New York State Funeral Directors Association

Genealogy websites are a good way to find family you didn’t know about. Obituaries and searches of cemeteries are another way to find relatives.

But what about long-lost relatives who were cremated and whose ashes were never picked up by family members?

More often than not, these ashes were respectfully stored somewhere in a funeral home, waiting for someone to claim them.

And more often than not, they’re still sitting there.

The Missing in America Project and the Patriot Guard Riders of New York’s Veterans Recovery Program are organizations that make contact with funeral homes to learn if unclaimed ashes of veterans are there.

But what about the ashes of the rest of the people – those who weren’t veterans?

That’s the type of question Pennsylvania Funeral Director Michael P. Neal started asking before he created ForgottenAshes.com.

Launched in 2014, ForgottenAshes.com appears to be the only website out there making an effort to catalog the whereabouts of these remains.

It’s not only completely free to search - but it’s also free for funeral homes and other entities to register and list details of the ashes stored in their funeral homes and facilities.

It isn’t just for Pennsylvania.Looking through old family photos can prompt a search for relatives

Neal’s ForgottenAshes.com welcomes funeral homes and institutions from all over the country - and the world - to list the ashes they’ve got stored in their facilities.

“I’m a funeral home owner, an internet entrepreneur, and I’m just trying to solve a problem,” said Neal, a second-generation funeral director who purchased the William G. Neal Funeral Home in Washington, PA.

Neal has most recently been contacted about ashes from New Zealand, and there are currently ashes listed on the site from Indiana, Florida, Michigan, Australia, Oregon, Washington, New York and Pennsylvania.

When I spoke with a representative of the Patriot Guard Riders of NY, he estimated there were thousands of urns of veterans’ ashes left unclaimed by families.

Counting non-veterans, Neal estimates the number of ashes left unclaimed is in the millions.

Why are there so many unclaimed ashes?

Neal’s ForgottenAshes.com explains:

“Often times, family members who have the legal right to claim these cremated remains, are unaware that they have never been picked up, and assume them to have long been buried, entombed, or scattered in a special place. In other cases, the relative could have been estranged or simply living in another state and no notice of death was ever given. Consider also those who fell ill in a distant location or had been institutionalized or incarcerated.”

The issue of unclaimed ashes isn’t one solely faced by funeral homes.

There are state institutions throughout the country, like former mental institutions, that have ashes that aren’t claimed, too, he said.

Funeral directors don’t advertise unclaimed ashes - Neal believes some fear that could somehow get them into trouble.

“Too many funeral directors fear the liability of having them,” Neal said.

Instead of keeping them quietly on a shelf, Neal said he’d rather embrace the problem.

“Let’s fix it,” he said.

Neal recalls a neighboring funeral home being purchased by people who found 300 unclaimed urns in the basement.

They couldn’t get in touch with the people he bought the funeral home from to learn anything.

“Things like that happen all the time,” Neal said.

Neal said he believes funeral homes could do more to educate families that cremation isn’t actually a “final” disposition.

Families should be picking up the ashes following funeral services.

He’s spoken with representatives from the Missing in America Project, people who visit funeral homes looking for ashes of veterans.

They were “dismayed” to have to leave so many ashes in these places, he said.

Neal set up the website so that name searches by name elsewhere are likely to lead there - helping families and those who are seeking family members find them.

Interestingly enough - Neal’s funeral home is situated not far from the LeMoyne Crematory, the first crematory in the United States, built by Dr. Francis LeMoyne in 1876.

ForgottenAshes.com is open to crematories, old state institutions, funeral homes and any other entity that’s storing cremated remains.

Accounts - and listing of inventory - are free of charge. Funeral homes and other entities with ashes can put as much or as little information on there as they wish.

And those who aren’t keen on making their locations public can list the remains in a way so that that families can contact them “blindly.”

Searching for a long-lost relative? Head over to ForgottenAshes.com and see if they’re there.


 

EdsPhotoEdward Munger Jr.
Communications & Social Media Specialist
NYS Funeral Directors Association