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How Your DNA Could Be Used to Help Solve Cold Cases

Published: Jun. 20, 2022 at 11:08 AM EDT
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PRESQUE ISLE, Maine (WAGM) -

Forensic Genetic Genealogy has helped close cold cases, including, most recently, the Frenchville Baby Jane Doe cold case. Recently WAGM brought you a new development in that Case on how State Police located the mother, which has raised questions regarding the use of forensic genetic genealogy.

“So essentially it’s the process of making an identification, of anyone really through DNA testing.”

Gabriella Vargas is an Investigative Genetic Genealogist who was one of the first researchers to work on the Baby Jane Doe case as an independent contractor for Identifinders International. Vargas says, in cases like this one, the victims DNA undergoes full genome sequencing in an attempt to find any matches against a third party database. The database is primarily made up of at home DNA test results. Colleen Fitzpatrick, Founder of Identifinders International says individuals participation in the database is entirely voluntary.

“Actually the big companies, all the big companies don’t work on forensic cases. But when you test, you can download your own data, it belongs to you. But you can upload it, there’s a third party database called GEDMatch and you can upload your data to do more analysis on a genelogical platform. So that database is made up of people who have done that, who have tested at any of the companies and uploaded it because there’s tools there that we have made for us that aren’t available elsewhere”

Vargas says the amount of time spent researching cases like Baby Jane Doe varies from case to case.

“I worked 14 months on this specific case and I know that others that worked on it after me had also spent a minimum of a few months. I’ve solved cases in an hour, it really varies by the population.”

Vargas went on to say that one of the biggest difficulties in this case was trying to track down Acadian and French Canadian genealogical documentation.

“This baby was also from a highly endogamous population and essentially 98% of these matches all matched each other. The primary population in this specific case was Acadian/French Canadian and so we had a lot of matches, ancestors that were primarily from the Maine area and had migrated from Canada and so finding records was not as easy. I will tell you that the detective on the case, Jay Pelletier, I worked very closely with him, he was amazing and he blew my mind at the documents that he could find that I could not locate myself.”

Frank Bemis of Bemis and Rossignol says the use of your data by at home test companies is protected to a certain degree, but if you choose to upload your data to a third party service, it’s important to read the fine print.

“I think this is something that people are going to be learning that may be available to law enforcement in the future. The information that they’re providing to 23&me, Ancestry.com is probably being utilized in the manner that they expected by those companies however, their alternative use by law enforcement that people didn’t expect and now need to understand that it could implicate them, or could implicate their family members potentially.”

Specific details regarding the Baby Jane Doe case are being kept confidential to prevent compromising criminal proceedings. WAGM will continue to follow this story and provide updates as they become available.

Brian Bouchard, NewsSource8

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