The ghost story I’ve been working on has led me into a lot of interesting areas of research regarding DNA, isotope analysis, and other interesting ways to identify dead people. It’s also lead me to realize there are about 40,000 unidentified dead people in the US alone, some dating back thirty or forty years or more. Many of these nameless people have recently been re-examined as new technology becomes available. DNA tests, new facial reconstructions, and other techniques now make it possible to match relatives of long-missing people to their deceased loved ones.
This means that if you have a missing person in your family, especially an older case, you can take new steps to locate them.
You should contact the agency where your loved one’s missing persons report was initially filed and make sure the case is still active. This is especially true for someone who was a minor when they went missing, because many law enforcement agencies automatically close such cases when the missing person reaches 18 or 21. Also, many cases from the 70’s and 80’s were just closed and the records tossed. I’ve even seen cases where law enforcement agencies took all the information for a missing persons report but never actually opened a case — especially true of missing adult children or “runaway” spouses.
Check to see whether that case file is complete, with a thorough description, photos, and any other information you have. Dental records are especially useful. The sites I list below have lots of information about what information you need and what are good ways to distribute it.
Make sure your missing loved one is listed in the many find-the-missing websites, such as the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, the National Center for Missing Adults, the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System, NAMUS (www.identifyus.org and http://www.findthemissing.org), etc. For cases more than a few years old, there’s the Doe Network (www.doenetwork.org).
Make sure your family DNA is on file — there’s a procedure for this but it needs to go through the agency where your loved one is reported missing.
All those sites have further information about actions you can take to make it more likely your loved one will be found. And I should mention that quite a number of missing people have turned up alive, living in other parts of the country — it’s not all about unidentified bodies.