Some people eat, sleep and chew gum, I do genealogy and write...

Monday, May 29, 2017

Unmarked Graves and Unidentified Dead: Genealogical Mysteries

By Kosboot - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,
Unmarked grave of Woolson Morse at Green-Wood Cemetery, Brooklyn, NY. This is section 135, lot 14964, grave no. 844 which was located for me by the staff of Green-Wood Cemetery and confirmed to be the resting place of Morse.
Many years ago, while hiking deep in the Arizona mountains, we ran across an abandoned mine with the vestiges of a settlement. There we found a long neglected cemetery partially hidden in the brush and trees. The grave markers consisted of simple wooden crosses that had long deteriorated. Since becoming more involved in genealogical research, I have thought about that cemetery and its unmarked graves. The image above is just one that I randomly selected, but it is typical of many cemeteries in the United States and around the world. How many of our dead lie in unmarked and forgotten graves?

I recently ran across an article entitled, "One Man's Obsessive Quest to Identify a 96-Year-Old Dead Body." The article describes the efforts of one person to identify a person buried about 96 years ago. This article started me thinking about all the small, abandoned cemeteries and unmarked graves there are in the world. As genealogists, we are becoming aware of the place DNA testing is taking as an identification aid. But unlike the story in question, we are probably not into the idea of digging up the remains to try to identify the people. My wife's family has a current issue with one of her great-grandfather's burial. Apparently, his grave is unmarked and until recently, my wife did not know where the cemetery was located. We are now motivated to do some investigation and determine the grave site.

Identifying unmarked graves combines careful genealogical research with extensive geographical map location efforts. However, today, many of the previously unidentified dead are being identified through DNA testing. Here is an example of the type of activity that is going on to identify previously unidentifiable military casualties.

This is a topic that I will probably address, especially as my wife and her family try to identify the grave of her ancestor.

1 comment:

  1. Dillman Cemetery near Curby in southern Indiana is where a bunch of my Dillman ancestors are buried. Most of the graves in the cemetery are marked by carved stones, a few have bronze plaques. But there are probably a dozen and a half graves marked only by a small, rough, uncarved rock. I've wondered who might be buried there. I have yet to contact the cemetery's maintainers, but last time I was there I photographed every grave marker, including the plain rocks. I'd like to one day identify those. I look forward to reading about your experience in your search.