The long-term research of Dr. Anne Keenleyside, associate professor in Trent’s Anthropology department, together with teams from the University of Waterloo and Lakehead University, has led to the identification of the first member of the 1845 Franklin expedition through DNA and genealogical analyses.
“With DNA extracted from tooth and bone samples taken here at Trent and analyzed by my colleague, Dr. Stephen Fratpietro, in the Paleo-DNA Laboratory at Lakehead University, we were able to identify the remains of Warrant Officer John Gregory, engineer aboard HMS Erebus,” says Professor Keenleyside. “Our results matched a DNA sample obtained from one of his direct descendants and we now know that Gregory was one of three crew members who died at this particular site on King William Island.”
The group’s findings provide a new chapter to the story of the ill-fated Franklin expedition, and provide descendants with some closure on the fate of their ancestors. The exciting discovery, recently featured in the New York Times, was supported through a grant from the Symons Trust Fund for Canadian Studies, as well as the Government of Nunavut and the University of Waterloo.
Embarking on a research expedition
Prof. Keenleyside has been researching the Franklin expedition since 1993, analyzing skeletal remains of more than a dozen crew members recovered from King William Island to construct biological profiles that include information on age, sex, ancestry, stature, and features such as trauma and pathology.
In later years, Prof. Keenleyside was involved in the facial reconstruction by forensic artist Diana Trepkov of two of the crania found at the King William Island site, and started taking DNA samples for analysis.
“Once we had this database our next step was to seek out living descendants of the crew and ask them if they would be willing to submit buccal samples for DNA analysis to try and identify the remains found on King William Island,” Prof. Keenleyside explains. “We are truly grateful to the Gregory family for providing DNA samples in support of our research, and we encourage other descendants of the Franklin expedition crew to reach out to our team.”
The journey continues
The journey to identify the remainder of the Franklin expedition crew and to learn more about their experiences continues. In collaboration with scientists in Trent’s Water Quality Centre, Prof. Keenleyside and the team recently conducted isotopic analyses of some of the remains to examine the geographic place of origin of each of the individuals.
“Our goal is to narrow down the possible identities of these individuals by comparing the place of origin data derived from the isotope analyses with the birth place data found in historical records,” says Prof. Keenleyside.
About Trent University
One of Canada's top universities, Trent University was founded on the ideal of interactive learning that's personal, purposeful and transformative. Consistently recognized nationally for leadership in teaching, research and student satisfaction, Trent attracts excellent students from across the country and around the world. Here, undergraduate and graduate students connect and collaborate with faculty, staff and their peers through diverse communities that span residential colleges, classrooms, disciplines, hands-on research, co-curricular and community-based activities. Across all disciplines, Trent brings critical, integrative thinking to life every day. Today, Trent's unique approach to personal development through supportive, collaborative community engagement is in more demand than ever. Students lead the way by co-creating experiences rooted in dialogue, diverse perspectives and collaboration. In a learning environment that builds life-long passion for inclusion, leadership and social change, Trent's students, alumni, faculty and staff are engaged global citizens who are catalysts in developing sustainable solutions to complex issues. Trent's Peterborough campus boasts award-winning architecture in a breathtaking natural setting on the banks of the Otonabee River, just 90 minutes from downtown Toronto, while Trent University Durham Greater Toronto Area, delivers a distinct mix of programming in the east GTA.
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