Forensic genealogist works on high profile cases

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Dr Colleen Fitzpatrick, a recognised expert in forensic genealogist from California, spoke at the Oamaru Library last night.

Ms Fitzpatrick is travelling around the South Island speaking to different groups after being the keynote speaker at the New Zealand Society of Genealogists in Wellington.

She is internationally recognised for her work and has been involved in many high profile cases including ‘the hand in the snow’ (Northwest flight 4422), the unknown child from the Titanic sinking and the disappearance of female navigator, Amelia Earhart.

She also helped expose three false Holocaust memoirs and is heading home to start work on the genealogy of Abraham Lincoln.

“I find people for a living,” Ms Fitzpatrick said.

Her work has covered broad areas like adoptions, literary fraud, DNA referencing, police cold cases and unclaimed property.

Talking about exposing people writing false memoirs about the Holocaust, she said it was all about having the integrity to get it right.

“The moral and ethical feeling within, that these people shouldn’t be allowed to make a bunch of money” writing these books was what drove her to investigate and protect the real victims and their stories.

This is done by studying the book and using history, fact and intuition to pull it apart and expose it as a lie.

Multi-lingual in four languages and familiar with a further six, Ms Fitzpatrick has a PhD in physics and so works well alongside forensic scientists.

In the case of the ‘hand in the snow’, Northwest flight 4422, the bodies of six crew and 24 passengers that went down with the flight were lost for over 50 years in a mountain glacier.

Only in 1999 were they able to remove the wreckage and a mummified left hand and arm was discovered in the snow.

Ms Fitzpatrick was brought in to the investigation when all but five or six of the passengers had been elimated as being the owner of the hand.

DNA and forensic genealogy was used to link this crash victim, Francis Joseph Van Zandt, to his Irish descendant whose DNA was then able to help identify the remains using mitochondrial and Y-DNA identification.

Only the remains of this passenger were ever recovered or identified.

Ms Fitzpatrick said she spent about 500 hours working on this case.

By LINDA MCCARTHY