In todayâ€™s Washington Post thereâ€™s a story about The Boy in the Iron Coffin. This coffin was accidentally discovered by a construction crew in
â€œThe boy was extremely well preserved and clad in white cotton clothing that included a pleated shirt and vest with cloth-covered buttons, flared trousers, darned socks and ankle-length underdrawers.â€
According to the article, the body â€œhad been buried in a cemetery that probably belonged to Columbian College, the precursor to
The museum researchers, led by Deborah Hull-Walski and Randal Scott, found evidence that the body might belong to William and built a 788-person family tree to track down relatives for DNA comparison. They were able to find a relative (the article said â€˜descendantâ€™, but I doubt a sickly 15-year-old had much luck in the 1850â€™s â€“ and, of course, they used mtDNA which he wouldnâ€™t have passed along anyway) in
“I think it’s awesome,” Dwyer said yesterday, adding that she believes she is White’s great-great-great-grandniece. “The whole technology of finding me and putting it all together. . . . It’s so cool.”
Interestingly, this was not the researcherâ€™s first attempt to find an mtDNA match. They had originally believed that the boy was Lemuel P. Bacon, the son of Columbiaâ€™s president Joel Bacon, who died at age 12 on May 27, 1852. Using traditional genealogical methods, they were able to identify a relative of Lemuel who agreed to provide mtDNA. The comparison, however, revealed that they were not a match. This happened again when they thought the boy might be a William Henry White.
At one point, it was thought that the boy in the coffin might be a William T. White who was mentioned in the will of a Levin White. Unfortunately, the boyâ€™s DNA did not match that of a descendant of Levin White. After further research, it was discovered that the Levin White that they had traced was from a different family. As it turns out, the boy in the iron coffin, William T. White, was an orphan, son of a William A. White. Using this new information, the researchers were able to track down Dwyer and find the match. The comparison was performed for free by Mitotyping Technologies of State College, Pennsylvania.
A caveat: this is HIGHLY suggestive that the boy in the iron coffin is William T. White. DNA tests are never evidence by themselves â€“ they are just a piece of the puzzle. However, with the traditional genealogical/historical evidence AND the DNA evidence, this is practically an open-and-shut case. I think itâ€™s great that the Smithsonian devoted so much effort into identifying this lonely body.
HT: The Genealogue