Amy Stanton’s ancestors are likely buried in the middle of the woods in South Gainesville, partially enclosed by a black iron fence, along with at least five other unmarked graves.
Soon, 185 townhomes will be built on the 22 acres of land, and the remains of her ancestors will be moved from the property they owned.
“It’s just a shame,” Stanton said. “It’s also a shame that they don’t really know who those people were.”
Irvin Strickland and Martha Patsy Crowe were the only identifiable ancestors, said Stanton, who is their great-great-great-great granddaughter. She said that information is based on property ownership records and research through places like Ancestry.com. The five other graves are a mystery.
Gainesville City Council unanimously approved the relocation of the graves Tuesday, April 19. Councilman George Wangemann, who lives near the cemetery site in the Mundy Mill subdivision, said he had not voted on this type of issue before in his 36 years on the council.
Tyler Smith, a Gainesville attorney representing Chafin Development, said the townhome community planned there would not be feasible without moving the cemetery, because it would be 20 feet higher than the desired grading.
“It is a unique situation where we’re faced with balancing, of course, developing property and honoring the culture of the area,” Smith said.
Wangemann said the move would make the cemetery easier to keep in good condition, and the lack of identification for the graves factored into his decision.
“I think it’d be more appropriate for housing in that area than a cemetery, which nobody knew about until recently,” he said.
The cemetery is not maintained now, Smith said, and relocating the graves would allow descendants to more easily visit their ancestors’ remains with an official ceremony and new plaques honoring them. Originally, Smith proposed moving the remains to Hillside Gardens Cemetery off of McEver Road, but Terrel Strickland, also a descendant of Irvin Strickland, wanted his great-great-great-grandfather’s remains to either stay put or move to Memorial Park.
Terrel had his family history professionally written years ago, he said, and learned about many of his ancestors who lived in Hall County and elsewhere, including Irvin.
“It made absolutely no difference what the people said,” Terrel said of the city council’s vote.
Irvin, born in 1781, immigrated from England and later fought in the war of 1812 and used part of his military pension to buy the land, Terrel said. Irvin bought the property from Godfrey Luther, who won the land in an 1832 Cherokee land lottery, meaning the land was originally Native American territory, according to genealogy information prepared by R.S. Webb and Associates.
Terrel’s father was born just two miles from the grave, and the Stricklands have lived in the Gainesville/Oakwood area for five generations. Irvin died around 1849, and his wife died about 20 years later. Terrel and Stanton said it’s likely they were buried there together, but it's unclear who the other graves are for.
Archeologists use several tools to find specific burial chambers and gravesites like these. They can use radar and probes into the ground to find exactly where and how many burial chambers are at a site such as Chafin Development’s.
Often old gravesites have specific vegetation, such as periwinkle or older trees, that can indicate people buried there even when there are no headstones, said Steve Webb, an archeologist hired by the developer. When remains are relocated, rocks and other markers are preserved.
For graves this old, the only remains left would likely be skulls or other dense bones, and the caskets or coffins were buried in would be long decomposed, but buttons and other clothing might still be preserved, Webb said. There is no timeline yet for when the graves will be moved, but Chafin Development will hold a ceremony for descendants and install markers.
“That’s really where the care comes in,” Webb said. “You want to do it respectfully and you want to do it carefully, because you’re really — you don’t get but one chance to do it properly.”
Stanton said she has other ancestors who were found in South Hall subdivisions, such as The Village at Deaton Creek, where their graves were preserved, and she was disappointed the same would not happen for the Stricklands.
“I don’t know if having headstones would have made it seem a little more prominent,” Stanton said.