BYU Family History Center Teams Up with U.S. Army to Find Missing Relatives

Contributed By Savannah Hopkinson, Church News contributor

  • 3 July 2018

Student Melanie Torres, left, professor Jill Crandell, and student Kimberly Brown have helped on the Brigham Young University project to return missing soldiers’ remains with their living relatives.  Photo by Madeline Mortensen, BYU Photo

Article Highlights

  • BYU offers the only family history degree in the nation.
  • The army reached out to BYU to help with the project.
  • They are returning remains of missing soldiers to their families.

More than 82,000 Americans are still missing from conflicts that date back to WWII, and Brigham Young University’s Center for Family History and Genealogy is answering the call for “genealogical reinforcements.”

According to BYU News, students at the center are working with the army and the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency to help return remains of missing soldiers to their families.

The army specifically reached out to BYU for help with this intensive project since the school has the only family history degree in the nation. The project also involves other partners that include historians and archaeology units.

“Normally in our family history work, we are going as far back through as many generations as we can,” Sydney Bjork, a student who has worked on the project, said. “But this sort of feels like reverse family history work. We start with a soldier and then look for the closest living relative they have.”

Of the 65 cases assigned to the students at the beginning of the project, 48 have been completed. Upon completion, students submit a report to the army that contains the results of their research, contact information of the soldier’s living relatives, and potential DNA donors.

Cases vary in difficulty, with some taking three hours and others taking up to three weeks. Throughout the process, the students have discovered some interesting stories, such as a 97-year-old widow of a WWII soldier who still wonders what happened to her husband, or a family of Italian immigrants that has two brothers listed as missing in action.

Some students, such as Melanie Torres, have felt a more personal connection to the project.

“My grandfather was in the military, my great-grandfather was in World War II, and my husband is in the Air Force,” Torres said. “It is something that just really connects to my heart.”

Read more about the project here.