Template Field Operations Guide

Family Interview Information

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Family Interview Information

Family Interview Information

A family interview will be conducted by trained interviewers in a quiet and private location. The following information will need to be gathered from you. When you feel comfortable answering these questions, please let your Family Liaison know. They will schedule the interview with the Medical Examiner on your behalf. If you would like an interpreter to be present during the interview please inform your Family Liaison. If you have any questions or concerns about the family interview please do not hesitate to ask any staff member.

Please be ready to provide the following information about your missing family member.

  • Full Name

  • Address

  • Employer

    • Employer’s Address

  • Social Security Number

  • Date of Birth

  • Where Born

  • Physical Description

    • Hair color, eye color, height, weight, shoe size

    • Distinguishing marks, scars, tattoos, piercings [please bring photographs of any of these marks if available]

    • History of surgery, missing organs or appendages

  • Dentist and Physician Contact Information [please do not bring copies or originals of dental or medical records to the Family Assistance Center]

  • Military Service History

  • If Married or Recognized Domestic Partner: name of spouse or domestic partner, with maiden name if applicable

  • Photographs of person [preferably showing front teeth]

  • Location of Fingerprints if available

How Identification is Made

The NAME OF AGENCY Medical Examiner may use many methods to identify victims. In the best of circumstances this may take time; in the case of a larger event it is possible that it will take weeks or even months to identify some victims. Every victim must be scientifically identified by the Medical Examiner. This means that visual identification by family members will not be possible. The Medical Examiner may use one or more of the following methods to positively identify victims.


DNA can be used to identify victims in two ways: DNA gathered from the remains can be compared to DNA gathered from a biologically related family member, or DNA gathered from the remains can be compared to the person’s own DNA taken from personal items. DNA can be gathered from these personal items used by the individual for the purpose of identification:

  • hairbrush

  • tooth brush

  • razor

  • underwear

  • blood tests

  • Pap smear

  • blood donation

  • Newborn Screening Card

If a person’s DNA sample is not available family members may be asked to provide a family reference sample. The person contributing the reference sample must be biologically related to the decedent, preferably the mother. This DNA is gathered by a non-invasive cheek swab. All DNA collected will be used for the purposes of identification only. If family members are not able to attend the Family Assistance Center to provide DNA, arrangements will be made to collect a DNA sample in person.

Potential obstacles for using DNA for identification:

There are several potential obstacles to using DNA in identification of remains.

  • DNA cannot always be obtained from partial remains

  • DNA testing can take a long time

  • Results of comparing unidentified remains to the DNA of family members are often not statistically strong enough to provide a positive identification

  • Heat will destroy DNA. If the remains were exposed to fire they may not yield a useful specimen.

If you have any questions or concerns about the DNA identification process please ask any of the DNA counselors.


Fingerprints are a reliable form of identification that the Medical Examiner may use. Inform the family interviewer if your family member has ever been officially fingerprinted while alive. If possible, provide information about the location of those fingerprints. If fingerprints can be obtained from the remains of the individual the Medical Examiner may use this to establish identification. If your family member was never officially fingerprinted, the Medical Examiner may be able to match prints obtained from an object belonging to the individual that remains untouched by others.

Dental Records

Using dental records and dental x-rays can be a fast and reliable method of positive identification. Please provide contact information for your family member’s dentist to the family interviewer. It is important to provide information on any dental work of which you are aware. If you are not aware of the existence of your family member’s dental records, records may be found through payment or insurance records. If dental x-rays are not available, provide information regarding any records from the dentist:

  • dental casts

  • charting

  • photographs

Medical Imaging

The Medical Examiner may be able to positively identify remains by comparing x-rays of ANY PART of the body. This also includes a CAT scan (often taken in cases of suspected head injury). Hospitals and physicians usually only retain hard copy x-rays for seven years, but more modern technology uses digital x-rays, which may be available longer if not indefinitely. Please inform the family interviewer of the existence of any medical imaging of your family member.

Other useful information

Photos: A photo of the missing person smiling allows comparison of the front teeth and a straight-on photo of the head allows for superimposition with a skull.

Scars, marks, tattoos, surgery: Provide a description and picture if possible of any unique body markings. If the missing person is female, has she had any children? If the missing person is male, is he circumcised?

Missing organs/appendages: Provide the family interviewer with information about any removed organs (appendectomy, hysterectomy) or missing appendages (fingers, toes).

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