The Naval Historical Center's (NHC) Hunley project staff and consultants positively identified Joseph Ridgaway, a Hunley crew member, through DNA testing.
I wrote previously about the project to raise the wreckage of the Confederate submarine H.L. Hunley, the first submersible to sink an enemy warship in battle. The wreckage was raised in August, 2000 from the floor of the Atlantic Ocean, off the South Carolina coast. The cigar-shaped vessel was raised intact by a barge off Sullivan's Island near Charleston after spending 136 years on the ocean floor.
Nine crewmen died when the 40-foot-long submarine sailed into history on the night of Feb. 17, 1864. It slipped through a Union blockade off Charleston harbor during the Civil War and rammed its 90-pound black powder charge into the USS Housatonic. The Housatonic sank in under five minutes, but the Hunley -- fashioned from a boiler and propelled by a nine-member crew turning a hand crank -- never returned from the mission.
See my previous article describing the salvage operation at http://www.eogn.com/archives/news0033.htm and the article describing the search for Hunley descendants and relatives at http://www.eogn.com/archives/news0130.htm.
The Naval Historical Center's Hunley staff has been actively working to identify the remains of the eight Confederate sailors. "Before the DNA match, our only tools in identifying the Hunley crew for their burial was the archaeological, forensic, and genealogical data," explained Warren Lasch, chairman of Friends of the Hunley.
In 2001, once the crew's remains were excavated from the submarine, Hunley scientists sent samples of each crew member to the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command in Hawaii, where the samples were selected for DNA analysis. From there, the samples were sent to the Armed Forces DNA Identification Laboratory (AFDIL).
AFDIL extracted mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) from the samples and laser-scanned the DNA sequences. Since then, they have waited for the Hunley scientific team to locate DNA samples from potential descendants to cross reference in hopes of making a match.
"A mother passes mtDNA to her children, meaning mtDNA identification can only be done through direct maternal descendants," said Jackie Raskin-Burns, AFDIL Supervisory DNA Analyst who led the analytical work on the Hunley crew samples.
After extensive historical research, forensic genealogist Linda Abrams was able to locate a maternal descendant.
"When we received the sample, we performed mtDNA typing, and the sequence was consistent with one mtDNA sequence obtained from the remains of the Hunley crew," Raskin-Burns said.
The mtDNA sequence was consistent with the crew member who was second-in-command of Hunley and stationed at the seventh crank position: Joseph Ridgaway.
“It is a marvel of modern science that after 140 years we can give these eight crewmen of the Hunley a personal identification through facial reconstructions, genealogy and DNA analysis," said Dr. Robert Neyland, Underwater Archaeology Branch, NHC. "I am very proud that the Department of Defense, Department of the Navy, and AFDIL could make this happen through their sponsorship of the Hunley project and utilizing technologies developed for the military.”