No one knows exactly how many graves are in the Ansley Family Cemetery on Rock House Road.
The cemetery, which is part of the Rock House preservation project, is being studied to eventually place stones or markers on the graves of the founder Thomas Ansley and others from the pre and post-American Revolution era.
According to David Moore, a member of the Rock House Committee, it is a common thought that at least 75 graves are in the historic cemetery but the graves have sunken in and caved in and the locations are unknown.
In an effort to find the sites, the committee contacted local biologist Brenda VanSant to allow her cadaver dog to sniff out the cemetery. VanSant reached out to three friends, top cadaver dog handlers in the nation, to assist in the search project.
The women—Dental Veterinarian and Human Remains Detection Specialist Charra Sweeney-Reeves of Savannah; Human Remains Detection Dog Instructor Suzi Goodhope of Havanna, Florida; and Search and Rescue Expert and Dog Team Expert Lisa Higgins of Louisiana--have longtime history in helping law enforcement agencies and the National Park Service to seek, track and find the missing bodies on land and in the water. A dog belonging to Goodhope recently discovered body parts of a person from 670 AD in the middle of an oyster bed. Goodhope also works with churches to help them find lost cemeteries.
On Dec. 2, the women and five dogs, of a variety of breeds, walked back and forth, over and across the cemetery and into the woods around it in search of graves. When the dogs sniffed out an area where a grave maybe, they alerted by barking, sitting or laying down, and the grave was marked with a red flag. In January, an anthropologist will visit the cemetery, and using imaging and ground penetrating radar to determine interruptions in the soil, will confirm the gravesites and bodies. The anthropologist did historical research of Wrighstboro from 1984-2002.
“No one knows how many graves are there. We will be bringing the Rock House back and bringing the cemetery back,” Moore said.
“Hopefully, this will accomplish our objective of identifying the 200 plus-year old graves in a scientific manner so that we can say with an acceptable degree of certainty that this is it,” Moore said. “We will have an outline of everything the dogs find and what the anthropologists finds and we can compare and overlap. We can then say, this is the Ansley Cemetery.”
According to Goodhope, there are 483 compounds that make up human scent and the dogs’ job is to provide a suspected area of where human remains may be present. “They do this by actually smelling human remains,” she said.