DNA Doe Project Identifies Remains Left Behind After Cemetery Move


DNA Doe Project identifies remains left behind after cemetery move
Remains unearthed in 2017 identified as Edith Patten

Sanford, Maine - A young woman who died in 1891 in Sanford, Maine has been identified as Edith Patten. Her coffin and remains had been left behind after the city relocated the rest of the graves from Woodlawn Cemetery in Sanford, Maine in 1931.

In 1900, authorities began moving graves to a newer municipal cemetery in order to accommodate the construction of the Emerson School. Over time, the original cemetery became overgrown and neglected. 

Woodlawn Cemetery had been in operation from about 1870 until 1903 when a new town cemetery was established. By 1931, the town of Sanford decided to relocate all of the remaining graves in order to install a playground for the adjacent elementary school. A newspaper article from 1931 reported that 72 bodies were relocated to Oakdale Cemetery, the municipal cemetery approximately a mile away. City records indicate that all 77 graves known to have existed in Woodlawn Cemetery had been moved.

But, they missed one. On May 4, 2017, workers digging a waterline during the construction of a gas station and convenience store discovered partial skeletal remains inside a collapsed casket. The remains included finger bones, a jawbone, teeth and ribs. Because the pelvis was missing, the gender could not be confirmed; however, the remains were believed to be those of a female child. It was later determined that Edith died at age 24. Along with the skeletal remains were portions of a Victorian era casket, including several nickel-plated handles and coffin keys. 

Local historian and teacher Paul Auger helped collect and preserve Edith’s remains, championing her case and eventually bringing it to the DNA Doe Project for help with an identification. A DNA profile developed previously by Parabon Nanolabs was optimized with bioinformatics, and investigative genetic genealogists were able to identify Edith Patten by building a family tree from her great-great niece and nephew.

“From the beginning, this case touched my heart,” said Jennifer Stone Randolph, Director of Case Management for the DNA Doe Project. “Paul’s passion for identifying this young woman, and the small city of Sanford’s willingness to fund the lab processes needed to work on the identification made it so compelling. It was an honor to identify Edith.” 

“Edith’s case is unusual among the cases that the DNA Doe Project typically works on. She had been lovingly buried after dying young,”  Randolph added. “The genealogy was relatively straightforward as Edith had a few genetic relatives in the database and we were able to locate a number of important historical records that were relevant.”

As Edith does not have close living relatives whose DNA could be compared directly as confirmation of the identification, authorities have decided to close the case and re-inter her with the name identified by the DNA Doe Project’s research.

The DNA Doe Project wishes to acknowledge the contributions of the groups and individuals who helped solve this case: Paul Auger, who championed and entrusted the case to the DNA Doe Project; Parabon Nanolabs for extracting DNA from bone and whole genome sequencing, Kevin Lord of Saber Investigations for bioinformatics; GEDmatch Pro for providing their database; and DDP’s dedicated teams of volunteer investigative genetic genealogists who work tirelessly to bring victims home.

About the DNA Doe Project
The DNA Doe Project, Inc. is an all-volunteer 501(c)(3) non-profit organization whose mission is to identify John and Jane Does and return them to their families. The genealogy research is pro bono, but the organization relies on donations to fund lab costs when agencies cannot afford them. To date DDP has made over 95 identifications. Discover more at https://dnadoeproject.org.