Genetic analysis of museum specimens offers a direct window into a past that can predate the loss of extinct forms. We genotyped 18 Galápagos finches collected by Charles Darwin and companions during the voyage of the Beagle in 1835, and 22 specimens collected in 1901. Our goals were to determine if significant genetic diversity has been lost since the Beagle voyage and to determine the genetic source of specimens for which the collection locale was not recorded. Using 'ancient' DNA techniques, we quantified variation at 14 autosomal microsatellite loci. Assignment tests showed several museum specimens genetically matched recently field-sampled birds from their island of origin. Some were misclassified or were difficult to classify. Darwin's exceptionally large ground finches (Geospiza magnirostris) from Floreana and San Cristóbal were genetically distinct from several other currently existing populations. Sharp-beaked ground finches (Geospiza difficilis) from Floreana and Isabela were also genetically distinct. These four populations are currently extinct, yet they were more genetically distinct from congeners than many other species of Darwin's finches are from each other. We conclude that a significant amount of the finch biodiversity observed and collected by Darwin has been lost since the voyage of the Beagle.