Finding Family

Deb and Jim in chair 
Fatal 90-133921

Body is warm to the touch. 
Muscles and veins are exposed
and six medical clamps are attached inside this wound.

Manner of dress: Nude.
Clothing cut away.
No identification found.

The head is covered by short, curly, brown hair.
The eyes are closed.
There is a moustache.


Years later, these are the words I read in my brother’s autopsy report. He was unidentified. His kin, unknown.

In my twenty years as a Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) for foster children, I became adept at locating absent parents and relatives so that children could be placed with family members instead of living in stranger foster care. I retired as a CASA in August 2014. I didn’t miss the inherent conflict in child welfare work, but did miss the investigation and research.  Connecting the dots. Bringing closure to a difficult situation.

In December, I began using those skills to locate the kin of deceased individuals whose bodies lie unclaimed. I select cases from the Unclaimed Persons Database,  combining online investigation and genealogy techniques to understand the framework of the decedent’s life. I often work backwards in time to identify the decedent’s parents (and grandparents) before undertaking the task of locating children, siblings or cousins. When I have developed a family tree, I search for current contact information for those who are living. Some cases take hours to resolve. Others take months.

My brother Jim’s case took somebody five days. The owner of the motorcycle he crashed, Mr. Bobby Davis, and the roommate with whom he’d been living, Mr. Dale Gilbert, identified his body. Major Sellers of the Salvation Army was able to locate our dad’s address from a night Jim had spent in a Salvation Army shelter some time prior.

There are thousands of deceased individuals across the country whose families have not been notified. In many cases, the remains are in storage. Some of these individuals have been indigent for years; others are middle class adults who were traveling some distance from their home, or were the last alive in their immediate family. Some are the child of famous people. Each person’s journey is a unique story.  Each teaches me something new about the ways families come together and break apart.

To inquire about Deb’s services providing family history research services for biographers, next of kin searches for attorneys administering estates, or family genealogy, please contact Deb.

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