Franklin researchers hope to link DNA from sailors’ bones with descendants – North

Researchers who have completed the first genetic analysis on the bones from the crew of the doomed Franklin expedition in Canada’s Arctic say they’re hoping to meet living descendants to match them with the remains of their ancestors.

Anne Keenlyside, an anthropologist at Trent University and co-author of a study on the remains, performed DNA analysis of tooth and bone samples recovered from eight sites where sailors died after they deserted HMS Erebus and HMS Terror in April 1848.

Keenlyside said the analysis doesn’t shed much light on what befell the expedition, which became icebound while looking for the Northwest Passage. But researchers have put a call out to genealogists in Canada and the United Kingdom for anyone who can trace a family tree to the Franklin sailors.

Doug Stenton catalogues artifacts found on King William Island in the lab on the Canadian Coast Guard icebreaker Sir Wilfrid Laurier in 2013. (Brian Case)

Matching the DNA with the living would indicate who died where, the study says.

“If we can find those living descendants — if they’re directly descended from those crew members — and if they’re willing to submit a DNA sample in the form of a … cheek swab, then we can analyze their DNA, compare it to the DNA extracted from these skeletal remains and see if there is a match,” Keenlyside told The Canadian Press.

Doug Stenton, lead author of the study released online in the Journal of Archeological Science: Reports, said knowing who the men were would shed light on their rank. That information would add to a bank of knowledge that could one day unlock the mystery of the failed mission.

“I think it’s going to be a combination of things that ultimately lead to an understanding of what happened,” said
Stenton, who is with Nunavut’s Culture and Heritage Department.

“It’s important we take advantage of as many sources as we can.”

‘Why did so many men die so early on?’

The Franklin expedition left England…

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