This is a long article, but it’s worth reading all the way through. This is so important. It’s also hitting a very personal nerve with me.
My grandfather wandered away in 1991 (he was estranged from the rest of the family but had a primary care giver) and died of hypothermia in Carlisle, PA. He most likely had dementia. I was 19 at the time and had never met him. My family didn’t talk about him. I found this out only in my forties when I started doing genealogy research into my family. I was surprised and it has rather eerie parallels with other events in my life. He was found after a rather short period of time and easily identified but there are so many factors that could have ensured that wasn’t the case. My grandfather could be lying in an unmarked John Doe grave right now, unmarked, unmourned, and unremembered. .. and even if our ancestors were less than we hoped, it’s important to remember them, to listen to their stories both good and bad, to learn from them. It would have been so easy for my grandfather to have ended up a missing person, unidentified for decades more. Fortunately for him that was not the case, but others have not been so lucky.
We have an obligation as human beings to bring our dead home, to give them names, to remember their stories. It is up to us to speak for the dead, as hopefully someone will one day speak for us. This is all the more important when they die of violence, names and families unknown. We are called upon to bring them home.
There are organizations that do this. In addition to the ones mentioned in the above article, there’s the Doe Network , volunteers from memory vigil programs, groups like History Flight dedicated to bringing WWII airmen home. There are men and women all over the world who give precious hours and days, weeks, months, and years of their lives to bringing our lost and forgotten dead home, to restoring to them their names, their stories, and their families. I would like to encourage all of my readers to look to what you can do in your communities to support such work. Start a fundraiser, donate your time, encourage others to research. Whatever we can do for the dead benefits our own humanity.