Shared DNA: Understanding Genealogical Relationships With Heirs


By: HeirSearch.

Family trees are not merely static representations of ancestry. A family’s relations are in constant motion as new generations are born and marriages are formed or dissolved. For this reason, genealogy is best visualized dynamically, as a constantly evolving interconnected web of relationships.

Unlike static family trees, trees of consanguinity or consanguinity charts were designed to be imagined in motion. Consanguinity, known simply as ‘blood relations,’ demonstrates the degrees of separation amongst a family’s relatives. Understanding these dynamic genealogical relationships through shared DNA is useful for understanding rightful inheritance and succession.

HeirSearch leverages consanguinity as a component of forensic genealogy, since we help legal professionals identify heirs or beneficiaries expressly for the purpose of the legal disposition of a decedent’s assets to living heirs and beneficiaries or to provide notice. For this purpose we make use of individual interviews, document searches, and leverage a Consanguinity Chart which illustrates relationships among blood relatives, from nuclear to extended.

The tree of consanguinity is a diagram that you fill in with your own family, and it remains in motion as new generations are born and added. Genealogical family trees grow as generations proliferate.

Using the consanguinity chart as a foundational framework, there are three distinct levels of heir searches that may be required depending on State descent and distribution laws, or intestate laws.

Level I Heir Search

This search consists of the decedent’s parents, decedent’s siblings (whole or half-blood) and their issue. Depending on the search requirements, heirs may be located on a per stirpes or per capita basis.

If no living Level I descendants can be established, it may be necessary to expand the search to relatives one generation back – Level II Heirs.

Level II Heir Search

This search includes the decedent’s grandparents and their descendants (the decedent’s aunts and uncles, first cousins, etc., of the whole or half-blood).

Since distribution laws typically provide for maternal and paternal heirs, this search usually involves two concurrent searches, for both maternal and paternal grandparents of the deceased. HeirSearch can also narrow the scope of the search to just maternal or paternal heirs.

Level III Heir Search

This includes great grandparents and their descendants. Since the majority of research is completed at Level II, expanding a search to this level is uncommon. However, we have the expertise to make a determination of heirs, no matter how far back it is necessary to research.

Second cousins are more distantly related than first cousins, no matter the degree of separation. These relationships are of extreme importance when it comes to determining who will inherit from an estate in accordance with individual state laws.

This is why it’s critical and significant to have a professional genealogist assist in making these determinations and avoid confusion during the dispersion of an estate’s assets.

Do you need help establishing Heirship?

HeirSearch’s professional researchers help identify and locate missing or unknown beneficiaries or heirs for probate or other related legal matters in accordance with individual state laws. We help generate the detailed reports necessary for the disposition of assets to find missing heirs and determine kinship.

HeirSearch™ works with executors, administrators, trustees, fiduciaries, bank and trust officers, and their counsel to establish kinship for legal purposes. Since 1967, we’ve successfully completed tens of thousands of worldwide searches.  In keeping with state laws, we help determine which generational level or degree of consanguinity is required when it comes to locating living heirs.

If you are the executor, an administrator of an estate, or their counsel, and need to establish heirship for legal purposes, HeirSearch can help. We offer no-cost, no-obligation consultations, court-ready documents, and reasonable, non-percentage-based search fees.

Feel free to reach out with any questions — we look forward to connecting!

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As the industry’s leading forensic genealogy experts and heir finders, We Find Missing Heirs a Better Way®. We can help with even the most complex probate cases, spanning multiple genealogical connections and geographies.


This report is for informational purposes only and is intended only as a reference. HeirSearch does not endorse or recommend any of the products or services offered in the third-party articles or content contained within. We cannot guarantee the accuracy or effectiveness of the same and will not assume any liability related to the same. Additionally, nothing contained herein may be construed as legal advice. All offers are void where prohibited by law. Copyright © International Genealogical Search Inc. All rights reserved.