research in DNA genealogical
analysis: The paternal line, which is based on the markers
found in the male Y chromosome, and the female line, based on
the clades that are identified by the markers in MtDNA.
technical section contains important information about the
different companies that perform DNA analysis, the testing
options that they provide, their costs and websites. There is
also a list of the online databases that contain vast
collections of genealogical DNA information, and to which you
may submit your DNA results, hoping for a match.
topic covered by the book is how to cope with the search for
the Most Recent Common Ancestor for any group of persons
related either by the paternal line (using the Y chromosome
markers) or the maternal line (using the MtDNA markers). This
topic relies heavily on probability and statistical concepts,
such as confidence intervals, binomial and Poisson
distributions and Bayesian hypotheses. If one is in possession
of the DNA analyses of several persons who are presumably
related, and follows the guidelines given in the book,
including prototype spreadsheets for doing the necessary
computations, it is possible to construct a cladogram, or a
tree representation of the probable relationships between the
different persons involved in the study. There will certainly
be some surprises, such as illegitimate offspring and their
descendant branch on the cladogram.
avenue of research opens up a totally new and unexplored
frontier, and the book suggests many ways of exploring it.
However, it should be considered that DNA analysis is not
cheap, with an approximate cost of U$100–300 per individual.
Another consideration is the reluctance that some relatives
might have in submitting material for the tests, a point that
Fitzpatrick does address. The other relevant caution on DNA
research for genealogical purposes is that is strictly based
on probability theory, in contrast to the methods used, for
example, in paternity tests or forensic research.
is certainly innovative, and provides a wealth of guidelines
for performing genealogical research. While certain topics
would merit further research, the book provides comprehensive
guidelines for amateur genealogists, and it may be hoped that
such research would be included in a second edition of the
is a practical guide that offers major innovations in
genealogical research methods that anyone can apply. Although
I am flattered that the reviewer treated it as an academic
publication - it is not!
For example, my experience here in the US with identifying
hundreds of old family photographs is that over 99% have been
either on Agfa or Kodak print paper. As an optical scientist,
I have used many different types of photographic films,
plates, and print paper, but in writing Forensic Genealogy
I included only those materials that the reader might
encounter in analysing family pictures. I have not seen
Ilford, Perutz or Ferrania used for family photographs.
reviewer comments, 'Furthermore, a spreadsheet does not
strictly qualify as a database, due to its many restrictions
in terms of size.' Forensic Genealogy was intended for
an audience more interested in new innovations in how to
research their families than in precise technical definitions.
In the section about DNA, I was conservative on how technical
to make it. The chapter is set up so that readers can read as
far as they feel comfortable, without sacrificing information
that may be important to them, although I could have loaded
the book with a highly mathematical discussion. Our second
book DNA & Genealogy covers this subject in much more
detail, yet is still very readable.
In the eighteen months since the book was published, thousands
of copies have been sold, yet I have not seen a single used
copy on the market. The readers must like it.