Exhumation of Titanic victims' bodies this week


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Teri Lynn Milch

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Apr 7, 2001
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All,

I just thought of another question to post here:

Should we be pointing the blame on the coroner's office here? What good REASON do they have to contact a family and exhume a grave, eh?

Seems to me they were the instigator of this whole thing.

Teri
 

Paul Rogers

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Nov 30, 2000
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Hi Christine,

Why is it just that terribly bad when we have another opinion about this thing? None of our statements was ever meant to slander anybody, neither the government, technical peoples involved nor the families. This may be a delicate theme, no doubt about that. And we just have different opinions here but that shouldn't necessarily mean we have to fight about who's right or who's wrong. Especially since there IS no right or wrong, right? It's just a matter of personal opinion.

I absolutely agree. Mind you, I think everyone has vocalised their opinion on this matter with great courtesy. All in all, I'd disagree that we have been "fighting about who's right or who's wrong." It's been a civilised debate; nothing more. I certainly respect everyone's point of view, whether or not I agree with them.
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Hi Teri,

Should we be pointing the blame on the coroner's office here? What good REASON do they have to contact a family and exhume a grave, eh?

I thought it was the families that had contacted the Coroner's Office, not the other way around! Have I got the wrong end of the stick?

Hi Rollie,

I note that you still haven't answered my question about Great Uncle Albert!
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So, why do we agree with exhumation or even salvage of the wreck?! More than ever the commotion and commercial exploitation of Titanic are a slam in the faces of survivors.

Whoah there, big fellah!
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Making the connection between exhumation of graves and salvage/commercial exploitation of the wreck is a pretty big leap. These are two separate issues and using the emotive subject of salvage to back up your argument regarding exhumation is a tad unfair.

Regarding your second point, I have no idea what the four survivors think of this matter, so saying that it's a "slam in their faces" is a bit of an assumption on your part. They might even be in favour of the attempted identification.

We know how difficult it is for family members to identify their beloved ones. We’ve all had difficult situations in our families. Situations which became more and more painful as they were closer to yourself. However we are talking about the remains (bones in this case and not complete bodies) of people not personally known by the claiming families.

I don't see the difference. Firstly, as we don't know who's involved, we have no idea as to how closely related the "families" might be to the victims. In any event, who's going to draw the line? Are you saying that if the victims were known to the families, then exhumation would be okay; but as they weren't (assumption) then exhumation is disrespectful? If so, I don't follow your argument.

It is far more respectful to let the victims rest in piece than dig them up. What is the difference?

Some might say that it shows far more respect to attempt to identify a lost family member and, if possible, bring their remains to join the rest of the family's dead.

You know he was a Titanic victim. That’s more than enough to respect his grave and to respect all the hundreds of other unidentified victims.

There are only another 40 unidentified victims left, (as opposed to hundreds), but I think that's a moot point.

Please understand that this whole statement is no personal attack on any of you, but just our own opinion.

Rollie and Christine - I certainly didn't take your statements as a personal attack; I doubt if anyone did!
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Anyway, I like you too much to get upset! Please take this post in the same vein.

Regards,
Paul.
 

Teri Lynn Milch

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Hi Paul,

Haven't seen you in awhile lately.

Yes, see the posting By Geoff Whitfield on Sunday, May 20, 2001 - 04:38 pm:

"Teri Lynn, The families had not simply chosen which remains to exhume at random. The effects recovered with the unidentified (and even those identified)bodies were far more detailed than the ones shown on this site. It was done from the Coronor's reports through a process of elimination using these effects and then the families of those who they thought they might be able to identify were contacted. So it wasn't really a case of taking a stab in the dark - but that, of course, doesn't necessarily make it right."

Hope Geoff means what he says there.

Teri
 

Diane Ostrow

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There is never any harm in "agreeing to disagree". Diversity of opinion is what makes life what it is. How terribly boring it would be if we all had to agree on everything! Bravo Christine for pointing this out! Disagreement leads to thoughtfulness, but not always a shift in thinking. Like Teri, I enjoy the diversity of opinion here. Often times what someone else has said is something I hadn't thought of, often times it just cements in my mind what I believe. A person can never be "wrong" with how they feel, they just feel how they feel. Just waxing a bit philosophical tonight, please forgive.
 

Teri Lynn Milch

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Diane,

Never apologize for waxing, I do it all the time.
That's what Phil's Board is here for, waxing your thoughts....

Teri
 
R

Rolf Vonk

Guest
Hi there!

