Friday, 29 June 2018

A project to help commemorate the missing soldiers of World War One
Part of the World War 1 commemorative poppy display "pouring" into the dry moat out of Legge's Mount
of the Tower of London (from

Monday, 25 June 2018


Welcome to Commemorating the Missing. This project was conceived as part of the general commemorative activities associated with the centenary of the Great War 1914-1918.  The focus of the project is commemorating the 338,000 Allied Soldiers who are still missing from World War I and whose bodies have never been found.

Commemoration takes the form of a genealogical memorial and a genetic memorial, and thus the project has two parts:
  1. The first part ("Pick a Soldier, Plant a Tree") aims to commemorate the missing soldiers by building a family tree for each and every one of them, and then "planting" it on the EveryOneRemembered website. This will serve as a genealogical memorial.
  2. The second part ("One in a Million") aims to help create a database of informative DNA donors to act as a genetic memorial (and potentially to aid identification of missing soldiers in the future).


There are over 338,000 soldiers who died on the Western Front in WWI who were never recovered. Their bodies still lie beneath the soil of northern France and Belgium. They were never formally buried. They do not have a grave or a headstone. Most of them will never be found. Therefore it is fitting that we remember these men in particular. And that is what "Commemorating the Missing" aims to do.

Each year 30 to 60 sets of remains are uncovered during routine farm work, road widening schemes, building works, etc. The chances of identifying these men are remote and the vast majority are buried without being identified. Their headstones read: "A soldier of the Great War, known unto God".

However, through a combination of artifactual evidence coupled with intensive genealogical work and the tracing of living relatives for DNA testing, identification of some soldiers has been possible. Fromelles was a relatively recent example of this and (by March 2018) 159 out of the 250 soldiers had been identified, largely as a result of DNA testing of “informative DNA donors”. 

Such identifications tend to make big headlines in the press and on TV, and as a result public expectation of identification is over-optimistic and many people think anything is possible with DNA. This creates problems for the JCCC[1] and LGC.[2] The JCCC co-ordinates all aspects of the retrieval of remains, their identification, and ultimately their burial. LGC performs the DNA testing on the remains and on possible living relatives. People have been known to send their DNA directly to LGC “in case you find my great uncle Charlie”. 

Therefore, whilst there is a strong public desire to commemorate these missing men and a need to facilitate the work required to achieve accurate identification, there is also a need to manage public expectations of what can and cannot be achieved. This project, Commemorating the Missing, aims to achieve all of these goals.


Goal 1. To commemorate the missing soldiers from WWI by building a family tree for each and every one of them

Goal 2. To identify informative DNA donors for each of the 338,000+ missing men

Goal 3. To facilitate DNA donation from informative DNA donors

Goal 4. To manage public expectations about what DNA testing can and cannot achieve

Goal 1 will be achieved by the first part of the project - Pick a Soldier, Plant a Tree
Goals 2-4 will be achieved by the second part - One in a Million.

You can find out more about each part of the project, and how to get started yourself, by clicking on the links in the menu to the right.

[1] JCCC, Joint Casualty and Compassionate Centre
[2] LGC, Laboratory of the Government Chemist