Ramapo College launches Investigative Genetic Genealogy Center

Center is 1st in nation to offer case work, research and hands-on education in this field

Hands-on education in investigative genetic genealogy is now available from the newly launched Ramapo College Investigative Genetic Genealogy Center, according to a Thursday announcement from Ramapo College of New Jersey.

The vision of the innovative new center is to secure justice through the ethical and proficient use of investigative genetic genealogy to support the resolution of cases involving wrongful convictions, unidentified human remains and violent crime. The first class of students in the center’s IGG Certificate Program will enroll in the spring of 2023.

“The launch of our new IGG Center illustrates how, through forward-thinking and dynamic initiatives, Ramapo serves the public good. This center doubles down on our mission to develop skilled, ethical leaders who are civic-minded and committed to learning through doing,” Cindy Jebb, president of Ramapo College, said.

The Ramapo IGG Center is led by two prominent leaders in the field, David Gurney and Cairenn Binder. Gurney, an assistant professor of law and society at Ramapo College, was previously a fellow with the Wrongful Conviction Clinic (now the Innocence Project of Arizona) at the University of Arizona. He holds a certificate in genealogical studies from Boston University and is the president of the Investigative Genetic Genealogy Accreditation Board, which is developing standards for IGG. Additionally, he serves as a board member on the Association of Professional Genealogists Forensic Genealogy Special Interest Group.

Binder is the director of the Investigative Genetic Genealogy Certificate Program at Ramapo College. She is a founding partner of Coast-to-Coast Genetic Genealogy Services and is also the director of education and development for the DNA Doe Project. She has used IGG to provide investigative leads in a number of high-profile cases, including the identification of victims of John Wayne Gacy, Gary Ridgeway (the Green River Killer) and Keith Jesperson (the Happy Face Killer), among others.

“Since 2018, investigative genetic genealogy has emerged as an essential tool in securing justice,” Gurney said. “Over 500 cases have been resolved with the help of IGG. With the new center — the first of its kind — Ramapo will be at the forefront of ensuring that IGG is practiced proficiently and ethically, while also expanding the reach of IGG in exonerating the wrongfully convicted.”

Thanks to a generous private multiyear gift, Ramapo’s IGG Lab will be housed in the college’s new Peter P. Mercer Learning Commons, providing a secure location for the study and practice of IGG. This dedicated space will include teaching and learning stations, essential database and software subscriptions as well as operational support that will enable the center to take on at least five cases per year while also supporting the IGG Center’s efforts to increase research and scholarship in the field.

Jebb added: “With two of the premier leaders in this emerging field, we know that David and Cairenn will continue to do work that furthers our public purpose, incorporates the liberal arts, develops talented problem solvers and attracts recognition. Thanks to the generous commitment of the college’s longtime supporters and leaders, Susan and Nick Vallario, the IGG Lab positions Ramapo to be the first lab of its kind by focusing exclusively on IGG and providing case work and research in addition to education.”

Combining traditional and genetic genealogy, IGG can provide leads in cases involving unidentified human remains and violent crime, where other methods have failed. As IGG is considered by more investigating agencies, there is a need for proficient and ethical IGG practitioners, pro bono IGG services for cash-strapped agencies, and expansion of IGG — particularly to the area of wrongful convictions. The IGG Center at Ramapo College will meet these needs and ensure that IGG remains a powerful tool for securing justice.