The 19th-century body of a girl found last year inside a small metal casket under a San Francisco home has been identified, researchers announced Tuesday.
The child was 2-year-old Edith Howard Cook, who died on Oct. 13, 1876, six weeks short of her third birthday, the nonprofit Garden of Innocence said.
The girl’s remains, found by construction workers under a home’s garage last May, were apparently left behind when about 30,000 people originally buried in San Francisco’s Odd Fellows Cemetery in the Richmond District were moved in the 1920s to Greenlawn Memorial Park in Colma.
The air-tight burial case contained the little girl’s body, which, according the Garden of Innocence Project, was so well preserved it appeared “she had been laid to rest just yesterday.”
Elissa Davey, a genealogist and founder of the Garden of Innocence Project, organized the girl’s reburial in Colma last year and began her quest to identify the remains.
According to their website, the Garden of Innocence “provides dignified burials for abandoned and unidentified children.”
After hundreds of hours trying to find Edith’s identity, researchers caught a break when they found a map of the old cemetery at a University of California, Berkeley library and matched it to a plot where her parents, Horatio Cook and Edith Scooffy, were once buried.
Once they had the family name, researchers looked for living descendants, one of whom volunteered his DNA for testing.
Marin County resident Peter Cook — Edith’s grandnephew — was a match for DNA taken from strands of her hair.
UC Davis Professor Jelmer Eerkens, who helped with the DNA testing, told San Francisco television station KTVU that Edith died of marasmus, which is severe undernourishment.
“It’s likely she was sick with some disease and at some point her immune system couldn’t combat the disease and probably went into coma and passed away,” he said.
The girl’s well-off family gave her an ornate burial. She was clothed in a white christening dress and ankle-high boots. Tiny purple flowers were woven into her hair and she held a purple Nightshade flower in her right hand. Roses, eucalyptus leaves and baby’s breath were placed inside the coffin, according to the Garden of Innocence report.
Edith’s father was a businessman, the report said. Her maternal grandfather was an original member of the Society of California Pioneers, which is an organization founded by California residents who arrived before 1850.