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Personal Identity

It is but seldom that medical evidence is required with regard to the

identification of the living, though it may sometimes be so, as in the

celebrated Tichborne case. The medical man may in such cases be

consulted as to family resemblance, marks on the body, nævi materni,

scars and tattoo marks, or with regard to the organs of generation in

cases of doubtful sex. Tattoo marks may disappear during life; the

brighter c
lours, as vermilion, as a rule, more readily than those made

with carbon, as Indian ink; after death the colouring-matter may be

found in the proximal glands. If the tattooing is superficial (merely

underneath the cuticle) the marks may possibly be removed by acetic

acid or cantharides, or even by picking out the colouring-matter with a

fine needle. With regard to scars and their permanence, it will be

remembered that scars occasioned by actual loss of substance, or by

wounds healed by granulation, never disappear. The scars of leech-bites,

lancet-wounds, or cupping instruments, may disappear after a lapse of

time. It is difficult, if not impossible, to give any certain or

positive opinion as to the age of a scar; recent scars are pink in

colour; old scars are white and glistening. The cicatrix resulting from

a wound depends upon its situation. Of incised wounds an elliptical

cicatrix is typical, linear being chiefly found between the fingers and

toes. By way of disguise the hair may be dyed black with lead acetate or

nitrate of silver; detected by allowing the hair to grow, or by steeping

some of it in dilute nitric acid, and testing with iodide of potassium

for lead, and hydrochloric acid for silver. The hair may be bleached

with chlorine or peroxide of hydrogen, detected by letting the hair grow

and by its unnatural feeling and the irregularity of the bleaching.

Finger-print impressions are the most trustworthy of all means of

identification. Such a print is obtained by rubbing the pulp of the

finger in lampblack, and then impressing it on a glazed card. The

impression reveals the fine lines which exist at the tips of the

fingers. The arrangement of these lines is special to each person, and

cannot be changed. Hence this method is employed by the police in the

identification of prisoners.

In the determination of cases of doubtful sex in the living, the

following points should be noticed: the size of the penis or clitoris,

and whether perforate or not, the form of the prepuce, the presence or

absence of nymphæ and of testicles or ovaries. Openings must be

carefully sounded as to their communication with bladder or uterus.

After puberty, inquiry should be made as to menstrual or vicarious

discharges, the general development of the body, the growth of hair,

the tone of voice, and the behaviour of the individual towards either


With regard to the identification of the dead in cases of death by

accident or violence, the medical man's assistance may be called. The

sex of the skeleton, if that only be found, may be judged from the bones

of the female generally being smaller and more slender than those of the

male, by the female thorax being deeper, the costal cartilages longer,

the ilia more expanded, the sacrum flatter and broader, the coccyx

movable and turned back, the tuberosities of the ischia wider apart, the

pubes shallow, and the whole pelvis shallower and with larger outlets.

But of all these signs the only one of any real value is the roundness

of the pubic arch in the female, as compared with the pointed arch in

the male. Before puberty the sex cannot be determined from an

examination of the bones.

Age may be calculated from the presence, nature and number of the

erupted teeth; from the cartilages of the ribs, which gradually ossify

as age advances; from the angle formed by the ramus of the lower jaw

with its body (obtuse in infancy, a right angle in the adult, and again

obtuse in the aged from loss of the teeth); and in the young from the

condition of the epiphyses with regard to their attachment to their

respective shafts.

To determine stature, the whole skeleton should be laid out and

measured, 1-1/2 to 2 inches being allowed for the soft parts.