Encyclopedia Titanica

The Final Identification of the Unknown Child

Identification of Body No. 4 in Fairview Lawn Cemetery, Halifax


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This project is now formally complete with the publication of the peer-reviewed scientific article below in the refereed journal ‘Forensic Science International: Genetics’:

Just, Rebecca S., Odile M. Loreille, J. Eldon Molto, D. Andrew Merriwether, Scott R. Woodward, Carney Matheson, Jennifer Creed, Stacey E. McGrath, Kimberley Sturk-Andreaggi, Michael D. Coble, Jodi A. Irwin, Alan Ruffman and Ryan L. Parr. 2011: Titanic's unknown child: The critical role of the mitochondrial DNA coding region in a re-identification effort. [Journal of] Forensic Science International: Genetics, April 5, 2010 published online; Short communication, Vol. 5, No. 3, June, pp. 231-235, plus Supplementary Material of 10 pp.; http://multimedia.jp.dk/archive/00280/Titanic_paper_280698a.pdf.

I am reporting on behalf of the two principal investigators; Dr. Ryan Parr who handled the mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) investigations, and myself who handled the location of direct maternal descendants of the six “candidate male children”. Mitochondrial DNA is only passed by the mother to each of her children; both male and female children. The mtDNA is not passed on by the father. If one wishes to do an identification using the male line, one must use what is called nuclear DNA. Paternity tests required of certain U.S. senators, of a California governor, or of a Prince in Monaco will use nuclear DNA. The maternal mtDNA is known to be quite stable, and passes without mutation over many generations.

There can be doubt as to who a child’s father is – even in the early 1900s – but there is seldom doubt who a child’s mother is; she cannot easily hide her incipient motherhood for the last five months of a pregnancy! In the case of Body No. 4, we had six “candidate male children”:

Table 1
Chronological list of the six candidate male children under the age of three years who were lost on the TITANIC
Name   Age on
Birth Location Birth Date April 15 1912
Gilbert Sigurd Emanuel Danbom
(Långebro, Horn, Östergötland, Sweden)
November 16, 1911 5 months
Alfred Edward Peacock
(Southampton, Hampshire, England)
September 8, 1911 7 months, 1 week
Eino Viljami Panula
(Ylihärmä, Finland)
March 10, 1911 1 year, 1 month
Sidney Leslie Goodwin
(Melksham, Wiltshire, England)
September 9, 1910 1 year, 7 months
Gösta Leonard Pålsson
(Bjuv, Skåne, Sweden)
January 3, 1910 2 years, 3.5 months
Eugene Francis Rice
(Spokane, Washington, U.S.A.)
October 13, 1909 2 years, 6 months
[Ruffman et al., 2002]

The partial exhumation occurred in mid-May 2001 on three graves in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada, approved by the Nova Scotia Medical Examiner. No biologic material could be found in the two graves of Bodies No. 240 (male) and No. 281 (female) that were in a lower part of Fairview Lawn Cemetery, where we believe the graves were subject to a near-constant circulation of groundwater which, over the 89 years, had dissolved all the biologic material save for some evidence of the wood from the coffin, and the stems of flowers. The coffin of Body No. 4 was much shallower and was above the main water table. The Body No. 4 grave yielded a small 6 cm piece of bone, probably from an ulna in the arm, and three primary or deciduous teeth.

Extraction of mtDNA from the bone was a challenge fraught with contamination concerns. Each direct maternal descendant was asked to donate a small sample of blood to give the modern descendant’s mtDNA signal. Gösta Leonard Pålsson was eliminated by early Spring of 2002, and during the early Summer of 2002 a team of University of Toronto dental experts came to realise that the enamel of one tooth had protected the underlying dentin. The dentin yielded well-preserved mtDNA later in the Summer. By Summer’s end mtDNA had eliminated the youngest two “candidate male children”; the modern maternal descendants of the Danbom and the Peacock children bore no match to the Unknown Child.

