The cremated remains of four more people have found their way back to relatives after spending years on a dusty shelf with files and holiday decorations in the Kane County coroner's office. And now the office is employing an army of volunteer researchers to track down relatives for the rest of the unclaimed remains.
Coroner Rob Russell said Wednesday he will wait one more month for relatives to step forward before putting the remaining 41 people to rest. The office had 47 unclaimed people, many of them babies, when Russell went public with his desire to find next of kin when his own investigators couldn't turn up any more leads.
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Two cremains were almost immediately claimed in March.
The cremains of baby Shawna Lea Wolf were reunited with her father, Jerry, who bears a tattoo of his daughter's name on his leg. The Wolf family lost Shawna's cremains when the family fell on hard times and the contents of their public storage locker were auctioned off.
The cremains of Margaret Prosser took a longer route. International press coverage of Russell's quest fueled a family member living in Australia to claim the cremains.
Since then, the cremains of Kevin Klawes, Gloria Jackson, Dennis Wead and George Poznecki have all been claimed.
Russell is hoping a couple of new tools will both help track down relatives for the remaining cremains as well as keep future ashes from being without a final resting place.
A group called unclaimedpersons.org reached out to Russell after hearing of his difficulties in locating next of kin. The website connects coroners across the country with a network of more than 400 volunteer genealogists who then put their expertise to work. Once the network receives a case from a coroner, the case gets assigned to an administrator with the group, according to the website. The administrator then notifies researchers and oversees the effort. The researchers use their skills to find a list of next of kin and forwards it back to the coroner's office. The group claims to have solved more than 400 cases in the last five years. Russell said he plans on utilizing the group now and in the future.
"It's a great way to use volunteers, and it doesn't cost the taxpayers any money," he said.
The second new tool is a method Russell hopes to use to keep any cremains from being stored by his office. Russell said he will recommend families who can't afford the costs of cremation make contact with the LifeLegacy Foundation. The nonprofit organization will fund the cost of cremation if the next of kin authorizes a tissue or other anatomical donation for medical research and education.
For now, Russell said he already has plans for a nondenominational ceremony in June, when the rest of the cremains in his care will be interred in a mausoleum maintained by St. Charles Township.
"We hope that if people have any interest in claiming the remains of their family member they do it as soon as possible," Russell said. "Once they are put to rest in the mausoleum family can still come claim their relative's remains, but it will be a lot easier beforehand."