Humans vary in many ways, and leave hints of these variations behind at the scene of a crime, in the form of prints, stains, traces and impressions.
People who visit a particular location don't only leave traces of themselves at the site, they generally take traces of the site away with them.
In 1860 Sir William James Herschel used fingerprint impressions made on paper to provide reliable identification of individual government prisoners in India.
In 1890, Francis Galton began his study of fingerprints. Originally, he was looking for racial differences in fingerprints, but failed to find any.
Francis Galton was able to show that human fingerprints stay the same throughout the owner's life, so doing away with the physiognomy of Cesare Lombroso.
Individuals may be distinguished by DNA fingerprinting, but this remains less than totally reliable, as related people can have similar patterns.
Individuals may be distinguished by DNA fingerprinting which looks for unique aspects of the DNA found only in an individual and his or her relatives.
DNA fingerprinting is unreliable in cases where more than one member of a family or related community is under suspicion, since they will have similar profiles.
This file is http://members.ozemail.com.au/~macinnis/scifun/splatsforensic.htm, first created on February 16, 2008. Last recorded revision (well I get lazy and forget sometimes!) was on February 16, 2008.