Let’s say you have an accident—e.g. you get hit on the head. When you regain consciousness you have a headache, of course, but there’s more. You can’t remember your name—or where you live, or anything else about yourself. You still have your basic intelligence and knowledge, but the personal part has disappeared, as if somebody removed a folder from a file or deleted it from a database.
You expect to receive help regaining your identity from the government, and, indeed, there are lots of websites devoted to missing persons. But what if nobody is looking for you? You find out that government can be more hindrance than help.
You want to get a job? What’s your Social Security number? No number, no job. You want to drive? Where’s your driver’s license? You want to travel? Where are your passport and other I.D.? Worst of all, where’s your birth certificate? Without that, you are a non-person as far as government is concerned.
Benjaman Kyle knows all about this. He was found unconscious in 2004 behind a Burger King in Georgia. He didn’t remember his name or background, and still hasn’t regained his identity, despite the efforts of many people, including Colleen Fitzpatrick, a forensic genealogist. Colleen, a friend of mine, appears to be getting closer to the truth, and may yet come up with the answer.
She suggested I write a mystery about an amnesia victim. She writes nonfiction, but this would be fiction—not about Benjaman. Naturally, I immediately enlisted her as my expert. She even became a character in the book.
How does an amnesiac regain her identity? It definitely helps to be in the computer age. There are millions of websites devoted to missing persons. You can post information about yourself and look for information posted by your loved ones. But what, as I said above, if nobody is looking for you? That makes the job harder.
What are your skills? What jobs or training might you have had? What parts of the country and the world are you familiar with? Your accent, your mannerisms, your knowledge of anything and everything, are all clues to who you are. When your case has become well known (as Benjaman’s has) you can make appearances on television shows and have articles written about you.
Another thing you can do is take a DNA test. Fortunately, both Colleen and my wife, Bonny, are experts on DNA. They educated me about it, including mitochondrial DNA that women pass on to all their children. Since men don’t pass it on, it remains constant in the female line forever—or at least for thousands of years, with few mutations.
The Y chromosome is passed intact from father to son, and shows the male line. Then there’s the autosomal DNA that appears in the twenty-two non-sex chromosomes. If you have significant matches with another person, you are probably related, and statistical analysis can tell you how closely related you might be.
More and more people are getting DNA tests and posting their information on the Internet, looking for cousins. This makes it easier to search for relatives.
My advice is not to get amnesia. It’s not fun to be a non-person. Writing an amnesia mystery, however, is another matter. That was fun, made better by the support I had. My book is called Forget to Remember.