There are many ways to learn more about genealogical research. The first step you should take is to learn about your own family’s history. Try filling out your own family tree at FamilySearch, https://familysearch.org. (Family Search is sponsored by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.) The National Genealogical Society offers a variety of free genealogy resources at its Web site, https://www.ngsgenealogy.org/free-resources. Ancestry.com is another good source of information.
Several television shows profile genealogical researchers or historians who use genealogy techniques. PBS’s Finding Your Roots (https://www.pbs.org/weta/finding-your-roots) is an American genealogy show in which the historian Henry Louis Gates, Jr. helps well-known people trace their genealogical history. Another interesting PBS show is History Detectives (https://www.pbs.org/opb/historydetectives). If you’re interested in becoming a heir hunter, you should check out the BBC’s Heir Hunters (https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b007nms5), a television show that profiles the work of probate researchers.
Finally, talk to genealogical researchers about their work. Many will be happy to share their insights about their specialty. Ask your history teacher or a school counselor to help arrange an information interview.
There are four main types of genealogical researchers: citizenship reclamation specialists, heir searchers, military repatriation experts, and forensic genealogists.
Citizenship reclamation specialists (CRSs) help people regain ancestral citizenship, including citizenship that was revoked by totalitarian governments (such as Jewish people who had their German citizenship revoked due to persecution by the Nazi government on political, racial, or religious grounds between January 30, 1933, and May 8, 1945). A specialist will conduct research to build the client’s family tree in order to meet the reclamation requirements for that country. Each country has its own rules for who is eligible to apply to reclaim their citizenship status, so many CRSs specialize in a particular country or group of countries, or a religious or ethnic group (such as Jewish people or those of Italian descent).
Heir searchers conduct genealogical research for an estate in order to identify heirs-at-law for an individual who died without a will or direct heirs (known as intestate). Their work allows funds, stock shares, real estate, and valuable personal property to be apportioned to the heirs. Heir searchers study historic documents, in-house databases, and other resources to identify and confirm familial lineages and locate missing descendants. They provide genealogical evidence via a written affidavit or oral testimony as an expert witness in order to prove the heirs-at-laws’ relationship to the deceased. Heir searchers are also known as probate researchers and heir hunters.
The remains of soldiers who have been killed in action are usually recovered after the conclusion of a battle, but unfortunately some remains from World War II, the Korean Conflict, the Vietnam War, Operation Desert Storm, and other conflicts continue to be unaccounted for. In fact, more than 81,700 Americans (including 41,000 presumed lost at sea) remain missing from these wars and conflicts, according to the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency. The agency sends recovery teams of anthropologists, archaeologists, and forensic odontologists to war and conflict zones throughout the world to investigate discoveries of the remains of U.S. service men and women. In some cases, it is easy to find the relatives of the deceased. In other cases, the U.S. Department of Defense (or one of its five service branches) hires military repatriation experts (MREs) to conduct genealogical research to identify the relatives of the deceased. Once the MRE identifies potential blood relatives of the deceased, the military asks them to contribute DNA samples that will help identify remains, which are returned to their families for burial.
Forensic genealogists are specialized genetic genealogists who identify those who have committed serious crimes such as murder and rape or identify victims of these crimes. To conduct their work, they use the FBI’s Combined DNA Index System database (which contains DNA profiles of persons who have been convicted—and in some cases—only arrested for crimes), traditional genealogy methods and sources, and genetic information from direct-to-consumer companies (although only a few companies grant database access to law enforcement agencies) and other sources. Forensic genealogists are also employed to exonerate those who have been wrongly convicted of a crime. They also may be known as investigative genetic genealogists.