The Commemorating the Missing Project

At the recent New Zealand Society of Genealogists’ conference one of the keynote speakers, Maurice Gleeson, launched a very exciting ‘Commemorating the Missing’ project. 526,816 of those who died in the First World War have no known grave. Remains are still being found and DNA is being used to attempt to identify them, so they can be named at burial. We are being encouraged to plant a virtual tree on behalf of those whose bodies have not, as yet, been recovered. This tree is a family tree, not a horticultural one. If remains are found, work will be done to establish which units were in the area, in order to narrow down the possibilities. The virtual trees of likely individuals will be used to try to find a living relative whose DNA can be compared with that of the body that has been recovered.

Victor Samuel Braund - one of the missing

Their website explains further, “Trees are often planted as part of commemoration activities. For this project, the aim is to grow the family tree of the missing soldier and plant it on a website where everyone can see it. In this way, the soldier's family tree becomes a memorial for him. This genealogical memorial will involve tracing and documenting the soldier’s family tree and then posting the tree (or leaving a link to it) on the Every One Remembered (EOR) website. The tree can then be easily accessed by anybody wishing to research the missing soldier, especially by those who may have found his remains and are trying to identify him.

There are several websites that document the soldiers who fought in World War One. For example, the Lives of the First World War (LFFW) website is managed by the Imperial War Museums in partnership with FindMyPast and aims to commemorate all 8 million people who served in World War One. The Every One Remembered (EOR) website is run by the Royal British Legion and aims to commemorate each of the 1.1 million men and 800 women who died in WWI. The current Commemorating the Missing (CTM) project is (in effect) a subset of the Every One Remembered project which is itself a subset of the Lives of the First World War project.”

This is a hugely worthwhile project and one where family historians can play a role that serves the greater good. You don’t just have to plant trees for your own relatives. As genealogists, we have the skills to research any of those on the list. We could choose to investigate those with a particular surname, or from a specific regiment. As the Commemorating the Missing team say, “The genetic memorial is simply another way of creating a memorial for each soldier. The primary aim of the "One in a Million" memorial is to memorialise the soldier; a secondary aim is to help identification of the soldier (should his remains ever be found), in the knowledge that the chances are "one in a million". So why do it if the chances of identification are miniscule?

  • Because even one identification will mean something to someone.
  • Because even one success is a great success.
  • Because many people are passionate about doing anything they can to help.
  • Because the act of helping is cathartic and fulfils a deep need to do something.
  • And because “at the going down of the sun and in the morning, we will remember them”.”


About Janet Few

Janet Few is an experienced family, social and community historian who writes and lectures regularly on these subjects throughout the English speaking world. She is well known for her appearances as her alter ego ‘Mistress Agnes’ who aids Janet’s work as an historical interpreter. Janet is the manager of Swords and Spindles, a company providing living history presentations for history groups and schools. For further information see

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