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Making History

Family reunion

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Until a few months ago, he was just "the boy in the iron coffin." After construction workers unearthed his remains in Washington, D.C. while digging a gas line in 2005, the task of identifying him fell to a team led by Doug Owsley, a forensic anthropologist at Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History. The development of the boy's teeth indicated he had died in his mid-teens. His clothing suggested the mid-1800s. A search of census records and obituaries led to a name—William Taylor White. An orphan from Accomack County, Virginia, he had moved to Washington to attend Columbian College (now George Washington University) and died at age 15 on January 24, 1852, likely from a heart condition. The researchers traced White's family tree and confirmed his identity by comparing his DNA with that of a living relative, Linda Dwyer of Lancaster, Pennsylvania. "I was flabbergasted," Dwyer says, adding that the researchers had also found "a whole bunch of cousins I didn't know I had."

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