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Expert: Difficult To Track Down Families Of Unclaimed Cremains

Cremated Remains, Cremains

Attendants stand behind a display of biodegradable urns at a cemetery in Tianjin, northern China, for a collective eco-burial on July 20, 2010. ( FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP/Getty Images)

Nancy Harty Nancy Harty
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CHICAGO (CBS) – The head of a local cremation group said he’s not surprised to hear the Kane County Coroner is looking for relatives to claim the cremated remains of nearly 50 people.

WBBM Newsradio’s Nancy Harty reports the Cremation Society of Illinois currently is holding about 100 sets of cremains. Operations manager Donald Fritz said some date back to the 1940s, when the group ran a funeral home on the West Side of Chicago.

“It’s become almost impossible … as families move and other people pass away, it’s very difficult to find surviving family members,” he said.

The society frequently gets called when someone finds cremains.

“Cremated remains that were found in a residence, maybe even sometimes been found in a dumpster; and then the local authorities contact us,” Fritz said.

Fritz encouraged everyone who wants cremation to have a long-term plan for the cremains.

“It’s nice to know that you’re going to keep them home on the mantle, but at some point that generation is going to pass on or move away, and then what happens to that person’s cremated remains?” he said. “We encourage everybody to try and have firm plans to get that urn to a cemetery, or make some permanent arrangements, because those cremated remains just don’t disappear. Something must be done with them.”

While plans for spreading ashes can be sentimental and touching, Fritz said you should make sure you have permission.

“You certainly can’t go out to Wrigley Field, and be in the first row of the bleachers, and pour your mother’s cremated remains over the fence,” he said.

The society has a sister company that cremates pets. Fritz said they have a lot fewer of those left unclaimed.