A general method for integrating genetic algorithms within a commercially available finite element (FE) package to solve a range of structural inverse problems is presented. The described method exploits a user-programmable interface to control the genetic algorithm from within the FE package. This general approach is presented with specific reference to three illustrative system identification problems. In two of these the aim is to deduce the damaged state of composite structures from a known physical response to a given static loading. In the third the manufactured lay-up of a composite component is designed using the proposed methodology.