On May 15 the New York Daily News published an exclusive story titled “Genealogist who helps heirs obtain fortunes in estate cases accused of using forged documents.” Stories like this have been published over the last few years as some heir searchers’ and heir search firms’ practices and ethics have become the focus of complaints and investigations. Heir searchers generally charge on a contingent fee basis; ethical forensic genealogists never charge on a percentage fee basis.
The questionable practices and ethics of heir searchers were among the issues that led to the creation of the Council for the Advancement of Forensic Genealogy (CAFG). Producing work product in cases with legal implications is an advanced specialty of professional genealogy. This requires additional education, training, and standards of ethics and conduct. Among the latter are ethical standards that prohibit CAFG members from charging clients on a contingent fee basis.
CAFG established standards for professional forensic genealogists, and its members agree to work to those standards. Identifying and finding missing heirs is only one of many areas forensic genealogists work in.
“Heir searchers” who work on a contingency percentage of the estate have a personal financial stake in the outcome of the case. For some, that can be a powerful incentive for the records presented in the report to support the “heir searcher’s” desired results. This financial stake also leaves the searcher vulnerable in court to impeachment as an unbiased witness. This also holds true for many so-called “forensic genealogists” who lack ethics.
Many “heir searcher” reports are not accurate or complete. Ask any qualified, professional forensic genealogist who has reviewed them for attorneys or the court, or had to clean up after the “heir searcher” reports.
Many “heir searchers” have no education or training in genealogy, or the special aspects of forensic genealogy. Some “heir searchers” appear to be more concerned with signing as many potential heirs as possible to gain more fees and not as concerned with documenting all potential heirs. This could include failing to include those who do NOT sign with the heir search firm. In many “heir searcher” reports, the searcher cannot certify in court that all heirs were identified and located.
One of CAFG’s main objectives is to make the public and legal community aware that a professional organization is striving to bring the advanced field of forensic genealogy to the level of other professionals. It’s another step in helping professional genealogy to be accepted as a serious profession.
The CAFG Board of Directors
President – Helen Haldeman Daglas
Vice President – Dee Dee King, CG
Secretary – Charles McGee
Treasurer – Juli Whittaker, CPA, MBA
Director – Janice M. Sellers
The Council for the Advancement of Forensic Genealogy (CAFG) is a professional association dedicated to advancing public awareness and understanding of the Forensic Genealogy profession while promoting and maintaining high standards of professional and ethical conduct. Forensic genealogy applies the highest genealogical standards to research, analysis, and reporting in cases with legal implications, usually involving living individuals. CAFG is the credentialing body governing the ForensicGenealogistCredentialedSM credential (FGCSM).