Live Webinar

Wednesday, December 20th, 2023 from 1pm - 2:30pm ET. 

Over the last five years, Investigative Genetic Genealogy (IGG) has emerged as an extremely powerful tool that has revolutionized the field of cold case investigation. This webinar is an introduction to IGG and how the tool is currently being used to identify human remains and provide investigative leads to law enforcement agencies. Legal and privacy considerations related to the use of IGG, as well as limitations of the tool, will also be discussed.

In just a few short years, Investigative Genetic Genealogy (IGG) has revolutionized the field of cold case investigation. Cases that were considered “cold”, are now being relooked at. Families of missing persons may finally have answers to what happened to their loved ones. The process of IGG utilizes public direct-to consumer databases and the same genetic genealogy techniques that have historically been used to help adoptees identify their birth families or parents. IGG involves determining relationships between individuals based on their shared DNA. When combined with traditional genealogy research, potential identifications of unknown individuals can be made to help in unidentified human remains (UHR) cases or to develop leads in unsolved violent crimes.

Historically, forensic unknowns are analyzed using STR markers, and if the suspect is unknown, the DNA profile can be uploaded into the FBI’s Combined DNA Index System (CODIS). The CODIS database allows for the comparison of forensic unknown samples between cases and also to DNA profiles of known offenders who have been required to provide samples of their DNA. A limitation of CODIS is that there are many instances when there is no link or “hit” developed between a questioned sample and the known offender database. IGG is able to tap into entirely new databases of individuals who have voluntarily taken DNA tests and have uploaded their profiles to either GEDmatch or FamilyTreeDNA. If they agree to opt in to law enforcement use, these individuals can become genetic witnesses and help to identify a missing person or a perpetrator of a violent crime.

Investigative Genetic Genealogy is a powerful tool; however, there is a clear need for guidelines, regulations and oversight of IGG practices and practitioners. Few states have established laws governing the use of IGG in criminal cases. There are additional privacy issues related to direct-to-consumer users and their informed decisions to opt-in or opt-out of law enforcement use of their genetic information. This webinar will present an overview of the IGG process and how it differs from current forensic laboratory processes and CODIS. Legal considerations and current topics in the media surrounding the ethical use of IGG will also be discussed. Several case studies will be presented to demonstrate how IGG has been successfully utilized in cases of unidentified human remains.


  • Understand the requirements and limitations of IGG in unidentified human remains (UHR) cases and law enforcement cases
  • Have a basic understanding of the process of using public direct-to-consumer databases to identify unknown individuals
  • Become familiar with the current laws, legal implications and ethical considerations pertaining to the use of IGG

Karen McDermott
Karen McDermott has worked in the field of forensic science for the past 20 years. For the past 17 years, she has been a Criminalist for the Massachusetts State Police Crime Laboratory and a member of the Crime Scene Response Unit. She has examined thousands of pieces of evidence and provided written reports for hundreds of law enforcement cases ranging from property crimes to cold case homicides. She has also provided expert witness testimony in over 30 trials in Massachusetts. In 2021, Karen was part of the first graduating cohort to complete the University of New Haven’s graduate certificate program in Forensic Genetic Genealogy. As part of the program, she was selected for an internship with DNA Doe Project. Since completing the program, Karen has continued to volunteer with DNA Doe Project and is now an active investigative genetic genealogist working on unidentified human remains cases from across the United States. She is also the Case Information Specialist for the non-profit organization.

*The course content has been reviewed by the ABFT and ABC and determined to be acceptable for submission to the ABFT and ABC for continuing education credits.