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Fountain Hills resident Linda Harris started researching her family’s genealogy when she moved from North Carolina to Yuma in 1999.

“I had just started going a couple of times to the Yuma Family History Center when I was recruited as a volunteer staff member because I was more of a computer search geek than most of the staff,” she explained. “The lady who recruited me became a very good friend, and I ended up working at the Yuma Center until moving to Fountain Hills in 2017.”

Little did Harris realize that her research skills would be tapped for use in the field of forensic genealogy.

Simply put, forensic genealogy is research and analysis of documents in cases with legal implications, usually involving living individuals.

“My start as a forensic genealogist happened while working as a shift leader at that Family History Center in Yuma,” Harris said. “A cold case investigator from the sheriff’s department came to visit, looking for help finding people connected with a very old, unsolved murder. I started helping with the research and became hooked.”

Harris said her most rewarding case involved helping to get a young legal American citizen of Hispanic descent released from an INS holding prison in Texas, to prevent his deportation.

“His wife and mother-in-law came in, grasping at straws, because they had spent a lot of time and money on a private investigator with no results.

“People at the Yuma History Center referred them to me. I had zero experience working with Mexican records, but that didn’t matter because the actual work to be done was to prove American citizenship as a birthright of the child of another American,” Harris explained.

"What made it easy was an unusual surname and a death notice concerning the parent – just basic genealogy. The young man’s father was an American who went to live in Mexico and manage resort hotels. During his career there he married a Mexican woman and they had a son whose birth was registered in Mexico.

“For reasons unknown, the father failed to register the birth with the American Consulate and no U.S. birth certificate was issued,” Harris continued.

“Because the son was picked up in some sort of minor police incident and could not prove his citizenship he was arrested by the Immigration and Naturalization Service and imprisoned awaiting deportation. And although the authorities did not dispute the name of the man’s long-deceased father because his name was on the Mexican birth certificate, they did contest the father’s U.S. citizenship and therefore, the son’s.”

Harris went to work using the information from a death notice of the father. Using census records, she located him with his own parents in Pennsylvania. She learned, from earlier census records, that the father’s parents were Russian immigrants, which proved that they were living and working in the United States before their son’s birth. Using a number of free mapping, real estate, and real estate tax sites, she was further able to prove that the census address was a jeweler’s shop with living quarters above, reinforcing the census information.

“Apparently the immigration court was receptive,” Harris recalled. “The young man was not deported.”


Linda Harris will be presenting on the topic of “Whose Child Is It?” at the Monday, March 8, meeting of the Fountain Hills Genealogy Club.

Harris will present ideas about how to research and tell the story of children who have lost parents or maybe even discover a relative they did not know existed.

The meeting takes place on Zoom at 9 a.m. The public is invited to attend. For more information contact Kathleen Maci Schmidt at or call Barb Winterfield 480-839-397.