Tuesday, March 4, 2014

A Little History on Forensic Science

BY Linda LaRoque

I say "A Little" because there is so much information and also because I want to focus on two aspects—finger printing and sperm identification.

Back in 2007 when I began writing my first time-travel novella, A Law of Her Own, set in 1888 in Prairie, Texas, it became necessary to learn when sperm was first identifiable under a microscope. That led to identifying the type of microscope might be available to a country doctor in a small town in the late 1800s. I needed this information so my heroine could prove the villain was not only a murderer, but a sexual predator. One novella led to two more set in Prairie and included some of the same characters.

I'm happy to say that sometime in the future the three—A Law of Her Own, A Marshal of Her Own, and A Love of His Own will be published as an anthology in both ebook and print. I'm very excited so had to add that little tidbit.

While writing Birdie's Nest, my heroine, a Texas Ranger is transported back to 1890 in Waco. One of the only people who halfway believes she's from the future, a detective on the Waco Police Force, asks her to work undercover and use her investigative skills to help locate a man carving up some of the soiled doves on the reservation. Of course, Victorian society does not approve of women dealing in men's business and Birdie finds herself in fixes.

So, that's all I can say about the story. You'll have to read it.

Archimedes (287-212 BC) the man behind the term "Eureka," is considered to be the father of forensic science. He determined a crown wasn't made of gold (as falsely claimed) by its density and buoyancy.

Later in the 7th century, Soleiman, an Arabic merchant, used fingerprints on clay tablets to prove the validity between debtors and lenders.

In 250 BC, Erasistratus, a Greek physician concludes that pulse rates of his patients increased when they lied—the first lie detector test.

In 44 BC, the first recorded autopsy occurred when a doctor determined that Julius Caesar died from the 2nd of 23 stab wounds.

There are many more recorded example of forensics being used in our early history, but I want to move on to more recent years. If you would like to read more, I used this website for reference.

The first microscope was developed in 1590.

Anton von Leeuwenhoek, a tradesman in Delft, drew the attention of the Royal Society in London with the microscopes he made. He had no university training and spoke only Dutch, but through these new friends he developed a taste for speculation. His interests turned to whether mammalian generation (or more plainly put, reproduction) was determined by the male sperm or the female egg.

Understand that in the 17th and 18th centuries, the subject of generation was weighed down with religious and philosophical overtones. Naturally he was hesitant to use his microscopes on the study of semen. Also, he wasn't keen on writing about semen and intercourse nor the thought of having to talk about it. Some years later, in 1677, a medical student at Leiden brought him a sample of semen in which the student and now Leeuwenhoek found small animals with tails. "Leeuwenhoek resumed his own observations with his own semen—acquired, he stressed, not by sinfully defiling himself but as a natural consequence of conjugal coitus—observed a multitude of 'animalcules' less than a millionth the size of a coarse grain of sand and with thin, undulating transparent tails."
The website I used is below if you'd like to read further.

It was not until 1986 that DNA was first used to solve a crime. Sir Alec Jefferies, through DNA profiles, identified Colin Pitchfork as the murderer of two young girls in England.

Though researchers knew that lines and whirls in fingerprints and footprints could be used in identifying individuals for many centuries, there was no real system which made it unreliable and/or unable to prove. In 1880, a paper written by Henry Faulds of Scotland, suggests fingerprints at the scene of a crime could be used to identify the suspect. He used fingerprints to free an innocent man and lock up the perpetrator in a Tokyo burglary.

Sir Francis Galton established the first classification system in 1892 and published his book Fingerprints. In 1918, Edmond Locard suggests the use of 12 matching points as a positive fingerprint match.

The FBI was established by US President Theodore Roosevelt in 1905, but it was not until 1932 that the FBI crime lab was created.

Here is a picture of an 1852 microscope. The one Doctor Wilson, in A Law of Her Own, uses in 1888 in Prairie is probably very similar. I doubt he could afford anything newer.

Another reference not listed above.

This is such an interesting subject to me. If you're interested, I hope you'll Google some of the websites listed and read further. You won't be disappointed.

I give full credit for facts in this blog post to the references where I gathered the information. The pictures are from Wikipedia Commons.


  1. I had no idea forensics was that developed so early. Thanks.

  2. I didn't either, Caroline. Fascinating, huh?

    BTW, I reread your book Unsuitable Wife (again) this week and loved it. I couldn't remember when I'd read it or how it ended. Great book!

  3. This is fascinating. Thank you for sharing.

  4. Wow! So cool. Thank you, Linda for the interesting info. You learn something new every day. :)

  5. Vicki, glad you enjoyed it. Thanks for your comment!

  6. So true, Nese, I sure did. Thank you for stopping by!

  7. Thanks for the history lesson in forensics. An intriguing topic - I thoroughly enjoyed your post.

  8. Thank you, Ashanty. I'm glad you enjoyed it. I appreciate you stopping by.

  9. That's great information on forensics, Linda. Thanks so much for sharing it with us.

  10. Thanks for your comments, Belinda and Ciara. I thoroughly enjoyed the research. I appreciate you stopping by.

  11. Great info, Linda! Thanks for sharing.

  12. I had often wondered how forensics got started, thanks Linda, very interesting!


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