Reuniting families

My biggest fear was marrying someone in the military.

I couldn’t fathom the idea of being a military wife with all its different aspects. I didn’t like the idea of my fate and my husband’s fate being decided by the winds of politics and world commotion. I didn’t like the idea that, any day, they could need him and deploy his unit, and I would be stuck at home, alone, waiting for him to come back. One question haunted me as I was dating and falling in love with the soldier who would become my husband:

What if he left and never came back?

About the same time I was battling these fears I went into a job interview at the Center for Family History and Genealogy at Brigham Young University where I study. In this interview, I learned about a new exciting project that I could possibly help to start.

The gist? Find living family members of MIA and POW soldiers in an effort to comfort and give closure to these families by returning the remains of their missing soldier.

This is exactly what I needed. A reassurance that this country is serious about the promises they make to their servicemen. They are actively bringing these soldiers back and trying to heal broken hearts. One family at a time. No soldier left behind.

BYU’s part in this project?

My job was simple enough: students on the project receive a case for a soldier and use genealogical research to identify the soldier’s next of kin, as well as any possible yDNA and mtDNA donors. We then compile a report with this information and send it forward to the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA).

The DPAA’s part?

When the DPAA receives the information we send them, they contact family members and the responsible Defense Department component sends them a DNA kit. After testing the DNA of the family members and comparing it to the DNA results of unidentified remains, the hope is to reunite families with the remains of their soldier.

Starting this project was a turning point for me in my progression as a genealogist.

For the first time, I felt as though my talents were not just a glorified hobby, that they were a means of helping people heal and giving comfort to mourning families. That said, I have never before had a harder, more humbling, or more rewarding job in my life. This project has increased my pride in my own American heritage, as well as my pride in now being the adoring wife of a U.S. soldier.

For more information about this project or to register as the next of kin to a missing soldier in your family, see

About Savannah Larson

Savannah Woolsey Larson, a student at Brigham Young University who works at the Family History Library in Salt Lake City (with an emphasis in Nordic research), was an intern at NEHGS during the summer of 2018.

6 thoughts on “Reuniting families

  1. Do you have any tips for using genealogical records to identify and locate *living* persons? I have difficulties finding anyone born after, say, 1960. (I ask because I’m working on finding next of kin for a person–albeit not a soldier.)

    1. There’s a number of ways to go about this. It helps to go “backwards”, first. Ger the person you are helping’s info of their parents’, grandparents’ names, dates of birth/death & towns where born/lived/died. What you do is see if any brothers of these people that you can follow down from, before 1960 (only be cause brother keep their last names, much easier to trace than generations of women having women who ea. gen. change their surnames). Anyway say you discover your friend’s grandma had a brother, & he had a son, & then you are stuck, as nothing beyond the 1940 Census is published. Well now you have a few ways to get around this. On, you can put in the name of that last male found w/ date he was born, & place from, & then sometimes some state or county records pop=up just listing who he married &/or a name of their child. Then you can turn to a few more places—1) do a simple Google search for that child’s name, town, date range (say, 1960..1980) & see what pops-up. Or use their mom or dad’s name, town, date of death (or guess w/ again a range), followed by the word, obit. Many times an obituary will show-up that lists their child’s name, as survived by, followed w/ their current city location. You can then turn to many public records sites— (free–but not always the most up-to-date, but can provide a “clue”, say if they Were in IL, but now show-up in Dallas, TX). Also paid sites like,, but even w/out paying, results come-up that can be used at other Free sites—such as (also they have recerse phone lookup to see Who a # is registered to–as well as reverse address lookup to “verify” that the address you found at another site, really STILL “is” attached to the person or family you are seeking. Then to get in-touch, if not “listed” in phone book–or if you wish not to call, nor write a letter, you can check Facebook, twitter, etc., for current info & method of contact. Also remember to just “Google” their name, you’d be surprised what people post that shows-up, online, maybe allowing you to reach them via a hobby bulletin board! I hope some of this assists you! Good luck! : )

    2. There is a lot of variance to working with more recent records. Every case is different. I typically focus on obituaries for deceased persons in the family. There are several different sites that will give you access to more recent obituaries. Once you can identify family members who are living, there are also several website similar to White Pages that will pull contact information from public records. I’ve also had success finding and messaging people through Ancestry Public Member Trees or social media platforms like Facebook.

  2. What a worthy and important occupation. I too walked down the aisle not knowing if world events would end our marriage as it had just started. Anything this country can do to help our POW/MIA families is so important. God bless all those who do this work.

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