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The Association for Identification

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The International Association for Identification is the oldest and largest forensic association in the world. It was formed in 1915 as the International Association for Criminal Identification, after Inspector Harry H. Caldwell of Oakland, California’s Police Department reached out to a number of fellow Criminal Identification Operators. About 22 men met in October that year with Caldwell serving as the presiding officer.

The group grew quickly, and by the next year, the organization consisted of 116 regular members. They soon dropped the word "criminal" from their name, acknowledging the large number of non-criminal work done by identification bureaus.

On this date in 1918, North Dakotans were pleased that one of their own was recognized by this new, growing group. W. S. Ferry, secretary of the North Dakota state penitentiary, was elected vice president of the organization. Caldwell himself, still president of the organization, sent a letter, in appreciation of Ferry’s “loyalty, enthusiasm, and qualifications."

One of these qualifications was knowledge of the Bertillion method of identification. This system was used around North Dakota and the rest of the country; in fact, in late 1915, The Ward County Independent noted that the system had been used in Paris since 1880 and was “employed by all important police departments in this country."

The Bertillion method was established by French criminologist and anthropologist Alphonse Bertillion, and consisted of a system of physical measurements of the head and body, the shape of facial features, individual markings such as tattoos and scars, and personality characteristics. He also established the first mugshots. Before that, identification was mostly done through eyewitness accounts and unorganized photo files.

The measurement system was eventually superceded by fingerprinting, though mugshots and some of Bertillion’s other tools would remain in use.

Ferry was reportedly surprised by the honor of his election as vice president for the International Association of Identification, but the Bismarck Tribune proudly stated: "those familiar with his work regard the honor which has come to him as well merited."

Dakota Datebook by Sarah Walker



The Bismarck Tribune, January 28, 1918, p1


The Ward County Indepnedent, November 11, 1915, p14

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