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Remains found in Chesterfield could be part of family burial plot

Billy Shields
VPM News
A road construction crew stumbled upon what appears to be a family graveyard in Chesterfield County during May while extending Nash Road. Archaeologists are now studying the site.

The county is currently trying to locate living descendants.

After a road crew discovered human remains in May, Chesterfield County officials began looking for descendants of those buried in what appears to be a family graveyard.

“We’ve heard from about a dozen people so far, and have heard from a couple of people who we do think are direct descendants,” said Lauren Gryctko, an archaeologist with Johnson, Mirmiran and Thompson — a company researching the site.

Amateur historians in the late 1980s became aware that a family burial site could be located in the area after seeing it mentioned in deeds that were reviewed during construction of the Gates Bluff subdivision.

Those deeds included a 752-acre plot of land that was likely a farm owned by the Graves family.

But no one knew where the graveyard was located, until a crew building an extension to Nash Road struck a brick tomb about a mile south of the Chesterfield County Courthouse earlier this year. The crew stopped work, and archaeologists using ground-penetrating radar discovered 17 additional graves. Most of those are made of wood; a few are shroud burials, Gryctko said.

The first tomb found contained an iron coffin that held the remains of Nancy C. “Ann” Graves, who died in 1858 at age 55. That coffin, likely custom-made by the Fisk Company, indicates affluence that could provide a clue about those buried at the site, Gryctko said.

“These are expensive burials,” she said. “The one thing we know about her life was that she had someone in her life who wanted to spend a lot of money burying her.”

Graves was married to Samuel Hancock; her parents were Mary and Benjamin Graves. She also had seven children: Madison, Mary Ann, Indiana Jane, Martha S., Samuel, Virginia and Benjamin Hancock, according to a county press release.

All remains found at the site will be stored at Morrissett Funeral and Cremation Service and other climate-controlled businesses in the area. The county's discussed possible reinterment; a decision would be made in concert with any identified descendants.

In the meantime, the Chesterfield County Department of Transportation is working with the Virginia Department of Historical Resources and the Chesterfield County Historical Society to identify and notify any living descendants.

The discovery hasn't "halted work" on the road project, according to the county. And by early August, Chesterfield will apply for a permit to relocate the graves. Until then, those who believe they are related to the Graves-Hancock family can contact officials via email or through the mail.

Archaeologists continue researching the site and have not ruled out the possibility that enslaved people are buried there.

“But we don’t think there are any more burials like Nancy’s,” said Bill Arel, a senior transportation engineer for Chesterfield.

Billy Shields is a multimedia journalist with VPM News Focal Point.
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