Anthropology, Department of


First Advisor

William Belcher

Second Advisor

Sophia Perdikaris

Third Advisor

Luann Wandsnider

Date of this Version



Mace, G. (2022). Implications of Ancestry Estimation: An analysis of identification rates in unidentified persons cases. University of Nebraska-Lincoln.


A THESIS Presented to the Faculty of The Graduate College at the University of Nebraska In Partial Fulfillment of Requirements For the Degree of Master of Arts, Major: Anthropology, Under the Supervision of Professor William R. Belcher. Lincoln, Nebraska: August 2022

Copyright © 2022 Gabrielle Mace


Recently, attention has been drawn to the biases present in the methodologies employed by Forensic Anthropologists, and in the medicolegal system, towards People of Color throughout the identification process. As one of the important contributors to the medicolegal system, it is essential that forensic anthropologists understand the impact of their analyses on the identification rate of marginalized unidentified decedents. Thus, through the utilization of positive identification records from Wayne and Ingham Counties in Michigan, U.S., this research investigated the disparities in identification rates between decedents reported as White and those reported as People of Color (POC). The data indicated that those reported as POC were identified at a significantly slower rate than those reported as White. Although it is difficult to identify why these discrepancies were observed, it is thought that case-specific differences, societal and structural inequalities, implicit and/or explicit bias of the individuals working on the cases, mistrust in law enforcement and medicolegal professionals, ambiguous terminology used to describe ancestry or social race within the medicolegal system, and/or a disconnect between ancestry/race reported by the medicolegal professionals and the individual’s actual identity could be contributing factors. These findings underscore the need for further research in this area, to determine what is contributing to these racial disparities in identification rate, for those reported as POC who are already overrepresented in forensic casework.

Advisor: William R. Belcher

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