Genetic Genealogy Used to Identify Lost Soldiers

An article in yesterday’s Mount Vernon News highlighted the use of genetic genealogy to identify POW’s from the Korean War who had died in North Korean detention facilities.

The Korean War Project, sponsored by the Department of Defense, uses genetic tests, especially mtDNA (because mtDNA is so hardy), to match remains to living family members. This type of identification has been used for years now.

One of the volunteers for the Project, Carol Kiley, has found 21 matches in the three months she’s been tracking down families. Ms. Kiley says that her background in genealogy helps her locate the families of missing soliders.

The article discusses the case of Pvt. Robert Wayne McNeil who served in F Company of the 7th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Infantry Division. He was captured as a POW on April 25, 1951, and died thereafter. Remains have been discovered that might be McNeil’s, and Ms. Kiley is attempting to locate a sister, niece, or female cousin for mtDNA testing.

Kiley said the work continues to be deeply fulfilling. The response from families of soldiers who had MIAs who have been recovered has been powerful.

“I found a brother the other day,” Kiley said. “He called me back three times yesterday to thank me. He said, ‘I’ve waited for this all my life.’ It has just been an incredible, incredible project.”

Blaine Bettinger

Intellectual property attorney, genealogist, and author of The Genetic Genealogist since 2007