Halifax, Canada, Nov. 6 (Reuters): It has taken 90 years, the latest in DNA technology and a television documentary to do it, but the “Unknown Child” from the doomed Titanic has finally been identified.
The crew of the Canadianrecovery ship Mackay-Bennett found the body of the young, fair-haired boy a few days after the steamer sank, with the loss of 1,517 lives.
But there was no identification and the crew decided to take the body to Halifax and pay for a proper funeral, burying the little coffin at the top of a hill in Fairview Lawn Cemetery, along with 120 other Titanic victims.
The headstone reads “Unknown Child” and over the years it has attracted the attention of cemetery visitors.
Now the experts have determined it was the body of Eino Viljami Panula, who was 13 months old when the Titanic sank on April 15, 1912. He was one of five brothers from Finland who died in the disaster, along with their mother.
“The unknown child is now a known child, identified and returned to his family,” said Ryan Parr of Canada’s Lakehead University, who co-ordinated the work of over 50 scientists, genealogists, and Titanic researchers.
The infant’s relatives, Magda Schleifer from Helsinki, and her daughter and son-in-law, Nina Schleifer and Jyrki Uutrla, and their one-and-a-half-year-old daughter, arrived in Halifax this week to pay their respects at the grave.
Magda Schleifer, who is 68 with a shy smile and gently beaming eyes, said she knew that her grandmother’s sister and her five sons had drowned when the Titanic sank.
But the family's loss became more real when blood tests confirmed the unknown child was Eino, she said. “It has been more and more a family story and now, it’s more like something really happened,” she said, speaking through her son-in-law.
Eino’s mother, Maria Emila Ojala, and her five sons were travelling to the US to join her husband, John Panula, who was working in Pennsylvania when the Titanic sank. The family in Finland never knew that any family bodies had been found from the sinking.
Then, early last month, producers of the TV series Secrets of the Dead contacted Magda Schleifer and asked if she would donate a small blood sample for DNA testing, to see if the unknown child was from her family.
It was the first time she had heard about an unknown child, and she said she wanted to help, if she could, especially as the lost child was around the age of her granddaughter.
Uutrla said the visit to the cemetery with the documentary film crew had been very emotional for the grandmother.
The family has decided that the boy’s remains will stay in Halifax. “The child has been taken care of here, the memory has been kept alive, so why do some changes'” said Magda.