Forensic investigation approaches of searching relatives in DNA databases

Jianye Ge, Bruce Budowle

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

14 Scopus citations


There are several indirect database searching approaches to identify the potential source of a forensic biological sample. These DNA-based approaches are familial searching, Y-STR database searching, and investigative genetic genealogy (IGG). The first two strategies use forensic DNA databases managed by the government, and the latter uses databases managed by private citizens or companies. Each of these search strategies relies on DNA testing to identify relatives of the donor of the crime scene sample, provided such profiles reside in the DNA database(s). All three approaches have been successfully used to identify the donor of biological evidence, which assisted in solving criminal cases or identifying unknown human remains. This paper describes and compares these approaches in terms of genotyping technologies, searching methods, database structures, searching efficiency, data quality, data security, and costs, and raises some potential privacy and legal considerations for further discussion by stakeholders and scientists. Y-STR database searching and IGG are advantageous since they are able to assist in more cases than familial searching readily identifying distant relatives. In contrast, familial searching can be performed more readily with existing laboratory systems. Every country or state may have its own unique economic, technical, cultural, and legal considerations and should decide the best approach(es) to fit those circumstances. Regardless of the approach, the ultimate goal should be the same: generate investigative leads and solve active and cold criminal cases to public safety, under stringent policies and security practices designed to protect the privacy of its citizenry.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)430-443
Number of pages14
JournalJournal of Forensic Sciences
Issue number2
StatePublished - Mar 2021


  • DNA database
  • SNPs
  • STRs
  • Y-STR database
  • familial searching
  • genotyping technologies
  • investigative genetic genealogy
  • legislation
  • privacy concerns


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