Unclaimed Persons: Please Tell Someone

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The first piece I wrote for The Huffington Post was about unclaimed persons, one of those quiet epidemics that somehow slips beneath the radar. As I explained then,

"These aren't John and Jane Does. Rather, these are people whose identities are known, but whose relatives aren't, so they are -- just like the items that accumulate at lost-and-founds -- frequently unclaimed. The same thing that happened to the gloves you left on the train can happen to the widowed great-aunt whose younger relatives have lost touch with her."

I'm writing about this today and I'll do it again in the future because this is a topic that warrants broken-record behavior. Coroners across the country are struggling to find relatives of a growing number of unclaimed individuals, and as explained by journalist Liana Aghajanian in her recent article on the unclaimed in Los Angeles, the country's economic woes are only adding to the pressure. While it's true that some of the unclaimed are people who have chosen to separate from their families entirely, the reality is that it can happen to anyone. At least one celebrity has had the heart-breaking experience of learning that one of his siblings was among the unclaimed for several weeks after his passing.

Fortunately, there is one rather unexpected glimmer of hope - a team of genealogists who are volunteering their detective skills to assists coroners in Tampa, Los Angeles, Milwaukee, Honolulu and elsewhere. Now marking its second birthday, the group has located family members for 163 decedents. That's 163 families that are no longer left wondering.

Next Sunday, I have the honor of speaking in Burbank, California at the Southern California Genealogical Society Jamboree. I'll be covering topics ranging from Michelle Obama's roots to cases that "made my brain hurt," but I'm especially looking forward to talking about the short but productive history of this group. If you're curious and don't live in the Los Angeles area, please consider visiting the companion website and the private Facebook group where cases are posted and solved to learn more. If you've got a little time to spare, you might also want to watch the video that follows this post.

If nothing else, though, please consider telling at least one other person about this. Though it's a problem of ever expanding proportions, my experience is that most people are still completely unaware of it, so share this link, tweet it, pop it on Facebook or whatever. Simply being aware of how often this is happening might provoke one person to call his estranged brother or another to check up on her elderly aunt, thereby reducing the rosters of the future unclaimed. Ultimately, the best solution to this problem is prevention, so please spread the word.

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