DNA

A 150-Year-Old Mystery: Using DNA to ID Remains Found at Maine Construction Site

Researchers are working with nonprofit DNA Doe Project to try to identify remains found at a construction site that was once a cemetery

NBC Universal, Inc.

A search is on for the name of a 10-year-old girl who likely lived during the late 1800s.

A historian and researchers say they are close to successfully concluding the search after the girl’s remains were discovered at a convenience store construction site in 2017.

"I went to meet the foreman that was working on the site and I let him know there’s a pretty good chance they’re going to find a body or body parts," said Paul Auger, a historian and teacher at Sanford High School.

During a Wednesday interview with NECN & NBC10 Boston, Auger explained that the same spot had once been the site of a cemetery.

After the initial discovery of the remains, he involved students from the high school who did some of the work with the bones, in what became a very real-world learning exercise.

"There was glass around where the person’s head was...we realized it was a window," said Auger, outlining one of the more unusual discoveries the team made.

While this would be an odd practice today, Auger notes that in the Victorian era, windows in coffins were not unheard of.

This April, Auger enlisted the help of the nonprofit DNA Doe Project to try and use its techniques to solve the name mystery once and for all, including its ability to search through vast databases stemming from DNA data that was uploaded by people using at-home DNA test kits made by companies like Ancestry and 23 and Me.

"We generate a DNA profile of the person we are trying to identify," said Jennifer Randolph, the organization’s director of case management.

"We absolutely are confident that this is going to be a successful identification," she added, noting that the girl appears to be of Scottish ancestry.

For DNA Doe Project, Auger and his students, finally having that answer means a resolution to their hard work.

"Everyone has value, everyone deserves a name," said Auger.

Contact Us