In the United States, several states have made policy decisions regarding whether and how to use familial searching of the Combined DNA Index System (CODIS) database in criminal investigations. Familial searching pushes DNA typing beyond merely identifying individuals to detecting genetic relatedness, an application previously reserved for missing persons identifications and custody battles. The intentional search of CODIS for partial matches to an item of evidence offers law enforcement agencies a powerful tool for developing investigative leads, apprehending criminals, revitalizing cold cases and exonerating wrongfully convicted individuals. As familial searching involves a range of logistical, social, ethical and legal considerations, states are now grappling with policy options for implementing familial searching to balance crime fighting with its potential impact on society. When developing policies for familial searching, legislators should take into account the impact of familial searching on select populations and the need to minimize personal intrusion on relatives of individuals in the DNA database. This review describes the approaches used to narrow a suspect pool from a partial match search of CODIS and summarizes the economic, ethical, logistical and political challenges of implementing familial searching. We examine particular US state policies and the policy options adopted to address these issues. The aim of this review is to provide objective background information on the controversial approach of familial searching to inform policy decisions in this area. Herein we highlight key policy options and recommendations regarding effective utilization of familial searching that minimize harm to and afford maximum protection of US citizens.