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There are thousands of unidentified remains. Meet the volunteer organization trying to identify them

The DNA Doe Project is a group of dozens of volunteers using DNA and family trees to identify the unidentifiable.

PHOENIX — There are an estimated 40,000 unidentified human remains in the United States.

That's 40,000 people who have no names and no closure for families missing their loved ones.

‘’They had a life, they had a story," said Carrien Binder, a genetic genealogist with the DNA Doe Project. “They deserve to have their name back.”

The project began in 2017. It's made up of 40 to 60 unpaid volunteers trying to figure out who these people are.

“Our goal is to identify Jane and John Doe's using genetic genealogy,” Binder said.

The idea is to get a DNA sample from the "Doe" and then compare it with publicly sourced DNA databases like GenBank. The project then looks for relatives and begins forming a family tree.

“We can use really distance matches like fifth cousins, third cousins, and fourth cousins to build up family trees and make an identification,” Binder said.


The project works in groups trying to puzzle together a tree. Sometimes identifications come together quickly. There is a DNA hit that is a close relative. Other times the puzzle can take years, looking for that missing branch to help identify a John or Jane Doe.

"This is my main hobby. I don’t watch a lot of Netflix. I don’t have a lot of time for other things. But it is really fulfilling and satisfying and it scratches that mystery-solving itch." Binder said.

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In the last few months, The DNA Doe Project identified two previously unidentified people: A woman found in downtown Phoenix in 2017 and a murder victim found on baseline road in 1983.

“A lot of people assume if someone is a John or Jane Doe, no one is looking for them. And I have found that is never true.“

In four years, the project has identified more than 70 John and Jane Doe's. Binder said at least a third of those identifications happened in the last year.

"They deserve to be recognized as a whole person, with a family with hobbies," Binder said, "I think we can give them a part of that when we restore their name"

If you want to help the program you can always donate.

Also if you do have DNA results from at-home DNA tests like 23andMe and ancestry type groups, you can share them with a publicly sourced site to give them more potential matches.

RELATED: Police won't rule out DNA to solve 1996 JonBenet killing

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