Paul, I told you to leave Great Uncle Albert alone!
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This sounds slimy, but you’re really great! I love the way you always keep the excitement in discussions! It’s good that you don’t turn around the main points, but just discuss about it. I don’t like it when we loose the path, so I like to come straight to the point immediately. Diane, Teri, Christine and you above stated that nobody is right and nobody is wrong with this kind of discussions. Well, I do partly agree, but this doesn’t mean that we may not try to convince each other about certain thoughts. That’s what discussions are about, isn’t it?! With this in mind I do believe that this board is not only a place to put thoughts on, but also to discuss and therefore I would say go on with this thread or not. We know each other and the respect doesn’t change with such decisions.

Paul, you said I was making a connection between exhumation and salvage/commercial exploitation. I saw you putted a nice sentence from my debate!
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Well, actually you are taking the sentence out of the context. I was not just stating that there’s a link between exhumation and salvage/commercial exploitation, but I was saying that exhumation of Titanic graves is an emotional subject just as everything connected to Titanic. Titanic is a graveyard too and I see salvage as the disturbing of graves too. I’m sorry if I didn’t make that clear enough in the post.

----Regarding your second point, I have no idea what the four survivors think of this matter, so saying that it's a "slam in their faces" is a bit of an assumption on your part. They might even be in favour of the attempted identification. ----

When I talk about “slam in the faces of survivors” I’m not just referring to the exhumation of bodies, but the time after time that new commotion around the whole disaster comes above again. I can imagine that it is quit emotional for them to be reminded at the disaster. However I understand it is not up to me to tell what they think or not as I, indeed, don’t know.

----I don't see the difference. Firstly, as we don't know who's involved, we have no idea as to how closely related the "families" might be to the victims. In any event, who's going to draw the line? Are you saying that if the victims were known to the families, then exhumation would be okay; but as they weren't (assumption) then exhumation is disrespectful? If so, I don't follow your argument.----

Hmmm, I actually do agree with you about that. I indeed don’t know how related the families.

----Some might say that it shows far more respect to attempt to identify a lost family member and, if possible, bring their remains to join the rest of the family's dead. ----

Why just don’t show your respect for the disaster and let the victims rest in their graves on a (almost international) memory-place where they have been for more than 80 years allready. It’s like digging up the American and British soldiers from the war-gravesides here in the Netherlands after 50 years, cause their families want them to join the family’s dead. These boys died with their fellows and got the honour and respect to be buried together as a never-ending remembrance to their duties and fate. Titanic victims died together with their ‘fellow-victims’ too and I think they deserve the same respect and honour.

----There are only another 40 unidentified victims left, (as opposed to hundreds), but I think that's a moot point. ----

I would consider all the unidentified people buried on sea as unidentified.

Paul (and other too!) feel free, as always J, to attack my statement.

Many regards,
Rolf.
 
C

Christine Geyer

Guest
*She put her white cloth down for a moment, asked the sixth officer for understanding, and based herself protecting in front of Rollie*

Discuss but not attack ! None of you ! Be british! ... eh.. dutch !? ... Whatever....

*looking dramatically in all directions and returning to the buttons*

Christine
 
Dec 2, 2000
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Hi Teri, in regards Geoff's post, you can bet your last penny he means what he says. I've never known the gent to put something like that out for all to see unless he had solid information to back it up.

Objectively speaking, exhumations are a very sensitive matter. With family sensibilities and concerns involved, I don't see how it could be done without their involvement. As I said befor, such things need extremely strong justification, and mere curiosity is not going to be enough to satisfy whatever judge or other official has jurisdiction.

Do I like this situation? Well, no, not really. I would hope the dead would be allowed to rest in peace. Lord knows the paid dearly for it. But in this case, I have to conceed that it's just not my place to judge.

Cordially,
Michael H. Standart
 

Paul Rogers

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Hi Teri,

Thanks for clarifying that point for me. I must admit, originally I hadn't taken that meaning from Geoff's post - but it does indeed read as you say.

I am however now confused. (It's never difficult to confuse Paul, I hear you all say!) I was under the assumption that the whole exhumation thing was instigated by the families; but it now seems that the Coroner's Court was involved at the outset. So, I echo your question: How did all this get started, and why? Can anybody out there enlighten me please?

Hi there Rolf!

I am blushing after reading your comments! Thanks for your kind words.

Paul, you said I was making a connection between exhumation and salvage/commercial exploitation. I saw you putted a nice sentence from my debate! Well, actually you are taking the sentence out of the context.

