What is a Fingerprint Form?

Laura Evans

A fingerprint form, or fingerprint card, is a piece of paper that is used to record an individual’s fingerprints. Agencies, such as police departments and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), use fingerprints to identify and track criminals. In addition, businesses and non-profits may request background checks that involve fingerprints before placing individuals in sensitive positions. For example, the Boy Scouts of America requests background checks before allowing individuals to volunteer to work with Scouts.

Child fingerprinting is becoming more common as parents prepare for the possibility of their child being abducted.
Child fingerprinting is becoming more common as parents prepare for the possibility of their child being abducted.

Humans has been using fingerprints to seal documents for thousands of years. It was not until the late 1880s that a scientific study conducted by England’s Sir Francis Galton indicated that every fingerprint is unique, although others had postulated this theory since as early as the 14th century. By 1903, the use of fingerprinting had spread to the United States (US). The FBI was one of the first agencies in the US to adopt the new science.

Fingerprint forms are pieces of paper used to record an individual's fingerprints.
Fingerprint forms are pieces of paper used to record an individual's fingerprints.

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Fingerprints begin forming in the womb as pressure is applied on a baby’s fingertips. Generally, fingertips include a series of ridges that form patterns called loops, whorls, and arches. Factors such as the numbers, sizes, and arrangements of the loops, whorls, and arches are an important part of what makes each individual’s fingerprints unique. In addition, minutiae — tiny characteristics that can only be seen using magnification — are also used to help identify fingerprints. Fingerprints do not age over time.

Before computers, comparing a fingerprint form with another fingerprint card was difficult and time consuming. A person had to manually check one fingerprint form against another card — a process that could take days without a guarantee of any results at all. While the use of computers to compare a fingerprint form with another still does not guarantee a match, the process moves quicker. In addition, the use of computers has significantly increased the available fingerprint data base.

Fingerprinting is no longer being used only for background checks or to track criminals. Child fingerprinting is becoming more common as parents decide that they want to have records readily available in the event that their child should disappear. Some parents choose to purchase a fingerprint kit to use at home. Others check with their local government or police departments to see if there are services available related to child fingerprinting. Parents should keep their child’s fingerprint form in a safe, easy-to-access location, such as with the rest of their important legal papers.

The FBI uses fingerprints to track criminals.
The FBI uses fingerprints to track criminals.

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Discussion Comments


@Mammmood - Millions of people have been fingerprinted, not only in the scenarios you outlined but in other scenarios as well. I did have my fingerprints taken when I was applying for a work visa for a job overseas.

The fact is that your fingerprint is most likely on file somewhere; you just don’t remember the circumstance. I do appreciate the use of computers, however, in indexing and analyzing fingerprints.

Thanks to microprocessors we can achieve “CSI like” results in tracking down criminals through fast processing of fingerprints and comparing them with prior suspects.


Dare I ask an obvious question? What if your fingerprint is not on record somewhere? It’s my understanding that most of the fingerprints that are on record are the result of an arrest or some official documentation process, like maybe getting a passport.

People who apply for a green card may fill out an FBI fingerprint form, I don’t know. But the point I am making is that it’s quite possible you have never filled out a fingerprint form, in which case detectives would have nothing on you if (hypothetically speaking of course) you committed a crime. They would have to go on other stuff.


One thing I have to wonder about nowadays is if there is some type of technology being created in order to use fingerprints to identify missing people or just to track people?

I know they do this for children, but I wonder how far we are off in technology to make it so people can be tracked and identified simply because of their fingerprint.

People may laugh at this notion, but I have heard of much crazier things and in our times technology has become so advanced that the impossible is now becoming possible.


@cardsfan27 - You are correct. I have read stories that in towns in the old west that the sheriffs would look through the finger print cards, but narrow it down only to criminals. This meant that the sheriff was banking on the person who left the fingerprint to be a repeat offender and this simply becomes a shot in the dark.

Also, realize that the person is only likely to be identified, if there is a chance the card is there. Say if there is a crime in a small town, they would have to hope that from the few cards they have that they will find a match in order to catch the suspect.


@Izzy78 - You are absolutely correct. The FBI and I would bet that many other government agencies, who have the resources, use this technology in order to quickly identify people who are either wanted by law enforcement or are needed for some reason.

In the old days this would not at all be possible and there is no way that someone could figure out someone due to a fingerprint that quickly.

I imagine in the past they had to try and narrow it down as much as possible and hope that it was not an unknown person that committed the crime or left the fingerprint.


Although fingerprinting in the card form may be a thing of the past it is definitely still relevant to the present due to the technological advance in computer technology.

Recently I had to get finger printed in order to obtain a license in order to become a security guard and I had to have my finger prints taken digitally.

This process is a far cry from in the past as you do not need ink and say you accidentally smudge your fingerprint you can simply click a button and start over on the computer without any mess.

The best thing I have seen is that the fingerprint is stored in a database and with the right technology one could easily compare the fingerprints rather quickly with one another when doing checks on people.

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