Author Topic: "Known Unto God" and DNA identification  (Read 801 times)

Offline philipsearching

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"Known Unto God" and DNA identification
« on: Thursday 01 April 21 20:52 BST (UK) »
This post could go into either DNA or Armed Forces - so I post it in The Common Room.  :-\

I am wondering what it would cost (assuming CWGC would give permission!) to mount a project to exhume the graves of unnamed servicemen from the Great War and extract DNA.  I think it is now CWGC practice to extract DNA from newly discovered remains, but I don't know how many graves exist where the names are unknown.  It occurs to me that, with the continuing increase in the numbers of DNA results on family history websites, it should be possible to identify a significant percentage.

(NOTE - I think the "Unknown Soldier" is a national symbol and should remain unnamed).

What are your thoughts?  Perhaps a petition or fundraising?  Or should the unnamed dead be left undisturbed?
Please help me to help you by citing sources for information.

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Offline tonepad

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Re: "Known Unto God" and DNA identification
« Reply #1 on: Thursday 01 April 21 21:13 BST (UK) »
There are 8,373 burials unidentified in Tyne Cot Cemetery.
There are also 4 German burials, 3 being unidentified.

Assuming a cost of £1000 to extract DNA from each grave.
Results in a cost of over 8 million pounds just for one cemetery.


Tony
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Offline coombs

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Re: "Known Unto God" and DNA identification
« Reply #2 on: Thursday 01 April 21 22:26 BST (UK) »
Leave them be I say. Let them rest in peace.
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Offline Girl Guide

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Re: "Known Unto God" and DNA identification
« Reply #3 on: Thursday 01 April 21 22:46 BST (UK) »
Although I can understand your reasoning, I think it best to leave well alone. 

The First World War ended over 100 years ago.  No doubt the immediate family of those unknown will have long ago accepted that they weren't coming back.

I would imagine that most descendants today of First World War casualties are now going to be grandchildren and great grandchildren.

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Offline Bee

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Re: "Known Unto God" and DNA identification
« Reply #4 on: Thursday 01 April 21 22:55 BST (UK) »
If it was only a handful of graves then I think it would be nice for the person to have a name, but with the numbers involved and the astronomical cost the I think it is best to leave the graves as they are.
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Offline Ruskie

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Re: "Known Unto God" and DNA identification
« Reply #5 on: Thursday 01 April 21 23:24 BST (UK) »
It’s an interesting idea Philip.

Funny you should mention the Unknown Soldier, because fairly recently I was thinking about the possibility of taking his DNA. I think you are right though and he should remain ‘unknown’.

I think that there probably still aren’t enough people who have taken DNA tests, especially in the UK, to get enough matches, and therefore names. A lot of the fallen were young lads with no children, so I think the chance of finding matches with living people who have taken DNA tests will be slim in many cases. They would be great nieces or nephews or beyond. Once the DNA has been taken who will have the job of finding living relatives (if there are any) who may or may not know that they had a relative who took part in WW1, let alone know their name.

It would be a fascinating project though the logistics and cost would probably be too much.

A decent number of matches for this project:
https://fffaif.org.au/?p=12922
Descendants were called to submit their DNA so matching could be done.

Offline brigidmac

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Re: "Known Unto God" and DNA identification
« Reply #6 on: Friday 02 April 21 03:46 BST (UK) »
I saw a program recently where some body remains of a few soldiers (or was it just possessions)
 were found and they traced at least two of their living descendants using possessions. Records. & DNA
 then had a ceremony
Roberts,Fellman.Macdermid smith jones,Bloch,Irvine,Hallis Stevenson

Offline carol80

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Re: "Known Unto God" and DNA identification
« Reply #7 on: Friday 02 April 21 04:05 BST (UK) »
I was going to post the same as brigidmac.
A few days ago, here in New Zealand, they were playing repeats of Long Lost Family. They did a program on the Unknown Soldier.
They found remains, took DNA and traced family if they could. Reburied in CWGC cemeteries with full honours and family.
I am sure you could find the program on Youtube?
This appears to be an ongoing project.
Carol
not a techie person so can not put uplink. Only been on youtube once by mistake.
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Offline Guy Etchells

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Re: "Known Unto God" and DNA identification
« Reply #8 on: Friday 02 April 21 08:23 BST (UK) »
First the whole point of the unknown soldier is that he had not been identified and could therefore symbolise the thousands of soldiers who could not be identified or whose bodies could not be found.

If his DNA taken and he was identified he would no longer stand for those others.

In a similar way if after all this time bodies were exhumed and their DNA taken that would be decisive as many of the fallen were literally blown apart and their body parts were collected and all buried together. These brave men all fell together and were all buried together with their comrades in arms. I believe to start separating them now would be to desecrate their memory.
There would be many whose DNA had been contaminated or had deteriorated too much to sample they would then be abandoned by their companions as those identified would be re-interred elsewhere.

In theory if every man lost could be identified and buried with their ancestors that would be worthwhile but as thousands would not be identified I feel it would be wrong to divide the fallen again, let them rest in peace.
Cheers
Guy
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