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The Henry Classification system for fingerprint identification

The earliest form of Biometrics looked on the act back in the 1800’s. Alphonse Bertillon, a Parisian anthropologist and police department desk worker, established a method for recognizing criminals that became known as Bertillonage. Bertillonage was a form of anthropometry, a organization by which dimensions of the body are taken for classification and evaluation purposes. Bertillon’s system of anthropometry required numerous and exact dimensions of the skinny parts of a human’s structure for identification. It also involved recording shapes of the body in relative to activities and difference patterns on the surface of the body such as scars, birth marks, tattoos, etc. Bertillon estimated that the chances of matching histories were 286,435,456 to 1 if 14 characters were used. This was the main structure of criminal identification used throughout the 19th period.

Bertillon’s system of identification was not without fault. For example, it relied heavily on precise measurements for identification purposes, and yet two people working on measurements for the same person would record different findings. The measurements taken were also only thought to be unique and accurate in adulthood. Therefore, someone who committed a crime prior to adulthood would not have their measurements on record. Additionally, it turned out to be the case that the features by which Bertillon based his identification system were not unique to any one individual. This led to the possibility of one person being convicted of another person’s crimes. This possibility became abundantly clear in 1903 when a Will West was confused with a William West. Though it would later turn out to be the case that the two were identical twins, the issues posed by the Bertillonage system of identification were clear. Because of the amount of time and effort that went in to painstakingly collecting measurements and the overall inaccuracy of the process, Bertillonage was quickly replaced when fingerprinting emerged on the scene as a more efficient and accurate means of identification. Fingerprinting, as a means of identification, proved to be infallible. It was accepted that everyone possessed a uniquely identifiable and unchanging fingerprint.

This new system The Henry Classification system, named after Edward Henry who developed and first implemented the system in 1897 in India, was the first method of classification for fingerprint identification based on physiological characteristics. The system assigns each individual finger a numerical value (starting with the right thumb and ending with the left pinky) and divides fingerprint records into groupings based on pattern types. The system makes it possible to search large numbers of fingerprint records by classifying the prints according to whether they have an “arch”, “whorl”, or “loop” and the subsequently assigned numerical value.

In 1901 the Henry system was introduced in England. In 1902 the New York Civil service began testing the Henry method of fingerprinting with the the Army, Navy, and Marines all adopting the method by 1907. From this point on, the Henry System of fingerprinting became the system most commonly used in English speaking countries of identification was accepted as more reliable than Bertillonage.

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