Stronger evidence in courtrooms—it’s what every attorney, defendant, and plaintiff dreams of. Beginning in the last 1980s, this is exactly what began to surface through DNA profiling.
In addition to the one-of-a-kind pattern engraved on our fingers, each of us possesses a unique identifier that is built within our bodies. DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid) is the genetic blueprint that determines our biological characteristics. DNA is a long molecule located in almost every cell in the human body. When we are conceived, we inherit half of our DNA from our mother and half from our father. Although every human’s DNA is 99.9% identical, the remaining 0.1% is enough to uniquely identify an individual. Our DNA is made up of about 3 billion base pairs, the building blocks of DNA composed mainly of carbon and sugar. The 0.1% (3 million) base pairs that make us unique are what constitute our DNA fingerprint.
Over the past 20 years, courts have been able to rely upon the consistent accuracy of DNA profiling, also known as DNA fingerprinting, to solve crimes. DNA profiling has even been used to solve crimes that are more than 30 years old.
Here’s how DNA profiling is done:
- Specimens are collected from the crime scene. Anything can be used to extract DNA: Hair, blood, bodily fluids, etc. In some cases, victims may have scratched their attackers, in which case skin cells can be extracted from underneath the victim’s fingernails in order to identify the criminal
- The DNA needs to be isolated and cut so that it can be matched against other samples. Special enzymes recognize patterns in the DNA and cut the strand
- In a process called electrophoresis, the strands are then placed on a gel where they are separated an electric current passed through it.
- The resulting fragments are compared against samples of all suspects and a match is determined.
DNA profiling is mostly used in sexual offences (60%), homicide (20%), assaults (7%), robbery (7%), criminal damage (1%), and other cases (5%).
DNA profiling narrows the list of suspects that authorities need to work through. The FBI commented that DNA profiling allows them to dismiss one-third of rape suspects because the DNA samples do not match. Authorities recognize the possibility of specimens being planted at crime scenes, and therefore continue to investigate the crime based on motive, weapon, testimony, and other clues in order to more accurately solve the case.
Lost Relatives and Ancestors: A Beginner’s Guide
“Collecting Dead Relatives and Sometimes a Live Cousin” and “My Family Tree is Lost in the Forest” are just some of the catchy slogans found printed on the shirts of genealogy enthusiasts. These avid researchers are looking to fill the holes in their family trees. It’s work that most have been at for decades.
My wife and I wanted to get started finding our lost relatives, but we didn’t know where to begin. She had a binder full of information that one of her relatives had put together, but other than that, we were the ones who were lost.
We started by going to the Genealogy library at Brigham Young University’s Harold B. Lee Library, but you can also do this online.
The first step to finding your lost relatives is to download all the information that has already been compiled. We did this by using the Ancestral File database that is indexed at the world’s largest genealogy library, The Family History Center in Salt Lake City, Utah. We remotely accessed the database and first found my wife’s records. We saw on her pedigree chart that some relatives had already compiled information on her mother’s line, but her father’s line was empty. After downloading my wife’s pedigree chart onto a GEDCOM file, we did some research on her father’s line. The family history consultant told us that it’s possible that there has been work done on her father’s line, but it just hasn’t been connected to my wife’s file.
By typing in her paternal grandfather’s name into the search, we were able to find much more information. The consultant told us that we needed to download his pedigree chart, take it home to our computer and merge his file with my wife’s file. That would associate all his information with my wife’s.
The best computer program for compiling Family History information is Personal Ancestral File (PAF) which is currently in the 5.2 release. The software is free, so you should be able to find it in any search engine.
Check back again for the next installment which will deal with doing your own research.