A funeral director today gave families a chance to collect the ashes of their loved ones – before the remains of more than 150 bodies are scattered on their behalf.
Urns containing the remains of the many bodies have been stacking up over the years at William H Painter branches in Birmingham, West Midlands, as families fail to collect them after cremation.
The funeral directors, which have been operating for more than 100 years, even have some remains dating back to the 1950s – but now hope to reunite some of the deceased with their loved ones.
Funeral director Phil Painter said: ‘After a funeral, the ashes are kept at one of our branches until family members are ready to collect them.
However, we understand that there are many reasons why families may choose to keep the ashes in our care. For some, collecting them is too painful.
‘Others simply need more time to decide what to do with them. With so many uncollected after such a considerable amount of time, we decided to launch the appeal.
‘We hope it will encourage families to come forward and visit one of our branches if they have specific wishes for the unclaimed ashes or would like to talk to a member of our team about the options available.
‘We’re keen to stress that this isn’t about recently bereaved families or those who have asked us to keep ashes on their behalf for a specific reason, perhaps until they, too, die.
‘This is about ashes that have been left unclaimed for a considerable amount of time. We believe it’s only right that every individual is given the opportunity of a peaceful final resting place.
‘We believe it’s only right that every individual is given the opportunity of a peaceful final resting place’
Phil Painter, funeral director
‘So for those that have already been in our care for more than five years and remain unclaimed following this appeal, our team will hold a special service and scatter each set of ashes in a local garden of remembrance.’
The National Association of Funeral Directors has specific guidelines in place for unclaimed ashes, and recommends its members store them for a minimum of five years.
Mr Painter added: ‘Having done this and rigorously searched for family members, the team at William H Painter decided to take a different course of action by launching the appeal.’
Funeral directors must keep all cremated remains indefinitely, with many dating as far back as the 1930s.
Adrian Nelson, of Nelson Bros Funeral Services, said he would like to see a national register of unclaimed ashes so descendants could collect long-lost relatives.
He said ashes that were not claimed after a certain period should be given a dignified farewell, such as scattering in a memorial garden.
“These days we are very diligent about ensuring family members get the ashes of their loved ones, but in the past this wasn’t always the case,” Mr Nelson said.
“Most of the ashes we have in storage pre-date the 1970s, with some going back to the 1930s.
“Some have limited information on the labels, or they’re so faded we can’t read them at all.”
John Scott, president of the National Funeral Directors Association of Australia, said every funeral director in the country would be in the same position
“I have ashes here going back 30 or 40 years, which I have retained. No one is really sure of the legal ramification of disposing of cremated remains,” Mr Scott said.
He said families often did not collect cremated remains because they were unsure what to do with the ashes.
Mr Scott said funeral directors needed to establish industry-wide guidelines clearly informing people that unclaimed ashes would be scattered in a designated location.
“Above all, it has to be respectful. We have to be mindful of the feelings of family members, even after several generations.”
Southern Metropolitan Cemeteries Trust chief executive Russ Allison said there were different rules for crematoriums.
“After a certain period of time, we write to family members and ask if they would like us to scatter the ashes within our grounds,” he said.
“If we don’t get a response, the ashes are scattered within our grounds in a garden area.”
He estimated 15 per cent of cremated remains were scattered in unmarked garden areas at the cemetery, either because families requested it, or because the remains were uncollected and no further instructions were given.
WASHINGTON, Pa. (Feb. 18, 2014) – Every year, thousands of cremated remains go unclaimed for a variety of reasons at funeral homes, cremation providers and local and state agencies across the country.
Attempting to fix that issue, Michael Neal, a funeral director in Washington, Pa., has launched a revolutionary website to help with the painstaking task of identifying those unclaimed cremated remains and reuniting them with their loved ones.
To help with this effort, Mr. Neal is announcing his partnership with the Oregon State Hospital, a division of the Oregon Health Authority, to assist that state with finding the families of more than 3,500 individuals in their care who have been cremated, but never claimed.
“The task of trying to reconnect families with loved ones’ cremated remains in this way has never been done and it would be a shame not to harness the power of the Internet when addressing such an important problem,” Mr. Neal said.
To help with this delicate task, Mr. Neal launched www.ForgottenAshes.com that he hopes will connect families with their deceased relatives. Mr. Neal said the website currently has information for more than 1,000 people whose unclaimed cremated remains are awaiting reunification with their families.
The online database also goes beyond Oregon since anyone can log on to view the registry, and cremation providers may apply for online privileges to upload information related to their own unclaimed inventory at absolutely no cost.
“This has never been done before and is a completely unique service,” Mr. Neal said. “It’s a service with the single purpose of bringing long separated family members and their loved ones together again, thus enabling a final disposition to take place.”
Forgotten Ashes contains the names of the cremated as well as possible survivors, when available, and allows for the easy sharing of that information through social networks. Any funeral home can register to list their own inventory of forgotten ashes, which will be available at any time until they wish to remove them or until they have been claimed.
For more information, go to www.ForgottenAshes.com or email Michael Neal at UnclaimedAshes@gmail.com.