Forensic Investigative Genetic Genealogy (FIGG): A New Era in Crime Solving

The Game-Changer in Forensic Investigation


About our Forensic Investigative Genetic Genealogy Blog Series: We’re taking a deep dive into Forensic Investigative Genetic Genealogy. This three-part blog series includes this article which provides an introduction to this cutting-edge technique. Our second part of the series examines the ethical and privacy concerns. The third part of the series offers a detailed examination of FIGG’s various facets, providing a thorough understanding of this evolving technique.

A Pivotal Moment

June 29, 2020, marked a pivotal moment in criminal justice history, as Joseph James DeAngelo, the infamous Golden State Killer, pleaded guilty to numerous heinous crimes, including 13 murders and over 50 rapes. This notorious, sadistic rapist and murderer terrorized communities throughout California in the 1970s and 1980s, eluding capture until his arrest in 2018. The key to unlocking this and over 500 other cold cases? A revolutionary tool known as Forensic Investigative Genetic Genealogy (FIGG).

FIGG marries DNA analysis with genealogical research and has become a game-changer, especially in solving cold cases that once seemed unsolvable. In this three-part blog series, we’ll explore how FIGG is revolutionizing crime-solving and its implications for the future of law enforcement, examine the ethical implications, and finally, we’ll take a deep dive with a comprehensive overview for the final part of our series.

The Power of FIGG: Transforming Cold Cases into Convictions

At its core, FIGG involves the use of DNA evidence from crime scenes which is then cross-referenced with genealogical databases to identify potential suspects or victims. This method goes beyond traditional DNA profiling, tapping into vast genetic databases to trace familial connections.

How FIGG Works

Unlike standard forensic methods, FIGG doesn’t rely on the DNA being in the criminal database already. Instead, FIGG takes a different route. It uses crime scene DNA to create a detailed genetic profile, focusing on specific markers across the genome. These markers, known as single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs), are like tiny variations in our DNA that make each person unique but can also be used to trace family relationships. This profile is then compared to genealogy databases, allowing investigators to potentially find relatives of the unknown person whose DNA was found at the crime scene.

Once a relative is identified, detectives and genealogists work together to build family trees, using public records like birth, marriage, and death certificates. This helps them narrow down potential suspects or victims related to the DNA found at the crime scene.

FIGG in Action: The Case of the Golden State Killer

The most notable example of FIGG’s efficacy is its role in apprehending the Golden State Killer, a case that baffled authorities for decades. The DNA left at various crime scenes over decades was matched to distant relatives in a genealogical database. Through diligent investigative work, a family tree was built, leading to the eventual arrest of the perpetrator.

Legal and Ethical Dimensions

It’s crucial to note that FIGG is not used in isolation. Identifying a suspect through FIGG only serves as an investigative lead. Traditional DNA tests must corroborate this lead before any legal action is taken, ensuring the process’s integrity and legality.

Balancing Privacy with Public Safety

FIGG’s transformative power in solving crimes comes with substantial privacy considerations. Law enforcement’s access to genetic databases, while invaluable in solving crimes, has sparked debate over privacy and ethical concerns. Agencies must navigate these complexities, ensuring that the pursuit of justice respects individual privacy rights.

Embracing the Future

FIGG represents a significant leap in crime-solving technology. Its success stories, like that of the Golden State Killer case, illuminate its potential. For prosecutors and law enforcement agencies, understanding and responsibly utilizing this tool can result in a profound impact — solving long-standing mysteries, bringing closure to families, and ensuring public safety. As we herald this new era, it’s an opportunity to reflect on how thoughtfully applied innovation can redefine the landscape of criminal justice.

Curious about navigating the legal, ethical, and practical implications of FIGG? Continue to part two of our blog series offering guidance for prosecutors navigating this new terrain.



National District Attorneys Association

The National District Attorneys Association (NDAA) is the oldest and largest national organization representing state and local prosecutors in the country.