Sometimes the best results come when you are thrown
in the deep end.

Olympian Natalie Cook

The mission of Genealogy for Justice™ was born out of a phone call made on a family’s very worst day.

“What about their daughter?”

This was certainly not anything I could have ever anticipated coming out of the mouth of the surviving family member of a murder victim a colleague and I had just identified. When a Texas sheriff’s investigator told me he had no one to assign our cold case genetic genealogy investigation to, it was my job to break the heart of a Florida woman with a simple phone call.

Much has already been written and discussed around the fateful events that bound my family to the families of Dean and Tina Clouse. At some point it became quite a lot to manage along with everything going on in my life simultaneously with refocusing my five year old genetic genealogy consultancy to focus solely on forensic cases. To say it was a rough time is the understatement of the year; but it was also an exciting time.

Like most things in my life, and with that particular cold case, answers showed up. Conditions developed and solutions slid into place. In the case of managing two key tracks – forensic genetic genealogy and advocacy – that solution came in the form of my third-born child.

There is something uniquely exciting and fulfilling about watching your own child step into their own. I was gifted this mother’s dream when my daughter, Isabel founded Genealogy For Justice™ to take over certain issues that inevitably arise when solving really old cold cases. It’s been a rather sudden development, but it had its seeds in the experience of giving birth to a colicky baby whose father was adopted in Mexico. More recently, she watched me navigate the hurricane of media activity and advocacy after identifying former Jane Doe, Tina Linn Clouse and being thrown into the deep end of a nationwide search for her daughter, Holly Marie. The timing couldn’t have been more ideal, fortuitous, even.

G4J Founder Isabel de la Luz, second from left, and some of her family members including forensic genetic genealogist Allison Peacock, second from right, minutes after she received her Masters diploma in Mental Health Counseling.

Said daughter and I had talked about working together on our mutual interests since her undergrad days years earlier in Texas when she minored in Criminal Justice. About the time I really needed her, she decided to get her Masters degree in Mental Health. Of course I was proud and figured like everything else, if the time was right, one day we’d put that plan of working together to good use. Thanks to a random Facebook post in a forensic genealogy group, her older sister and I were soon kept busy operating another forensic genetic genealogy organization for someone else last year.

By last December, my life literally became a whirlwind. After identifying Tina, leaving the organization we had been working for, and the death of my father and my children’s beloved grandfather, I suddenly found myself moving across the country to Upstate New York. As luck would have it, I was able to stop by Alabama on my way from Texas to Albany and watch Isabel walk across the stage to receive her Masters diploma.

As big life changes go, this life long Texan soon went into “adapt to living at 10 degrees below zero on a mountain” mode.

By March we were able to hunker down to revamp FHD Forensics in order to focus on law enforcement cases. Isabel soon became my right arm.

And yet, the pull towards advocacy and fundraising kept at us. It seemed there were two very different jobs to do. I was getting phone calls from medical examiners with a dozen or more cases of unidentified remains cases without funding. While some amazing grant makers are doing a great job underwriting violent crime and sexual assault cases, the Does or “unidentified human remains” cases are often overlooked when funding is doled out. I would have never have been able to identify Tina, and Holly would likely have never been found by her family had my former employer not received a grant from true crime media producer, audiochuck.

One again that timing thing fell into place. The day after interviews by domestic media outlets went live during our second big news cycle, the big players in Europe clamored for interviews with Donna Casasanta about her son’s murder and her granddaughter’s sudden discovery. One of the key strategies in media relations is to make sure that the stress of family interviews is balanced by goals for the news coverage – by the takeaway, if you will. Believe me, no survivor wants to repeat their traumatic story over and over for no reason. And I don’t relish getting up at 4:30am even if it it’s to be driven into New York City for an ABC taping.

No one in this position is doing it just for attention.

The families of Dean and Tina Linn Clouse visit their graves in the Harris County ‘paupers’ cemetery’ where they lay unidentified for 40 years. Forensic genealogist, Allison Peacock and several media crews joined them in order to document their journey.

In this case, what we needed most was leads for the murder investigation. We had also just hatched the idea of renaming our DNA project to find Holly as a memorial fund. Neither leads nor donations were likely to come from radio listeners in Ireland or UK television viewers. So we rejected the requests.

We quickly learned that there’s nothing like rejection for inspiring the European media to open up their checkbooks. They aren’t burdened by US journalism standards against ‘pay for play.’

When I asked the families what they wanted to do with the money, they were resolute:

“Let’s help another family learn what happened to their loved ones.”

The fact that this all happened concurrently with the discovery of Holly inspired me to rework a lot of what had been done online in her name, especially the search fund on GoFundMe. She suddenly went from an abstract idea to a living, breathing person whose life was affected by all that we’d done. This meant that renaming her fund in Dean and Tina’s honor was the perfect solution to many developments.

All of this work – fundraising for new cases, advocacy for surviving family members, seeing the missing persons investigation opened, finding Holly Marie, managing several media feeding frenzies when something new happened, negotiating with documentary filmmakers – this is an important part of dealing with the effects of solving decades old cold cases using genetic genealogy. It’s part of the results we generate. Needs arise where little to nothing existed before. And more importantly, where resource gaps often exist.

To say that I’m a proud mom that a talented daughter would ask to take the reins from me and let me get back to analyzing DNA evidence and building family trees for unknown individuals is an understatement. I’m thrilled.

Considering what DNA and genetic genealogy brought to Isabel’s own life, well, you’d really just have to call it fate!