How Colleen Fitzpatrick Finds the Missing

Science, technology, and old-fashioned gumshoe techniques

With a doctorate in nuclear physics, Fitzpatrick worked as a college professor and at a Seal Beach aerospace firm, and ran her own high-tech business. Her passion, however, is genealogy, and she has used advanced research methods to find people with her company, Identifinders in Fountain Valley. By employing a variety of tools—public records, obituaries, Facebook, DNA, and people-finder databases—she has successfully solved some spectacular cases. Fitzpatrick says her greatest advantage is her tenacity. “I don’t give up. Some of these adoptions or cold cases go back 40 or 50 years. You have to stick with it. This work gives me a lot of pleasure. Someone searching for a birth mother for many decades may think they’ll never find her. Then I can do something they think is impossible.” Here are some of the most intriguing cases she has solved:

→ For the famous “Hand in the Snow” mystery, Fitzpatrick was on the team that identified the remains of a merchant seaman 60 years after the plane he was on crashed and became immersed in a glacier. The team had only the victim’s severed hand and forearm, from which they obtained DNA. She was able to locate a distant family member in Ireland, whose DNA matched the DNA from the hand, leading to the identification of the victim.

→In another high-profile case, she was on a team that determined the identity of a child who drowned on the Titanic in 1912, by tracking his ancestry through DNA.

→She has helped to expose as frauds the authors of three Holocaust memoirs.

→She has found numerous heirs—people living around the world who did not know they had inheritances waiting for them.

→By making contacts within the Estonian community in Toronto, she located a woman living in Estonia.

→Using voter registration records, she tracked down a homeless woman in Buenos Aires.

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