BYU using genealogy to reconnect MIA soldiers with families

Jun 21, 2018, 10:29 PM | Updated: Jun 23, 2018, 3:11 pm
From left: Student Melanie Torres, Professor Jill Crandell, and student Kimberly Brown. Photography by Rebekah Baker/BYU

PROVO — When History Professor Jill Crandell’s class dives into a new investigation, it starts and ends on a computer. The United States military has other units searching historical records, and digging up sites that lead to the recovery of MIA, missing in action, soldier’s bodies. Crandell’s class is then in charge of helping the military try to identify those bodies.

“They assign us a soldier, give us a personnel file with some information, so we know who we are looking for,” Crandell said. “Then the students just start researching: try to find records about that soldier and their family, try to determine if they are living or deceased.”

The Brigham Young University class have been tasked with finding more than the family. The military needs Y-DNA, a part of the DNA strand that is only passed down through same gender family members, to make a positive identification. For example, a male soldier will share Y-DNA with his father or a relative with the same paternal lineage. The difficulty is some of these cases are so old all of the soldier’s immediate family members have already passed away.

“We’ve had some cases that we’ve gone back as many as four or five generations, and back down again, in order to find the kind of DNA that we need,” Crandell said.

From left: Student Melanie Torres, Professor Jill Crandell, and student Kimberly Brown.
Photography by Rebekah Baker/BYU

BYU is the only school in the nation that offers a four-year degree in genealogy, and it’s that specialization that brought the military knocking on Crandell’s door last year.

“One of the leaders of the defense POW MIA accounting agency contacted us and asked us if we would be willing to assist in this effort,” she said. “There are still about 82 thousand that are still missing that they are trying to account for.”

Since last fall Crandell’s class has been assigned 65 cases and found family members in 48 of the cases. She says that’s 48 families who, hopefully, will finally get closure.

“Some of these families are going to start getting their soldiers back.”

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BYU using genealogy to reconnect MIA soldiers with families