Mmm, after re-reading your post I can certainly see your point; and I apologise for taking your statement out of context. However I would argue that simply putting the two terms of "exhumation" and "salvage" in the same sentence is going to raise an emotional response that may not be equally apposite to both cases.

Why just don’t show your respect for the disaster and let the victims rest in their graves on a (almost international) memory-place where they have been for more than 80 years allready. It’s like digging up the American and British soldiers from the war-gravesides here in the Netherlands after 50 years, cause their families want them to join the family’s dead. These boys died with their fellows and got the honour and respect to be buried together as a never-ending remembrance to their duties and fate. Titanic victims died together with their ‘fellow-victims’ too and I think they deserve the same respect and honour.

Are you saying that families of war-dead should not be allowed to repatriate their relatives? That might cause a few comments!

Actually, I do agree with you on the subject of leaving the Titanic victims where they lie. However, in response to your comments, I'd make two points:

(1) As far as I am aware, the exhumation of the Titanic victims was designed to identify the victims, rather than to repatriate the remains.

(2)The issue here is one of choice. I am proposing that the relatives of Titanic's dead should have the freedom to attempt identification of the victims. Just as importantly, the families should be free to exercise this choice without fear of denigration or disapproval. Whether or not we agree with their choice is another matter.

I guess I'm arguing the principles of equity and free will. As Michael Palin said to Eric Idle in Monty Python's Life of Brian: "We shall fight for your right to have babies Brother! Er, Sister, sorry!"

Regards,
Paul.
 
Nov 22, 2000
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I received today, a letter from The Department of Anthropology at the Lakehead University, Thunder Bay, Ontario concerning the recent attempts at partial exhumation. To protect the families identities I have left the relevant numbers blank:
Research To Focus On No -

"Both families of unidentified Titanic victims No - and No - have been notified by members of the rsearch team that material suitable for DNA analysis was unobtainable from either grave site. The investigation will focus on No. -"

It continues "In all aspects of the project, including partial exhumations, the research team is committed to respecting individual and family wishes of anonymity. The possible confirmation of the identification of these victims is very important to those involved to gain closure surrounding an aspect of their respective family histories which has eluded them for almost a century".

It then continues with a lengthy description of both Mitochondrial DNA and Nuclear DNA and then
"Once samples have been acquired, the remains will be reburied in the same location. The DNA analysis results should be completed within six months, the results to be communicated to the families involved. With the permission of the families, the DNA results will be presented at academic conferences, and then subsequently in the appropriate academic peer-reviewed journals.
Reporting of the results to the scientific community will be conducted in such a way as to preserve the anonymity of the families involved in this project"

It was a bit late arriving, we have a postal strike over here and the letter was delayed so I already knew the results of two of the cases and will let the Board know of any further happenings.

Geoff
 

Teri Lynn Milch

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Apr 7, 2001
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Hi Paul,

Before I answer your question I need to clarify with you whether we're talking about a Coroner's Court or a Coroner's office? Are they the same thing? I do not know. The word "Court" needs to be defined here.

But getting back to your posting, good question as to why the Coroner's Office had decided to contact the family involved. I can only speculate that maybe it is their job to get identification for the deceased if none is present. I have never worked at a Coroner's Office and so I do not have first-hand information on that aspect.

Teri
 

Teri Lynn Milch

Senior Member
Apr 7, 2001
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Michael,

It is good that Geoff means what he writes in his post, because I would have no way of confirming his statement.

Since the Titanic has affected so many people, it would seem inevitable that many people would also be affected by an exhumation of a person who was once aboard the great liner. So this thread being as long as it has been, has made everyone's thoughts and feelings admissible in regards to the subject matter. And as you have said, "such things need extremely strong justification, and mere curiosity is not going to be enough to satisfy whatever judge or other official has jurisdiction."

There are times when I become extremely sensitive and empathetic to some issues and this happens to be one of them. My sympathy and empathy though, lies with the other people, not myself. I understand you when you say this topic is sensitive, and I just wanted to indicate that. When you said, "Lord knows they paid dearly for it," boy that got me straight to the heart, oh geez....

Sincerely,

Teri
 

Teri Lynn Milch

Senior Member
Apr 7, 2001
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Geoff,

Thank you for the endearing letter, however difficult for me it was to decipher. You see,
I am computer-literate, but not medical-literate.
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Luckily I had my handy dandy dictionary close by.
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Here is my assessment of the letter you gifted us with and please correct/clarify any points I may have incorrectly assessed:

The first extraction of material was unsuitable for certain DNA analysis and resulted in no testing. Now they will test using Mitochondrial DNA and Nuclear DNA testing which will take up to 6 months.

