Gertrude Spiro and Charlotte Rebhun, circa 1942. Gertrude Spiro must have been well-connected. She was the proprietor of a liquor and cigarette shop at 2 Nowiniarksa St. in Warsaw in 1941-1942. The shop undoubtedly generated a lot of income for whoever owned it; liquor and cigarettes are two of the most in-demand commodities during wartime. Moreover, Gertrude's shop was the only cigarette shop in Warsaw, and it also sold liquor. In her position she must have had many friends and many enemies. Gertrude Piss-Spiro and her daughter Sonia were arrested in Warsaw and put into Pawiak Prison in 1943. They are listed among 141 women on a prison [...]
When AFDIL attempted an identification through Y-DNA, I was asked by my colleague Dr. Odile Loreille to find a Y-DNA reference for Sidney Goodwin. We were just finishing up the identification of The Hand in the Snow, so she knew I was available for a new project. Of course, my first step was to search Ancestry.com to obtain information about the Goodwin genealogy. I immediately found Sidney's parents Frederick and Augusta in 1901 living in Middlesex with their four oldest children Lillian (5), Charles (4), William (2), and Jessie (1). Frederick was listed as a print compositer. Because Frederick and his sons perished on the Titanic, to find a Y-reference for the family I researched Frederick's [...]
To understand what happened next, you have to know a little about mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA). Mitochondrial DNA is contained in small, football-shaped inclusions outside the nucleus of a cell. It's widely believed that mitochondria were once independent bacteria that invaded primitive cells millions of years ago. Instead of being digested, these bacteria took up residence in the cell, forming a symbiotic relationship with it. The cell provided them with food and water, and the mitochondria provided the cell with energy for metabolism and heat. The arrangement worked out so well that millennia later, a human cell has up to 1,000 mitochondria, each carrying five to ten copies of its own genome. [...]
After eight and a half decades, there was little left of the child's body. Only a small piece of wrist bone and the crowns of three tiny baby teeth had survived the inclement weather and damp, slightly acidic soil. In the spring of 2002, when Parr and Ruffman determined that the child was not Gosta Paulson based on a mismatch between the mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) obtained from the bone shard and DNA provided by a maternally-linked Paulson relative, the teeth became more significant in the identification efforts. Dr. E. J. Molto, an anthropologist and the director of the Paleo-DNA Laboratory at Lakehead University, suggested that the three teeth belonged to "quite a young child". [...]
On April 20-23 1912, on its mission from Halifax to salvage remains from the Titanic, the crew of the cable ship Mackay-Bennett pulled 306 bodies from the frigid waters of the north Atlantic. Only one of them, body No. 4, was that of a child. At the time, the best that forensic identification could offer was the observations, recorded on an index card, that the child was a boy, about two years of age, probably a third-class passanger. Since no one came to claim the baby, the crew of the Mackay-Bennett took responsibility for the child's remains, arranging a beautiful funeral for him at St. George's Anglican Church. The [...]
The best part of our projects is the good friendships we form with the people whose lives we touch. On our recent trip to Ireland, Andy and I visited with Maurice Conway and his family in Co. Limerick. Maurice provided the DNA match that confirmed that the remains found in the wreck of Northwest Flight 4422 were those of his distant cousin Francis Joseph van Zandt. During our time together, Maurice took us to the old Conway farm where Frank's mother Margaret Conway was born and grew up. We walked the road she walked with her sisters and brothers as they started from home for America. And of course we paid our respects at the Conway [...]
Our blog would not be complete without a mention of The Hand in the Snow. This was our first big military identification case with the Armed Forces DNA ID Laboratory, performed with a dream team of top forensic scientists. Our successful identification of the frozen arm and hand found in the Alaska glacier as belonging to crash victim Francis Joseph van Zandt was featured in 300 newspapers worldwide, and will be published as a feature article in Scientific American in the next few months.