A recent Wired magazine story made the rounds late last year of a hiker on the Appalachian Trail who was only known by his trail name: Mostly Harmless. When this hiker was discovered dead, the internet set out to find his identity—thanks to DNA (more specifically DNASolves) they were successful, able to find out that Mostly Harmless was Vance Rodriguez.
According to the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System (NAMUS), it is estimated that 4,400 unidentified bodies are recovered each year in the United States, with approximately 1,000 of those bodies remaining unidentified after one year.
The DNA Doe Project
In 2017, DNA Doe Project was founded by Margaret Press, PhD. alongside Forensic Genealogist, Dr. Colleen Fitzpatrick. It is a 501(c)3 non-profit organization with more than 60 genetic genealogists who volunteer to analyze the DNA associated with John and Jane Doe (unidentified bodies) cases and compare it to the DNA that has been uploaded to GEDmatch, a database that uses autosomal DNA (atDNA) to find familial matches. This can be a close relative match of the doe or distant relation. Then, a family tree can begin to take form and prospective matches can be narrowed down until a doe is hopefully identified. They currently have more than two dozen success stories and counting. As a non-profit, they rely heavily on the generosity of donors to help with the expenses associated with the extensive lab work required for extracting and sequencing DNA from remains.
Where there is hope, there is help
Can’t donate money? What about DNA? A huge part of the DNA Doe Project is to get those of us [raising my enthusiastically!] who have taken a genetic DNA test through Direct-to-Consumer (DTC) company databases like AncesteryDNA and 23andMe to upload our results to GEDmatch. It’s free to do, but the database does have a new opt-in policy, where your permission will be needed for them to match your DNA against the genetic samples submitted by law enforcement. I encourage you to visit The DNA Doe Project website for more in-depth information.
Love this post? Meet the Author.
Tiffany C. has been working as an advertising copywriter for just under a decade in the Boston area. Her interest in true crime started at an early age with Unsolved Mysteries and hit its fever pitch with the Serial podcast. Most recently, after completing the Boston University Certificate program in Genealogy, she’s been looking for new ways to put her writing experience and newfound research skills to good use. Enter Uncovered.com.
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Our team is taking publicly available data and creating timelines, pulling maps, organizing sources, and visualizing cold cases for more eyes and collective impact.