When I found out that the theme for this edition of the Carnival of Genealogy was volunteerism, especially as it relates to the genealogy community, I automatically knew which organization I would highlight in my post: Unclaimed Persons.
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My involvement with Unclaimed Persons, began in June, 2008 when I signed up on Facebook to assist others in locating living next-of-kin of persons whose bodies sat in city and county morgues in an unclaimed state. A state of limbo you might say. A state of non-closure both for the dead and for the living.
Why did I get involved? For two reasons: one was to sharpen my research skills and prove that finding the living can be done using the same methodologies but different resources than that which is done for our ancestors. And the other was to bring peace and comfort - even as an unidentified researcher - to family members had become separated from their deceased relation. And I also knew that Megan Smolenyak helped create Unclaimed Persons - and you can't get a much better seal of approval in my book than that!
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Through several months of research on cases and the ability to solve cases with the collaborative help of other UP members, I eventually took on the role of case administrator at Unclaimed Persons. A case admin basically sits back and watches the research process unfold and is available for questions or guidance if needed. Also, most importantly, the case admin makes certain that the regulations put into place to guard the privacy of the living family are followed.
Although I've not actively handled a case for some time, I still pop in occasionally and post some helpful links for finding living people, or I will spend some time looking at case details and offer my help. Realize that very often there is very little information for the volunteers at Unclaimed Persons to work with: a name, a date of birth, a birthplace and a date of death and death location. That's it. What the volunteers at Unclaimed Persons can do sometimes is nothing short of amazing.
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So why do I think the work that Unclaimed Persons does is so important? The concept of separation is one that has always been close to my heart and one which has had a profound effect on my life.
I can't describe what it is like to receive those case details from the case administrator, sometimes with a photo of the decedent, and wonder why he or she drifted from their family. Was it an argument? Was it a lifestyle that included drugs or other forms of abuse - as the abuser or the victim of abuse? Was there a stint in prison which caused the family to write off that person off? Was it the choice of the dead or the living to be separate? And what, after years filled with holidays, weddings and funerals, caused the separation to remain? Was it stubbornness? A hurt never healed?
It isn't the job of Unclaimed Persons researchers to know or even care about such details but being human there times when you hit brick walls and your mind wanders to those details. Just as the details of our ancestors stories make them whole in our eyes, so too do these details make the decedent more than just a cold body sitting in a morgue. We want to make them whole and to make their families whole.
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It is said we come into this world alone and that is how we leave. I disagree especially with how we leave, for during each person's life there had to be some family and some contact and hopefully some love. And more than just some. My biggest fear is to die alone and I trust it is the fear of most people. While I can't change the circumstances under which the decedent of my Unclaimed Persons case died, I can heal and mend any connection lost between that person and their family. And I thank Unclaimed Persons for such an opportunity.
Note: if you are interested in volunteering with Unclaimed Persons visit their Facebook page here.
© 2010, copyright Thomas MacEntee