NY Fingerprint History Update: Loose Ends & Coincidences
NYCHS logo A special essay for NYCHS ©
By Michael Harling

who wrote the NYS Division of
Criminal Justice Services' 1996
Origins of the New York State
Bureau of Identification
Michael Harling NYCHS is
honored Michael
Harling accepted
its invitation to
write an update
on NYS'

The Henry System Wasn't Henry's

Michael Harling book cover
Click image of Mike Harling's
book cover to access website
withs same name as his book.
In another life, I was a fingerprint historian. That was some time ago, when I was employed at the New York State Division of Criminal Justice Services as an Identification Specialist and serving as the unofficial agency archivist.

Sir Henry
Sir Edward Richard Henry
for whom the Henry System
of Fingerprint
Classification was named.

The history of fingerprinting captivated me from the start and my years of research uncovered many amazing facts.

One of the most intriguing was the revelation that Sir Henry’s account of how he devised the Henry System of Classification was, to be kind, an imaginative detour around actual events.

Henry originally claimed to have come up with the system while on a train journey across India, adding that, because he had no paper to record his flash of brilliance, he had to jot notes on his shirtsleeve.

Although in later years he did admit that it was his Indian assistants who actually came up with the formula, no other facts were available to me at that time.

Loose Ends

Who were these unsung assistants? How did they do it? How did they feel about not getting credit for their work? Were they ever credited with inventing the system? I can’t say these questions haunted me, but they did occur to me. With the limited research tools available at the time, however, I was unable to answer any of them. Eventually, I moved on—to a different agency, different job, different continent, and a different life.

I live in England now. The move was sudden, unanticipated and infused with humor. So I wrote a book about it.

Brit Fancy blog identifier
The image that serves as the Brit Fancy
blog identifier is a take-off on the
famous cover photo for the Beatles'
'Abbey Road' album. Click to access.
Use browser's "back" button
to return to this page.

In the meantime, the Internet burgeoned at an unbelievable rate and unheard of phenomena like blogs and social networks were running riot in cyberspace. I decided to use them to help promote my book and one of the methods I chose was to “tour” the Internet by writing articles for other blogs.

A number of people took up my offer. One of them was Brit Fancy (we’re fond of pseudonyms here in the blogsphere), who runs a UK-centric website from St, Louis, Missouri.

When the time came to write the article for Brit Fancy, I had a hard time coming up with anything of interest involving St. Louis.

Captain James H. Parke
Capt. James H. Parke,
founder, American System of
Fingerprint Classification.
Then I remembered the Exhibition of 1904, where Captain James Parke and his American System of Fingerprint Identification were overwhelmed and out-maneuvered by John Ferrier and the Henry System of Fingerprint Classification.

John K. Ferrier
Det. Sgt. John Kenneth Ferrier,
Scotland Yard's fingerprint
evangelist, 1905.
In the article, as a point of interest, I mentioned how Henry had usurped credit for the system from his assistants.

The article went out to Brit Fancy and I imagined a puzzled pause at receiving something so esoteric.

But instead, I received an entirely different reaction.


Brit Fancy, it turned out, was the great-great-granddaughter of Azizul Haque, the Indian assistant who devised the Henry System. Needless to say, she was surprised by my interest in such an obscure subject, and gladly told me her story:

“My parents moved from Bangladesh to the states when they got married. I was born in Oklahoma and we later moved to St. Louis.

Azizul Haque
Azizul Haque image from August 1965 issue of
East Pakistan news magazine "The Detective."
Click to access, return via "back" button.
“I majored in history in college so I have a general interest in the past.

"But in looking into my family history I was frustrated at the lack of written records from my homeland and was unable to find much of anything out about my ancestors.

“Then one day, about five years ago, my grandmother said to me, 'I know something about one of your ancestors,' and proceeded to tell me about Azizul Haque.

“From that bit of information, I got in touch with two professors, a husband and wife team of researchers in India, by the name of Sodhi.

“They are fingerprint forensics scholars and they travel around the world to give lectures on fingerprint history.

Henry-Haque-Bose System

“They are huge fans of Azizul Haque and his partner, Hem Chandra Bose, and are on a quest to try to get the name of the Henry System of Classification officially changed to the Henry-Haque-Bose System.

“The Sodhis have done extensive research in India and through the government archives and have found copies of letters my great-great-grandfather wrote to the British in Calcutta, explaining that he and Bose were the ones who worked out the system.

“The records show that, eventually, Henry did concede, admitting that Haque and Bose had, in fact, created the fingerprint system.

“Azizul Haque received a modest monetary settlement and some property, but by the time he received it, he was quite old and ill.

Presidency College
Presidency College, Kolkata. Henry
recruited Hague, its leading math student,
to set up a criminal ID bureau for police.
Click to access, return via "back" button.
“The letters are heartbreaking to read, as Azizul is reduced to groveling to the British government and Mr. Henry for some recognition. He died shortly after getting the land, and his large family—including twenty children—moved away, probably during the Partition.”

It’s difficult to say how I felt about stumbling upon this information after all this time.

On the one hand, it just seemed natural to find yet another piece of the fingerprint puzzle, but when I thought about the billions of people in the world and how I randomly connected with one who just happened to be related to someone I casually mentioned in my article and started tallying up the odds of that happening, my head would begin to hurt.

Eventually, if only to ease my aching head, I moved on with my tour.

Then, last week, I heard from Brit Fancy again.

Fingerprint Society Haque-Bose Prize

Since finding out about her great-great-grandfather, Brit Fancy has been helping the Sodhis, in her own small way, to gain some recognition for Haque and Bose.

UK's Fingerprint Society
To learn more about the UK's Fingerprint Society Aziz ul Haque
and Hem Chandra Bose Prize, click the above image
of its website logo. Use browser's "back" button to return.
She wrote to tell me that their combined efforts have finally paid off and that the UK Fingerprint Society is remembering Haque and Bose by setting up an award in their honor.

“The Fingerprint Society Azizul Haque and Hem Chandra Bose Prize” is an award given out to students and professionals who come up with an innovative idea in forensic identification.

It took over 100 years, the dedication of a pair of researchers and the surprising discovery of an unknown celebrity in her family tree by a tenacious history major, but Henry’s assistants have finally received at least some recognition.

For more about the Parkes, Bertillonage, the American System of
Fingerprint Identification, and the NYS Bureau of Identification, read:
Origins of the New York State Bureau of Identification
See also: Auburn Roots of New York State's Fingerprint System

By Michael Harling

© 1996 by the NYS
Division of Criminal Justice Services

To mark 100 years of Bureau of Identification service Origins of the New York State Bureau of Identification was published as a book in 1996 and as web pages in 1997.
NYCHS logo
6-page NYCHS
posted with
permission of
that retains
all rights.
[Top of Page] [NYCHS Home Page] [Chronicles Section Menu]