The Avondale Burial Place Project, led by the Georgia Department of Transportation (GDOT), uncovered an unmarked burial place in southern Bibb County, Georgia, identified the families buried and their living descendants, and relocated the burials to a place where future generations could visit and connect to this historic community.
The project began when GDOT, upon request from a longtime resident, conducted limited subsurface stripping and trenching along a proposed project corridor in order to confirm the presence or absence of a cemetery, even though the land showed no above-ground markers or other identifiable burial features. The initial archeological work identified eight potential burials. Through further work conducted by New South Associates (NSA), the project ultimately resulted in the identification and relocation of 101 human burials from this unmarked African-American cemetery. Lacking a formal name in any written documentation or historic maps, GDOT and NSA named the site, “Avondale Burial Place,” after the nearby Avondale Mill Road.
While law mandated limited action, GDOT and NSA went beyond legislated requirements to identify and respectfully relocate this burial community. The project is unique for its high level of public involvement and extensive analysis of the burials. Through a posting on a popular genealogy website, a potential descendent community, the Barton-Thomas family, was identified and later confirmed, and the burial community was reconnected to its place in Bibb County history. In addition to the successful disinterment and relocation of the burials themselves, GDOT and NSA produced a project website, a 30-minute documentary film about the burials, and a final historical and archeological report to promote public knowledge of the project.
The resulting disinterment and relocation of the cemetery brought to light an inherent conflict in the overall burial relocation process. Generally, disinterment and relocation is discouraged; however, in this case, it was only through these actions that the abandoned cemetery was rediscovered and a burial community reconnected to this part of Bibb County.