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How genetic genealogy works to solve cold cases, used in recent Red Wing case

Published: May. 9, 2022 at 10:50 PM CDT
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GOODHUE COUNTY, Minn. (KTTC) – Genealogy could be the future of solving cold cases around the country. Monday, another case solved with the help of consumer DNA testing companies.

”It’s sort of like a sudoku puzzle,” Parabon Chief Genealogist CeCe Moore said.

Moore spends her days making trees. Genetic family trees, that is.

“We’re able to get matches to cousins, second, fifth, sixth cousins and beyond,” she said. “And then use that information to reverse engineer the identity of the individual we’re trying to identify from that DNA.”

That’s how Moore and her team were able to help solve a nearly 20 year cold case in Red Wing. They’ve helped solve 210 law enforcement cases and helped thousands of people with unknown heritage, like adoptees, find answers as well.

“I think when we work on a case this sad, it’s a mixed feeling,” Moore said, referring to the Red Wing case arrest announced Monday morning.

The case took two years to solve, but not all cases are the same.

“Sometimes it can just take a few hours,” Moore said. “Maybe a day or two. And then other cases it can take years. It really just depends on who we have access to in the database.”

Parabon has access to GEDmatch and FamilyTreeDNA databases. That’s because databases like AncestryDNA or 23andMe have terms of service that bar law enforcement’s use.

“Instead of working with 40 million people that have tested across the consumer DNA testing companies, we’re only dealing with two million. So, it can be very time consuming,” she said.

The most recent case in Red Wing may stir up memories from another cold case, with similar circumstances in southeastern Minnesota.

“In the Winona Baby Angel case, it would really depend if that baby has close enough cousins in the database,” Moore said. “It doesn’t have to be siblings. We can work with distant cousins.”

Moore added that where this type of genealogy work runs into issues is with families with immigrants.

Parabon must be hired by a third party. Justicedrive.org raised $10,000 in order for the Goodhue County case to be looked at.

“It is exciting to be able to demonstrate how powerful this tool is and how much hope and answers it can bring,” Moore said.

If you have used a consumer DNA service, like 23 and Me, you can download the raw DNA and upload it to Ged DAN for free. Moore said the more DNA is available to them, the more cases they’ll solve.

RELATED STORY: Digging Deeper: the Winona baby angel (kttc.com)

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