The Unknown Child on the Titanic

The Identification of Sidney Leslie Goodwin, Melkham England


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Shoes from the Child on the Titanic

On April 17, 1912, two days after the RMS Titanic sank in the North Atlantic, the salvage vessel Mackay Bennett discovered the body of a young boy. The sailors paid for a monument, and the boy was buried in Fairview Lawn Cemetery in Halifax, Nova Scotia. In 2008, after an initial false identification based on dental records, the boy was identified as Sidney Leslie Goodwin. Colleen Fitzpatrick was a member of the team that identified Sidney. She describes the experience:

“In my opinion, working with the Armed Forces DNA Identification Laboratory is the most compelling job that a genealogist can have. Our scientists and genealogists are dedicated to their research, willing to go the extra mile to get results. It is thrilling to me to be in on the development of cutting edge technology that has the potential to solve the highest profile genealogical mysteries in the world.

The case of the Unknown Child on the Titanic has found a niche in genealogical history. In 1912, the only clues for identifying the child were at best primitive observations (see the 1912 vintage information used to attempt an identification for the Unknown Child on the Titanic to the left). He was a male about two years old, wearing a grey coat with a brown serge frock and shoes. There was nothing out of the ordinary that might identify him as someone's relative or friend.

Almost a century later, however, our team used amazing new techniques that reached into the scraps of what was left of his body to read genetic information encoding his identity. We also had advanced knowledge about forensic dentistry at our disposal. With only three tiny teeth to work with that had survived the damp soil and acid rain of Nova Scotia for nearly a hundred years, we had all the tools we needed to restore the child's identity to him. Sidney Leslie Goodwin is again a person, who can now speak for the dozens of children who have never been able to tell us their own stories.

When the mitochondrial DNA match was made between the remains and the Goodwin family, we no longer needed to make a Y-DNA comparison. This was a good thing. Y-DNA degrades rapidly, and there is only one Y-chromosome per cell. So our chances of harvesting enough of the right kind of Y-DNA to make an identification were low. But if we were not able to find a match using mtDNA, our only hope was to resort to using Y-DNA even if we had only a slim chance of success. Fortunately, a Y-comparison was not necessary.

My Y-DNA research was important, however, because it reunited long lost Goodwin family members from Australia and New Zealand with their English and American cousins. Each of the Goodwins had a piece of their family story to share that created a more complete picture of the family tragedy. To thank me for my efforts on their behalf, the family invited me as an honorary Goodwin to the memorial they held in Halifax on August 6th for Sidney and his family.

“…And the rest is history.”

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