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FIGG: The New Frontier in Forensics

Forensic Investigative Genetic Genealogy (FIGG) has fast become a popular tool in criminal investigations since it first emerged in 2018. FIGG is a novel investigatory tool that has been applied to hundreds of unresolved cold cases in the United States to generate investigative leads and identify unknown individuals. Consumer DNA testing and the public’s increased curiosity about their own DNA and genetic ancestry have greatly contributed to the availability of human genetic data. Genetic genealogy has been a field of study/interest for many years as both amateur and professional genetic genealogists use consumer DNA data to explore genetic connections in family trees. FIGG encompasses this knowledge by applying advanced sequencing technologies to forensic DNA evidence samples and by performing genetic genealogy methods and genealogical research to produce possible identities of unknown perpetrators of violent crimes and unidentified human remains. This combination of forensic genetics, genetic genealogy, and genealogical research has formed a new subdiscipline within the forensic sciences (Dr. Claire L. Glynn, UNH Department of Forensic Science). This discussion will address the use of FIGG as a lead-generation tool for LEAs, the misconceptions associated with its use, and why the #DNAOptIn movement is so important.

Wednesday, May 17 | 7:30PM ET


Connie Bormans, Ph.D.

Dr. Bormans is the Director of Forensic Services at Gene by Gene, a privately owned laboratory located in Houston, TX. Gene by Gene was a pioneer in using DNA testing for ancestry and genetic genealogy before expanding into the field of clinical genetics and relationship testing. Connie joined Gene by Gene in 2006 as a laboratory manager and was a key architect in building the lab from the ground up as well as creating the policies and procedures required for clinical and medical testing.

Dr. Bormans has spent her entire career in molecular genetics and her expertise involves assay design, regulatory requirements, high throughput DNA analysis including STR, SNPs and DNA sequencing, relationship testing, clinical diagnostic testing and, most recently, investigative genetic genealogy use to solve law enforcement cold cases. She serves as an advisor for IGG legislation and is a member of the National Technology Validation and Implementation Collaborative (NTVIC) subcommittee of the Forensic Investigative Genetic Genealogy Technology Validation Group (FIGG-TVG).

Barbara Rae-Venter, J.D. Ph.D.

Dr. Rae-Venter is the Director of Investigative Genetic Genealogy at Gene by Gene. She also is the President and Founder of Firebird Forensics Group, Inc. a 501(3)(c) corporation that assists law enforcement with identifying suspects in violent crimes and identifying unidentified human remains.

Dr. Rae-Venter is a retired intellectual property attorney. She earned a J.D. from the University of Texas at Austin Law School and a B.A. double major in Psychology and Biochemistry and a Ph.D. in Biology at the University of California at San Diego.

In 2015, Dr. Rae-Venter identified Lisa Jensen, abducted in infancy and abandoned by her abductor as a 5 year old. Identification of Lisa’s mother led to the NH State Police solving the murder of the Allenstown Four in Allenstown, NH. Barbara subsequently determined the true identify of Lisa’s abductor and suspected murderer of the Allenstown Four as Terry Peder Rasmussen.

She also assisted the FBI, Paul Holes (now retired), and the Sacramento DA’s office in identifying Joseph James DeAngelo as the notorious Golden State Killer and in total has assisted in solving about 70 cases.

Dr. Rae-Venter has been recognized by Nature as one of “10 People Who Mattered In Science In 2018” and as one of Time100’s Most Influential People of 2019.

Gena Steward

Gena Steward started her Law Enforcement career in 1986 and in 2020, retired after 34 years of service. Gena was the Forensic Specialist in charge of a local Police Crime Lab and the Supervisor of a 12-person Crime Scene Unit. She is a Certified Latent Fingerprint Examiner and an Arson/Post-Blast Investigator.

Gena attended many specialty trainings over the years, including Blood Spatter Analysis, DNA, Shoe Impression Analysis, Arson, and Explosives. Gena also attended the FBI Academy for in-service professionals at Quantico, Virginia. Before retirement, in 2019, she took on her Police Department’s most infamous outstanding cold cases and solved three of them with the new investigative tool known as Forensic Investigative Genetic Genealogy (FIGG).

Gena is a lifetime member of the International Association of Identification (IAI) and a past member of the California State Division of IAI. Gena is the past President of the Cogent’s California Automated Fingerprint Identification System (AFIS) user group, a past member of both CSDIAI Laws and Legislation sub-committee and the IAI Crime Scene subcommittee. Gena was a member of the District Attorney task force for Arson and Explosive Investigation. She has been a Las Positas College Adjunct Professor in Criminal Justice since 2006, currently teaching Criminal Investigation and Evidence. Gena was born and raised in the San Francisco Bay Area and received her Bachelor’s from Western Illinois University.

Moderated by

Delia D'Ambra

Delia D’Ambra

Delia is an investigative journalist who is known for her work as the producer and host of CounterClock podcast and Park Predators podcast for audiochuck. Her dedication to doggedly investigating unsolved crimes on behalf of the public and families has resulted in a variety of positive outcomes for victims of violent crimes whose voices have been silenced.