Anonymous no more: combining genetics with genealogy to identify the dead in unmarked graves

Anonymous no more: combining genetics with genealogy to identify the dead in unmarked graves

News from DCEXS-UPF

In Quebec, gravestones did not come into common use until the second half of the 19th century, so historical cemeteries contain many unmarked graves. Inspired by colleagues at UPF, a team of researchers in genetics, archaeology and demography from three Quebec universities conducted a study in which they combined genealogical information from BALSAC (a Quebec database that is the only one of its kind in the world) with genetic information from more than 960 modern Quebecers in order to access the genetic profile of Quebec’s historical population. The results suggest the capabilities that this method may offer in the near future.

The BALSAC database contains the genealogical relationships linking five million individuals, the vast majority of whom married in Quebec, over the past four centuries. The first author of this study, Tommy Harding, said that "is a fabulous database for researchers, because both the quantity and the quality of the data that it contains are truly exceptional. The parish records meticulously kept by Catholic priests have been very well preserved so that today, thanks to advances in technology, it is possible to use this data to identify the bones from unmarked graves."


T. Harding, E. Milot, C.  Moreau, J.-F. Lefebvre, J.-S. Bournival, H. Vézina, C. Laprise C. Lalueza-Fox, R. Anglada, B. Loewen, F. Casals, I. Ribot, and D. Labuda, “Historical human remains identification through maternal and paternal genetic signatures in a founder population with extensive genealogical record”, American Journal of Physical Anthropology, 16 February 2020. DOI: 10.1002/ajpa.24024.

More information:
DCEXS-UPF website