Shining moments: Naming the nameless

The search for a lost ancestor led Michael Taylor on a journey out of his comfortable chair at home, through the scanty records of pioneers buried in mass graves in the Provo Cemetery and finally into the halls of the Utah State Legislature.

It began as a simple family history project, but resulted in legislation that could aid others looking for the burial location of unidentified deceased ancestors.Brother Taylor knew little about his great-great-grandfather three years ago when he began research, only that Louis Zabriski suffered some form of dementia, and that he died a pauper in the late 1800s.

As he began tracking down the location of his ancestor's burial place, he learned that cemeteries don't keep records on people who aren't identified when they die.

Brother Taylor of the Orem 1st Ward, Orem Utah Stake, wondered about others whose ancestors were in unmarked graves, and began researching the Utah Code to learn if there were some means of making a record.

"I am only one person with a missing relative, but what if there were many sons and daughters of families in Utah buried in the same manner?" Brother Taylor wondered.

Troubled that the burial location of unidentified bodies went unrecorded, he presented ideas to a state senator. From those ideas a bill was written calling for the creation of a registry where information about the deceased - such as age, possible cause of death, fingerprints, photos - would be given a file number corresponding to the burial plot.

"Friends or relatives searching for loved ones, as well as law enforcement efforts, will be aided by this record keeping," Brother Taylor said. The bill passed both houses in the Utah Legislature in February and was signed by the governor on March 14.

While suffering from dementia, Brother Taylor's great-great-grandfather Zabriski returned to Nauvoo, Ill., at some point toward the end of his life to claim an inheritance he believed belonged to him.

When he returned to Utah, Brother Zabriski recognized few people, and few recognized him. He soon died and was buried a pauper, Brother Taylor said.

Subscribe for free and get daily or weekly updates straight to your inbox
The three things you need to know everyday
Highlights from the last week to keep you informed