When an individual is cremated, typically the family collects the ashes and plans a meaningful memorial, perhaps returning the ashes to a decorative urn or planning a scattering service. However, for 1,400 individuals cremated in Los Angeles in 2011, such a memorial never marked their passing. According to the L.A. Times, these remains will be interred in a mass grave at Boyle Heights Cemetery by the end of the year if still unclaimed.

By October of this year, only 440 of the 1,868 remains had been claimed by family members, leaving over 1,400 remains to be buried by the county cemetery. In 2011, the L.A. Times digitized the handwritten register that had kept track of every single individual cremated by L.A. County, hoping it would help connect family members with their loved ones. However, since the digital database’s inception, not many have come forward in search of their lost family.

How could the ashes of such a large number of individuals go unclaimed? For some, it was a case of a family member having died out of state. A son of one of the individuals cremated by L.A. County in 2011, Aaron Wheelock, wasn’t able to come pick up his father’s ashes when he died in the middle of his last trip out West. The county would not ship the remains to Idaho, where Wheelock lives.

Wheelock’s case, however, is rare. Many family members either cannot be found or contacted, or simply do not wish to pick up the remains. L.A. Coroner’s Office Investigator Joyce Kato remarked: “We see [families who don’t pick up remains] more and more every year. They don’t even feel that they’re obligated to make arrangements for a long-lost sibling.” According to the Times, two-thirds of the individuals to be buried are men, and over half are white.

Boyle Heights Cemetery caretaker and crematory operator Albert Gaskin has been tagging and recording the names and details of individuals cremated at the cemetery since the 1970’s. Prior to 2011, it was Gaskin who recorded every name, birth date, and death date by hand in a giant, 1,000-page ledger. What type of service would he choose for himself? “I think I would want to be cremated [after I die]. I just don’t want to be laying around with people moaning and worrying,” he says.

That so many cremated remains have gone unclaimed may be a sad sign of the times, a modern American era that places less value on family connections. However, there is comfort in the fact that the dead, while neglected, have not been forgotten – and it’s all thanks to a man who has recorded histories that will live on for years to come.

If you, like Albert Gaskin, envision a simpler final service and less stressful memorial, cremation is the perfect choice. The staff at Smart Cremation answers your questions and helps you plan a California cremation. Call us today: (844) 550-7897. 

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