Family Reference Samples (FRS)
We can often identify individuals if we have a reference sample of a special type of DNA from surviving family members. This special DNA is called Mitochondrial DNA, or mtDNA, and it is inherited only from the mother. We use this type of DNA because it is long-lasting, abundant, and doesn’t change much from generation to generation.
How you can help
Anyone can help by selecting a casualty (perhaps from your home town, home state or a man that served in the same unit as you), and researching their family history to determine if there are living relatives who might be FRS donors.
Who can donate
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Every cell contains both nuclear and mitochondrial DNA. Nuclear DNA is found within the nucleus of the cell and is composed of two sources of DNA: the egg and the sperm. This type of DNA defines us as individuals and is most often used in forensic or paternity cases. The nuclear DNA of a forensic specimen from a crime scene is compared to a specimen from a suspect to see how similar they are. In terms of a paternity suit, the nuclear DNA of the child is compared to the nuclear DNA from the father to see if the father contributed to the child's DNA.
Mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) is contained in the mitochondria of the cell. The mitochondria are organelles located outside the nucleus in the cytoplasm of the cell. These organelles are responsible for energy transfer and are basically the "powerhouses" of the cells. The CIL uses this form of DNA because it preserves well in bones and many of the casualties that we are attempting to identify do not have blood samples on file (unlike the modern military). This form of DNA is in short strands and therefore does not mutate or change form very quickly - it is relatively stable and can be compared across several generations. Mitochondrial DNA is only passed along the maternal line - so if we want to compare a sample from a casualty individual we have to obtain a blood sample from the mother or any of the siblings who would share the same sequence of mtDNA as the mother. If nieces or nephews were to contribute DNA samples, only the child of a sister would contain the proper sequence since a brother's child would obtain his or her mtDNA from his mother who would not be a blood relative of the deceased in question.
The chart below can help you determine whether you are an eligible mtDNA donor.
The number of eligible donors of blood (MtDNA) continues to decline, making these samples very important to future identifications. All maternal relatives of WWII, the Korean War, Cold War, and Vietnam War KIA (BNR) casualties are encouraged to contact the appropriate service and arrange blood (MtDNA) donation.
Service Casualty Offices serve family members. Each Military Department maintains a service casualty office. The Department of State does the same for civilians. The officials in these offices serve as the primary liaisons for families concerning personnel recovery and accounting. Full-time civilians who have worked this issue for many years and are experienced and knowledgeable help answer family member questions. Military officials also assist and help explain the methods used to account for families' missing loved ones. Each office dedicates for family use the following addresses and telephone numbers:
Department of the Army
Headquarters U.S. Marine Corps
Navy Personnel Command
Department of the Air Force
Department of State
Which casualties are listed here and why?
Why is their no listing of all WWII casualties that lack FRS?
I am a relative of one of these missing – can I give a sample?
I am not a relative but I’d like to help. What can I do?
Casualties requiring Family Reference Samples by Conflict
The following lists offer a complete record of required Family Reference Samples for all conflicts.
Vietnam War Family Reference Sample Listing
Korean War Family Reference Sample Listing
World War II Family Reference Sample Listing
Cold War Family Reference Sample Listing