Did I get it right? Did I pass the test?

Teri
 
Nov 22, 2000
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Teri - No, failed miserably I'm afraid. The fact that two sets of remains did not yield any potential DNA testing material would seem to imply that there is now just one case to be concentrated upon and that the other two have been written off. Samples having been taken from the only victim to yield DNA suitable material will however be tested and the results should be out in six months.

For those without a background of DNA analysis it can be briefly explained thus:

Mitochondrial DNA:

Everyone inherits mitochondria from their mother because mitochondria (the power plant of cells) are found outside the nucleus in the ovum. Compared to the nucleus, mitrochondria have only a modest complement of DNA. The order of the four letters in the DNA alphabet (G,A,T,C) in a certain
short region of mitochondrial DNA spell out a specific maternal lineage, or "family name". This pattern persists through many generations and can be used in a genealogical sense to identify family members via the family name written in the genetic sentences of mitochondrial DNA.
So, basically, mitochondrial DNA is only viable where there are existing maternal relatives. In two of these cases such relatives are available and were typed for their maternal family names for comparison with the maternal names of two of the unidentified victims. As we now know, preservation was inadequate in one of these cases.

Nuclear DNA:

Is inherited from both parents in equal amounts of 23 chromosomes. In the instance of the third unidentified remains no maternal relatives could be traced through the family, nor could the grave of the victim's "possible" mother be determined.
The family requested that a genetic comparison between the deceased father and poteential "son" be carried out. In this case, kinship can be analysed via means of chromasomal DNA markers - as used in forensic identification and for paternity teating to re-construct so-called "genetic fingerprints" and to evaluate the possibility of kinship. Paternal information can be expected from analysis of similar genetic markers located on the sex-determining Y chromosome. This chromosome is passed exclusively from father to son and should show identical genetic patternsfor both individuals - just as mitochondrial DNA is identical through the maternal line. Obviously, this comparison is dependent upon preservation of both supposed father and son. As in one of the above cases, there was insufficient DNA matrial for identification.

So, basically, that is how DNA works - or doesn't as the case would appear to be here!
There would be a possible six month wait before positive identification of the second victim using mitochondrial DNA. Watch this space......

Obviously an emotive subject, everyone is entitled to their own opinions which I, for one, respect. I am just wondering though if now that the ball has been set rolling.........
 

Diane Ostrow

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May 19, 2001
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Geoff~
It would appear that you are the DNA expert here!
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One thing that has not been asked is this.....what is the percentage of error from the DNA testing? In other words, in all forensic testing there is a margin for error, nothing is 100% in medicine. What is that margin here? What is an acceptable deviation? If the DNA is an 80% match is that "close enough"? Or is it a "1 in 1 million odds" that the the testee must be related? I guess I'm asking, at what point will the DNA testing be considered conclusive beyond any doubt?
Thanks for all the information,
Diane
 
Nov 22, 2000
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Diane,
Afraid I'm not an expert but I believe that there is something like a 5% error margin which seems fairly low to my way of thinking. I understand that the further back in time you go - the greater allowance is made for error but 1912 is considered "relatively modern".
 

Teri Lynn Milch

Senior Member
Apr 7, 2001
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Good Mornin Geoff,

Well it is morning over here my time anyway.

It seems I really did fail miserably here in my course of DNA testing. I think I'll drop out of that class and take up something else. Science of the cells was never my fortay.

Thanks for clarifying my posting. I had thought there was new information to be gleaned from your other posting, but none that I can see now. I did notice, however, that there was mention of closure for the family in this matter. Hope in six months they do get the closure they're seeking.

Sincerely,

Teri
 

Teri Lynn Milch

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Apr 7, 2001
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Geoff,

Yes let's hope that in six months this whole thing can be laid to rest, and without another grave ever being excavated again.

The whole story of DNA testing may be laid to rest, but I fear that people's feelings will never be "laid to rest."

Teri
 

Paul Rogers

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Teri,

Before I answer your question I need to clarify with you whether we're talking about a Coroner's Court or a Coroner's office? Are they the same thing? I do not know. The word "Court" needs to be defined here.

Sorry Teri - the above confusion was caused solely by my sloppy typing. I meant to type "Office" but put in "Court" by mistake.

Regards,
Paul.
 
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