05 February 2023

I Know Who You Are by Barbara Rae-Venter

 I realize I have been delinquently about posting to my blog, but this book has given me cause to shine a light on a very, very important person in the field of genetic genealogy and Investigative Genetic Genealogy. I highly recommend this book.

I Know Who You Are by Barbara Rae-Venter

In 1990, CODIS (Combined DNA Index System) was a pilot project of the FBI established to create a National DNA Index for law enforcement. CODIS became fully operational in 1998, but is limited since its data is composed of information from previously convicted felons, felony arrestees, missing persons, and unidentified human remains. Sadly, many crime scene DNA specimens do not provide a match to CODIS.

However, through public databases, DNA has become important in solving cold cases. Autosomal DNA has been used since 2009 by genealogists to find their cousins. Today it is being used more and more to help law enforcement solve violent crimes and identify human remains. The methodology used in determining the name of the Golden State Killer has evolved into a new field called Investigative Genetic Genealogy (IGG).

In her book, I Know Who You Are, Barbara Rae-Venter takes us on a journey to show how the events of her life assisted her in doing Investigative Genetic Genealogy and in solving cold cases. The book’s central plot is about the Golden State Killer, but covers other cold cases Barbara has solved, as well. And, she tackles the ethical dilemma of allowing law enforcement access to public databases to solve crimes. Barbara has graciously provided a glossary for those who are not familiar with the terminology for genetic genealogy (the use of DNA for genealogy).

Miraculously, the Golden State Killer was determined in 63 days after his DNA profile was uploaded to a public database. It had been forty years since his last crime. The various investigators over those years had worked many thousands of hours at great expense to the state of California. Luckily, the medical examiner who took a DNA swab of one victim was wise enough to take two swabs which was not required of him. This second pristine swab helped Barbara use her resources to get enough DNA to begin matching that DNA from the perpetrator with others in public databases. Not only does the book provide us with some horrific statements from the victims and family of the victims at the hearing and sentencing, but she recounts how DeAngelo behaved during these times and that it was an act.

Barbara was raised in New Zealand and came to America at the age of twenty. She first became involved with genealogy and then genetic genealogy. She soon volunteered to help adoptees find their birth parents. Her skills as a patent attorney (now retired) assisted her to look outside the box, as we say. Barbara is tenacious, and as she wrote in her book, she believes “everyone deserves their name.” She has given names, and often faces, to long-unidentified victims.

I first met Barbara in London in 2013 at the Who Do You Think You Are? Conference. Our group was touring Darwin’s home when Barbara and I first conversed. We met again at the Southern California Genealogy Society’s conference in June 2018, and she told me then that she had determined Joseph James DeAngelo was the Golden State Killer. Barbara’s name was not made public at that time due to her wishes to stay anonymous, but her book provides the reasons why she later decided to share her name. Sadly, one reason was due to another genetic genealogist claiming to have found the Golden State Killer.

After DeAngelo was taken into custody, April 2018, I had the privilege of having Barbara speak to my local genealogy society, March 30-31, 2019. As she stayed at my home, we had time to become more acquainted with each other. Not only is Barbara brilliant, she is very humble and gracious.

One of the cases in her book, The Bear Brook Murders in Allenstown, New Hampshire, was a thirty-year-old cold case solved by Barbara in 2017. This was the first time in history that U.S. Law Enforcement used autosomal DNA from a rootless hair sample to solve a crime, and the first time that genetic genealogy was used to gain the identity of a living criminal. Barbara was responsible for both techniques being used, and she found the killer just a few days after the DNA profiles were determined.

Through her actions, Barbara Rae-Venter has transformed how law enforcement solves crimes. We owe much to her! Thank you, Barbara, for all you do to help victims and their families find some peace.


I do hope you enjoy the book as much as I did!