Lab and genealogical work was not done full-time. The project depended upon many volunteers, and we had to work around timetables and holiday time of a host of persons, including Ryan Parr who moved from Lakehead University to help start a private firm (Genesis Genomics, now Mitomics Inc.) and the author who closed his downtown office at the start of December 2005. In October 2002 we found a match with the Finnish child, 13-month-old Eino Viljami Panula, in what is called Hypervariable Area 1 (HV-1). All the time, the dental experts were telling us the teeth of the Unknown Child were the primary teeth of a very young child, with little incisal and occlusal wear; “the younger the better” said one. The Panula child fit, and in November 6, 2002 we announced that he was the Titanic Unknown Child.

However, the lab work on the 19-month-old Goodwin child had not been completed, and furthermore we had not yet found the maternal descendants of the 2.5-year-old, Catholic, Rice child; these were not found, in a Protestant family branch in Scotland, until April 2003. On February 14, 2003 Ryan Parr found that he also had a match in HV-1 with the Goodwin child. We had not realized that ongoing mtDNA research was indicating that a large percentage (»18%) of white Anglo Saxon males in northern Europe have a match in HV-1! At that point, we had only a 50% chance that our November 2002 announcement was correct, and we ceased any further comment except for privately informing the Panula descendants in Finland of the quandary.

Over the next three years the HV-2 comparisons were made, and only the Goodwin child matched the Unknown Child in HV-2. The Rice child was eliminated by both HV-1 and HV-2. We also drew in scientists at the Armed Forces DNA Identification Laboratory in Rockville, Maryland; they have a criterion that all identifications require two differences, and they found a polymorph that is seen only in the mtDNA of the Unknown Child and the Goodwin child – not in that of the Panula child – thus their verdict in the Just et al. (2011) paper agrees that the Unknown Child of the Titanic is Sidney Leslie Goodwin.

The majority of the work was completed in the first half of 2006, and Dr. Parr gave a luncheon talk to an FBI/DNA Workshop in Arlington, Virginia, in June of 2006. I did not give any talks until the joint meeting of Titanic societies in Halifax, Nova Scotia, in 2007:

Ruffman, Alan and Ryan Parr.

2007: Of DNA and Dental Discord [no abstract]. Joint International Titanic Societies 'Titanic 95th Anniversary Weekend', April 13-15, Marriott Halifax Harbourfront Hotel, Halifax, Nova Scotia, Saturday, April 14, 4:30-5:30 p.m.; repeated in a highly abbreviated form, Canadian Science Fair Titanic field trip, Thursday, May 17, 9:00-10:00 a.m., Bedford Institute of Oceanography, Dartmouth, Nova Scotia.

There was not much press in April 2007. Then in about July 2007 Alan Hustak of the Montreal Gazette newspaper made a bit of a splash by re-announcing that we’d got it wrong in November 2006 when we announced that we had a match with the Panula child.

Ryan Parr and I never did make any ‘formal’ announcement re the Goodwin identification; we were gun-shy, and we waited for the formal ‘publication’ of the refereed article in a ‘peer-reviewed’ journal. The Forensic Science International: Genetics article was thrashed out by the 13 authors by mid-2009, and submitted to the journal by about September 2009. It was accepted and was put online by the journal on April 5, 2010. It caused little press attention until a year later on April 25, 2011 when Ms. Wynne Parry, a senior writer with the LiveScience news service, did an article that seems to have generated another ripple of interest in the re-identification effort:

Parry, Wynne

2011: Titanic’s Unknown Child Given New, Final Identity. LiveScience, Washington, D.C., April 25, 3 pp.; accessed at http://www.livescience.com/13859-titanic-unknown-child-identification-sidney-goodwin.html.

Parry’s online article spawned a whole host of other articles in the press, including an article a month later in Dalhousie University’s online “Dal News” by Katie McDonald:

McDonald, Katie

2011: A 100-year-old cold case; Discovery hinged on DNA testing and a tiny pair of leather shoes. Dal News, Dalhousie University, Halifax, Nova Scotia, May 30, 3 pp.; accessed 13/07/2011 from http://www.dal.ca/news/2011/05/30/a_100_year_old_coldcase.html.

