Researchers test DNA of century-old San Francisco girl

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Researchers now testing one woman's DNA to see if she's a living relative of the toddler from the 1800’s.

UC Davis Professor of Anthropology Jelmer Eerkens was intrigued about the discovery from the start. "It was a mummified individual which was unusual," said Eerkens. On May 9th construction crews found a young girl from the 19th century in a sealed cast iron casket underneath a San Francisco home. The family living in the Richmond District house named her "Miranda Eve."

The story captured the attention of many people including Professor Eerkens. For the last couple of months he says he's been analyzing strands of hair taken from the young girl in hopes of learning more about her life, and now Eerkens has the preliminary results. "One of the things we learned from her hair," said Eerkens from his laboratory on the U.C. Davis campus, "Is the last three months or so she was probably under some duress, that she was probably starving. Or her body was certainly wasting away which is consistent with some type of disease."

Eerkens says half of the children under the age of four died in San Francisco during the mid to late 1800's due to sanitary conditions. "In the 1800s in San Francisco whooping cough was very common. Lots and lots of kids died from that, tuberculosis also very common and that would lead to death.

Eerkens says his research team has also concluded that Miranda Eve was two and a half years old and based on her DNA she was of Northern European ancestry. And based on her unique sealed, metal cast iron casket with glass he says her family was most likely upper class.

Researchers say Miranda Eve was buried at the Odd Fellow cemetery between 1860-1880. The bodies from the cemetery were moved to Colma around 1920, but somehow Miranda Eve was left behind. One question Professor Eerkens is still hoping to answer is if the toddler has any living relatives. Eerkens says his research team determined a dozen girls about the same age as Miranda Eve were buried at Odd Fellow between 1860-1880.

"Using records we currently identified some living relatives and are getting DNA samples from them." Eerkens says one woman has already given permission to release her DNA for testing. "We'll get her DNA profile, match it to Miranda Eve and this will tell us definitively whether she is or not related to Miranda Eve."

Eerkens says he's communicated with the woman through email and says she's very excited about learning about her potential family. "This is a pretty distant relative maybe going up five generations and then back down her family tree so it’s quite removed."

In June, Miranda Eve was re-buried at Greenlawn Memorial Park in Colma with the help of the Garden of Innocence Charity. More than a hundred people attended the service. Professor Eerkens says he will continue to analyze her DNA looking to find what medicines she may have been given. This is a story he says he's become emotionally attached to. "I have kids too I can relate to parents of this girl."