Genealogy and citizen detective work have a huge overlap, both are focused on a mission to connect dots and find answers. Using the same skills to research beyond a family’s history can also impart answers to an unsolved case—but where to start?

Uncovered community member, Mary S. shares her insights as a citizen detective and true crime enthusiast, turned genealogy student newcomer learning about genetic genealogy. She’s outlined eight things that have helped her have a better understanding of the role, power, and impact of genealogy—from one true crime person to another.

Genealogy Misconceptions, Revelations & Tips


Genealogy is more than just genealogy

There are 4 main categories for the use of genealogy. It’s much more than family trees & history. With true crime community growth over the last few years, many are aware of genealogy and the use of DNA, but some still don’t realize how it can be applied.

  • Traditional genealogy – the study of families, family history, and lineage; what most people initially associate with genealogy.
  • Genetic genealogy – the use of DNA along with traditional genealogy methods to determine genetic relationships between people.
  • Forensic genealogy – the use of genetic and traditional genealogy research for legal purposes such as searching out heirs, citizenship, adoption, & ID of unclaimed remains, etc.
  • Investigative genetic genealogy – The use of genetic and traditional genealogy research to generate leads for investigating crimes and unidentified human remains. (A subset of forensic genealogy) Often it’s just lumped in with forensic genealogy for layman use.

Don’t take an online family tree as gospel

There are many amateur genealogists and everyday people doing brief searches or providing passed-down family information. Many are not following any guidelines, have tangible sources, or have had any training after all the average person likely doesn’t know how important accurate information is or at least understands the effects of this. Mistaken information added to a tree can affect others’ research and many sites are very difficult to correct once the information is in place.


Resources and online websites are vast

Ultimately your individual comfort level and methods, and of course what your research goal is, will help guide you.  Most resources online want you to become a member or sign up for a subscription. Some are free, some cost money.  Take advantage of the free or trial offers before paying for something you don’t really use. And don’t forget your libraries. Many have the local genealogical societies homed there.


Rabbit holes!

Most research takes quite a bit of time (depending on the task of course).  Keeping yourself organized with a focus is huge. It is easy to fall into the trap of “one thing leads to another.”  Find a way to track where you are, document as you go. If you can’t resist following the rabbit, make sure to leave a stake in the grass to find your way back to your yard!

DNA testing is not just a quick test

Netting results a week or so later with all your answers take time. It isn’t an instant list of matches to another person. Generally, results take weeks and are very detailed. 

Found ‘em! 

To match DNA to an unknown person requires the help of traditional genealogy research. It isn’t an instant match to a specific person. It may not always lead to the person you are trying to find.

To become a genealogist, a degree is not required

You can take courses for personal use, for certification, and there are indeed degree programs. It may be combined with a current degree or profession but is not required.  The most common path is a certificate program along with practice and experience. A few people in the Uncovered community have taken or are in process of taking the Boston University Program for Genealogy Research offering 2 courses—Genealogical Principals and Certification in Genealogical Research each can be taken separately or together. 

Practice, practice, practice!

Having training is important, but nothing takes the place of practical experience. Like any career or hobby, it is difficult to fully apply the knowledge until you have experience with real projects. That’s projects, plural. 

Love this post? Meet the Author.

Mary S. is an advocate for missing, murdered, wrongfully convicted, and juvenile justice. A founding member of the Uncovered community, Mary has recently been pursuing a certificate through the Genealogy Studies Program at Boston University with a plan to put her amazing skills to use with unsolved cases.