I am a Tombstone Tourist: someone who loves to wander cemeteries. I find it akin to visiting a museum: an opportunity to enjoy rarely seen sculpture, intricate carvings, and amazing architecture, all in a tranquil outdoor setting. This blog is about cemetery culture, art, history, issues of death, and genealogy - subjects of current relevance. I usually find something that intrigues me and makes me want to dig deeper. Care to join me? Read on...
Friday, March 22, 2013
Using the Internet to Identify the Dead
Cook County Medical Examiner's
weeks ago the Cook County Illinois Medical Examiner’s Office made a bold
move.The office began releasing
photos of unidentified dead bodies on its webpage.The hope is that someone might be able to ID a missing
family member or friend from the photos.But the move has sparked controversy.
Dr Steve Cina
photos of decaying corpses have been called too graphic, disturbing, and
insensitive. But the Cook County Medical Examiner, Dr Steve Cina, feels that
it’s worth the discomfort if the photos help a family find a loved one.
unidentified person (UP) is a person who has died and his/her body has not been
identified. Once normal channels have been exhausted in trying to gain
identification, a coroner or medical examiner may post a photo and information
on the UP site in hopes that it triggers someone's memory, or that someone
recognizes the person and can identify them.
physical description of the person including sex, race, and the clothes they were
wearing, along with descriptive body features such as height, birthmarks,
tattoos, or dental information can be used. Photos on the site are updated biweekly.
the photos are watermarked by the Medical Examiner’s office and include a
disclaimer of the ”potentially graphic nature of the images.”
But, the Cook County Medical Examiner’s Office is not the first to place photos of the deceased online in an attempt to discover
their identities.In fact, the
CCME worked in conjunction with the National Missing and Unidentified Persons
System (NamUs) http://www.namus.gov to
create their page.
is a searchable database funded by the National Institute of Justice and
managed by the UNT Health Science Center.It was also created in an attempt to discover whom these unidentified persons
can be conducted by using demographics, case numbers, physical characteristics,
or other specific information. New cases are added each day by medical
examiners and coroners across the U.S.
NamUs has almost 10,000 unidentified persons in their database.Fewer than 10% of the remains have been
identified and those cases closed. Just over 90% of the cases remain open. Close to two million
people have visited the site since it began in 2010.
Cook County Morgue
Cook County Medical Examiner’s office currently has several unidentified
persons, some still waiting to be identified after four years. The
office also has close to 50 bodies that are identified but unclaimed.
unclaimed person (UCP) is someone whose body has been identified but no next of
kin have been found, or if the family has been located, they cannot afford to
pay for a funeral, or they do not want to accept responsibility for the body.
In 2011, Cook County Medical Examiner’s Office began donating unclaimed remains
to the Anatomical Gift Association (AGA) within two weeks after arrival
Once the body is picked up, the
AGA is then required to wait 21 days before embalming it and another 60
days for next of kin to be located or come forward.If, after that time, no one has claimed the body the AGA may
use the body for medical research and subsequent cremation.
Doe Network http://www.doenetwork.org
is an organization ran by volunteers that includes searchable websites for
unidentified and missing persons from around the U.S.The organization has been active for 12 years and has been recognized by
the Department of Justice.
sites are listed that deal with unidentified remains, unexplained
disappearances, and missing persons. Unidentified remains may be from the US,
Canada, Europe, Australia, or other countries. The network deals with hot and
Illinois, other states listed on the Doe Network are Kentucky, Iowa, New York,
New Jersey, Texas, Nevada, Florida, South Carolina, Georgia, Louisiana,
Massachusetts and Tennessee. Almost four million visitors have visited the site
since it began in 2001.
the photos may be considered disturbing, they do serve a very real
purpose.There is an estimated
40,000 remains currently unidentified in the U.S.Sites such as these could help countless families and friends find out what happened to someone dear.
is often said “You can judge a society by how it treats its dead.”It is
time we allow those who have remained nameless to be identified and bring some
sense of closure to those lives.
And the internet may be the most effective way for us to do this...