Unidentified Remains Project gives people back their names, families

July 8, 2024

​​​​BCA scientist at work

It is devastating when a loved one is missing. Often, the pain of not knowing what happened can be among the worst parts. That's why our Bureau of Criminal Apprehension (BCA) laboratory continues to explore and advance the use of scientific methods to help solve missing and unidentified persons cases.

While not all missing people are deceased, a major part of the work to solve missing and unidentified persons cases is identifying the people whose remains have been found. Our lab uses forensic services such as odontology (the study of the structure and diseases of the teeth), fingerprint examination, forensic anthropology, DNA analysis and forensic investigative genetic genealogy.

We have partnered with the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System (NamUs), a centralized repository and resource center for missing, unidentified, and unclaimed person cases across the U.S. NamUs partners with law enforcement agencies to bring attention to unidentified remains cases and help facilitate forensic services to help identify the people whose remains have been found.

The partnership builds upon the BCA's Unidentified Remains Project, which launched in 2012. Through the project, the BCA collects DNA samples from Minnesota families whose loved ones are missing. In addition to testing family reference samples, we also work to develop DNA profiles from dozens of unidentified deceased individuals across Minnesota. 

DNA profiles from both unidentified remains and family reference samples are entered into the FBI's National Missing Person DNA Database, where they are continuously checked against other entries to look for signs of a match.

“Since the Unidentified Remains Project started, nearly a dozen formerly unidentified people have been given back their names and returned to their families," said Cathy Knutson, Deputy Superintendent of BCA Forensic Science Services.

The identification also helps law enforcement determine what happened to the missing person. Knowing who a person is often an extremely helpful lead in the investigation of their death.

If your family member is missing, we encourage you to contact your local law enforcement agency or the BCA to provide a DNA sample to be compared with DNA from unidentified remains in Minnesota and around the country.

Contact your local law enforcement agency or the BCA's Minnesota Missing & Unidentified Persons Clearinghouse by calling 651-793-1118.

Be sure to have the missing person's name and date of birth. The BCA will confirm whether a missing person report was entered into the FBI's National Crime Information Center, and then will guide you through the necessary steps, including:

  • Providing a DNA sample (cheek swab) and signing a consent form.
  • If available, providing dental records, photos and any items which may contain the missing person's DNA (for example a toothbrush or a razor).​