The peer-reviewed article was finally formally published in Forensic Science International: Genetics (FSI:G) in June of 2011.

The FSI:G article is very technical, and deals only with the very specialized additional reidentification process after the Goodwin child was found to match the Unknown Child in the mtDNA hypervariable area 2 (HV-2). Readers of this report may not wish to be burdened with the FSI:G article. The Katie McDonald piece may be of interest because it shows a colour photograph of the shoes of the Unknown Child. These showed up in the late Summer of 2002, and clearly were shoes of a child older than 13 months, however they were not authenticated at that point and were not officially accepted as a legitimate Goodwin artefact until the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic (MMA) in Halifax went through a careful and rather lengthy three-year vetting process. The shoes became part of the MMA’s Titanic display in June 2005, and the museum’s website has more details by Julie Jornitz with Dan Conlin’s curatorial insights.

The Unknown Child buried as Body No. 4 on May 4, 1912 in the Titanic plot of Fairview Lawn Cemetery by the men of the Mackay-Bennett is Sidney Leslie Goodwin. The gravestone of Body No. 4 in Halifax’s Fairview Lawn Cemetery will not be reinscribed, or touched in any way. Consideration is being given to adding a small footstone in consultation with the living descendants of the Goodwin families in Europe and America, and after approval from the Fairview Lawn Cemetery officials. This will be done prior to the 2012 commemoration of the loss of Titanic.

As Co-Principal Investigators, Alan Ruffman and Ryan Parr have not given out the names of any of the living relatives of the six candidate male children that we began with, and will not be doing so for ethical and privacy reasons. However, some such descendants have chosen to identify themselves, which is not something we have any aegis over. We are pleased that descendants of three of the original six candidate male children have felt comfortable enough with the decade-long identification process to self-identify.

We are pleased to see the palaeo DNA project “The TITANIC Ancient DNA Project” through to a conclusion, and we would ask readers of this report to consider the extensive “Acknowledgments” on pp. 234-235 of the Forensic Science International: Genetics article as a demonstration of the wide reach we had to gain assistance from persons in all fields of interest vis-à-vis the Titanic and our efforts to identify the Unknown Child. We thank them all, and do so as well on behalf of each of the six sets of family members with whom we have interacted since 2000-2001.

Additional Reference

Ruffman, Alan, Gunilla Nygård and Ryan Parr. 2002. Researchers hope to prove Finnish ancestry of Titanic casualty. The Finnish American Reporter, Hancock, Michigan, November, Vol. 16, No. 11, pp. 12 and 16; mounted on the website of the Paleo-DNA Laboratory, Department of Anthropology, Lakehead University, Thunder Bay, Ontario, Secrets of the dead: Titanic's ghosts. www.ancientdna.com, November, pp. 8-11; reprinted from the website, Voyage, Titanic International Society, Inc., Freehold, New Jersey, No. 41, Fall, pp. 24-27.

Readers who are interested in the teeth may wish to look at the January 2004 academic article below written before the confirmation of the Goodwin reidentification and before the shoes of the Unknown Child were entered into the collections of the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic. The article contains five coloured images of the teeth that are of a high quality, along with three electron micrographs:

Titley, Keith C., Bruce R. Pynn, Robert Chernecky, John T. Mayhall, Gajanan V. Kulkarni and Alan Ruffman. 2004. The Titanic Disaster: Dentistry's Role in the Identification of an 'Unknown Child'. Special Feature, Journal of the Canadian Dental Association, Vol. 70, No. 1, January, pp. 24-28; also published in French, Le naufrage du Titanic: le rôle de la dentisterie dans l'identification d'un "enfant inconnu". Rubrique Spéciale, Journal de l'Association dentaire canadienne, Vol. 70, No. 1, Janvier, pp. 24-28.; http://www.cda-adc.ca/JCDA/vol-70/issue-1/24.pdf; also in French by changing JCDA to JADC in above URL.

The author can be contacted at:

Alan Ruffman
Geomarine Associates
PO Box 41, Stn, M.
Nova Scotia
B3J 2L4


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