Category – DNA Analysis and Identification

Records all DNA identities

We thank our partners in DNA analysis

At the Lang Da camp cemetery, TRC faces a new challenge. Six families have come forth to recover remains of their loved ones at the camp, but there are no grave markers. To complicate the matter, there are over twenty graves. How can the families know which remains belong to a particular family? The solution is DNA analysis: recover all the remains located at the site, and test for matching DNA. The families have already provided their own DNA samples for analysis.

Many professionals have helped TRC in its mission, and the DNA analysts have been among the most supportive. Some of the best in the nation have come forth to assist. TRC’s first door opened at Family Tree DNA, a Houston based service that uses state of the art DNA technology to discover the ancestry of its clients (See the for interesting information about DNA technology, including an interview with BBC.).

The company’s President and CEO, Bennett Greenspan, promptly replied to TRC’s request for assistance. Mr. Greenspan and TRC’s General Counsel, Wesley S. Coddou, spoke at length about the process of DNA analysis, and in particular, the importance of careful handling of the DNA samples taken from the remains. Mr. Greenspan alerted TRC to the problem of cross contamination of DNA. He warned that cross contamination can be caused by something as simple as a bead of sweat transferred to the bone. Mr. Greenspan makes himself available to TRC for additional advice, for which TRC is grateful.

Mr. Greenspan was also kind enough to introduce Mr. Coddou to Megan Smolenyak, an eminent genealogist, author, researcher and contributor to the PBS series Ancestors. She has been Chief Family Historian and spokesperson, the largest genealogical company in the world, creator of, a pioneering online channel of free videos and winner of four Telly Awards, and founder of, a volunteer group that assists coroners and medical examiners. Visit Ms. Smolenyak’s website at to read about her tireless work in the genealogical field. Ms. Smolenyak also quickly responded to TRC’s request for assistance, and gave Mr. Coddou insight as to the recovery and study of remains in the context of armed conflict and social unrest (she has provided forensic consulting services to the U.S. Army to locate thousands of family members of soldiers still unaccounted for from WWI, WWII, Korea and Southeast Asia). Ms. Smolenyak also makes time in her schedule to consult with TRC.

TRC now works with the University of North Texas Center for Human Identification, Forensic Division ( The Center is providing all DNA testing and analysis for the remains recovered at Lang Da. The Center is an extraordinary group of facilities dedicated to the identification of missing persons and the confirmation of identity of others (as in paternity cases). The Center’s laboratories support law enforcement agencies, but also humanitarian initiatives like TRC. Another important initiative supported by the Center is the mission to identify and recover children taken or sold against their will. It’s a challenge that crosses all borders in developed and underdeveloped countries alike. TRC hopes to assist the mission through its contacts in Vietnam. The cooperation between the Center and TRC to identify the remains at Lang Da and to expand the search for the children is a good example of how important initiatives can network their resources for the advancement of both.

TRC takes this opportunity again to thank Family Tree DNA, Megan Smolenyak and the North Texas University Center for Human Identification for their support and guidance.


July 14th, 2010 | Category: DNA Analysis and Identification

Updated: December 7, 2013 @ 2:50 am

How do we identify the remains?

Many of you have asked how TRC identifies the remains of those buried in the reeducation camps. The techniques TRC uses at the sites are identical to the techniques used by archeologists at ancient burial sites. TRC’s Archeological Consultant, Julie Martin, is expert in excavation of ancient cemeteries with twenty years experience. The task is not easy. The process begins before TRC enters the site of burial. As you can see in our website gallery, first TRC relies on maps, cemetery plots and in some cases lists of the dead.

At the site, TRC often finds grave markers cut by prisoners at the camps at the time the person died. Sometimes the gravestone actually includes information about the home of the deceased. Even broken head stones are helpful. In one case, we found a broken gravestone lying in the jungle overgrowth. Carved in it was the name of the person we sought! Our team then searched the cemetery plats and found the base that matched to broken stone.

When we find the grave, and exhume the remains, we look for personal items buried with the person. Once we found a man’s food bowl buried with him. In another grave we actually found a makeshift wallet.

Earlier this year, for the first time, the Vietnamese government gave TRC permission to excavate an entire cemetery site. (In the past TRC has recovered individual sets of remains when asked to do so by family members.) The cemetery at Lang Da is threatened by a plan to construct a road through the site. The Vietnamese government recognizes TRC’s concern for the remains, if not recovered in an orderly fashion. Lang Da is a difficult site, because there are no grave markers, but TRC has the cemetery plat. Julie, our Archeological Consultant, will be onsite to direct the excavation. First, she has to find the plat on the ground. To do so, the team has to scalp the site. After all these years, the original grave cuts can be seen after the site is scalped. Julie has used the same techniques at other sites over a thousand years old. Once the team locates the graves, then the digging begins.


July 14th, 2010 | Category: DNA Analysis and Identification

Updated: December 7, 2013 @ 2:47 am