Genealogist puts audience in picture

Powerful new approaches to genealogy are blending traditional methods with new scientific techniques, including cutting-edged DNA technology, a United States forensic genealogist, Colleen Fitzpatrick, says.

From California, the former rocket scientist, gave a public talk on photographic-related aspects of genealogy to more than 80 people at the Dunedin Public Library this week.

Dr Fitzpatrick tantalised the audience with a series of photographic quizzes.

And, after giving a few clues, she joked that audience members would be ejected on a rocket seat if they blurted out the answer too soon.

Photographs revealed much about the past, and hidden clues, including the materials they were mounted on, could often be used to help determine when they had been taken, and to identify their subjects, she said.

Cardboard had been invented in 1870, and it was sometimes possible to date photographs for some time after that by the growing thickness of the cardboard as the related technology was developed.

Dr Fitzpatrick recently helped establish a family link between Dunedin resident Ken Goodwin (63) and Sidney Leslie Goodwin, a 19-month-old child who died in the Titanic disaster in 1912.

That child, whose body had been recovered from the North Atlantic, had lain in a Nova Scotia grave unidentified for many decades, until his identity was finally revealed through the use of new DNA test in 2007.

Dr Fitzpatrick said in an interview it was ''wonderful'' that she had helped make a connection with Mr Goodwin, with the help of other people, including fellow genealogists.

She also said recently that she was ''very excited about the future for genealogy''. DNA testing allowed people to ''make connections with long-lost relatives'' who would have been otherwise unknown.