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Volunteer Genealogy Detectives Use Their Skills to Crack Unclaimed Persons Cases

April 23, 2012 | Comments: 0 | Views: 168

So, you fancy yourself a super sleuth - can you solve this mystery?

Two sisters are found dead in their home. They have an estate, but no Will and no known family. How do you find if there is next of kin?

If you answered, "Call the Police Department," you may want to keep your day job. If you answered, "Ask a genealogist," you're definitely on the right track. Better yet, if genealogy is your hobby, you may very well think about turning it into your day job.

Consider a story that received national attention earlier this year. Two elderly sisters were found dead in their shared home. Usually the names of dead people are withheld pending notification of next of kin; however, in this case, because of the sisters' secluded lives, detectives could not find any family members to contact -- so, they released the sisters' names to the public. The result was surprising.

Hundreds of people, many of whom were amateur genealogists, contacted the county sheriff's office, not only with leads, but with the names and locations of two of the sisters' cousins, who were subsequently notified. Although the detectives never identified the super sleuths -- referring to them only as "amateurs trying their hand at genealogy" -- somehow those amateur genealogy detectives were able to crack the case without fingerprints or forensics.

While Genealogical DNA has been used for years and is the crux of many criminal cases today, a number of cases require something more than body fluids or hair follicles - they require following a trail that leads to a living relative of an "unclaimed person" -- a term used to describe deceased individuals who have been identified, but who have no known next of kin to contact.

This isn't the first time the genealogy community has stepped up to solve unclaimed persons (UP) cases. Coroners, medical examiners, and death investigators have invoked the aid of genealogy volunteers to help locate the families of UP. In the same vein, genealogists have helped solve cases for the U.S. Army, as well as various investigative agencies, including the FBI.

Because the number of unclaimed persons is increasing throughout the U.S., San Bernardino County takes a proactive stance by hosting a website ( ) that features thousands of names of UP who have died in California since 1996. The public is welcome to peruse this website and can help locate a living relative for any of the names listed.

Taking this concept a step further, Megan Smolenyak, an author and professional genealogist, co-founded (along with Marcy Brown) RootsTelevision and companion website, which is dedicated to the Unclaimed Persons initiative to help locate next of kin for the deceased. Hundreds of genealogy volunteers have flocked to the website and complementary Facebook page to assist medical examiners, coroners, and investigators in locating living relatives. In less than five years, the Unclaimed Persons group has helped solve more than 250 cases.

So how do these genealogy detectives do it? How do these family historian super sleuths manage to find living family members who elude even the long arm of law enforcement? Of course, each researcher has his/her own method, but some tried-and-true resources include: Social Security records, property records, court records, medical records, genealogical databases, U.S. Census, family Bibles, to name a few.

In all cases, however, the medical examiners and coroners stress that if volunteer researchers happen to find the next of kin for a deceased individual, they are to notify the appropriate agency and allow them to make contact with the family - the researcher should not make contact with the families.

So, whether you are an amateur genealogist looking to challenge and improve your research skills (finding next of kin for a UP would look great on your résumé), or a professional genealogist with an altruistic desire to help a UP be claimed, there are plenty of real-life, real-time mysteries available for you to solve. Just begin your detective work, claim an unclaimed case, and let your genealogy talents work their magic. can help you with your genealogical search by retrieving the records and documents you need in only two weeks. Record Click specializes in small-size genealogical projects, providing you with expert help from records retrieval specialists. And since Record Click is affordable, we can save you a costly research fee that other search firms may charge. Come visit us at or email us at and let us help you with your lineage research -- our services are fast, easy, and affordable.

Source: EzineArticles
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Genealogy Detectives


Unclaimed Persons


Genealogical Dna


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