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It has always been our hope to obtain enough information about each deceased person recovered at Avondale Burial Place to allow “the bones to talk again”.  Without the historic name of the cemetery or a single grave marker as a starting point, Julie Coco at New South Associates has spent several months researching property, census, county directories, and death records, in order to collect the names of persons living in the vicinity from 1870 through 1930. 


During this process, we have learned a thing or two about vital records, so I thought I would pass it along.  The state vital records office maintains birth and death records filed from 1919 to the present.  Some counties may have older birth, death, or other records in their files.  Some of these older records have been digitized and stored on genealogy related websites, but some of them are handwritten on fading, crumbling paper and stored in the county offices.  


As you may have guessed, death records dating from 1919 forward would not necessarily include any of the deceased recovered at the Avondale Burial Place, so Julie contacted Bibb County to see if they maintained older records.  We had hoped to search for the surnames that Julie had identified during her research, and attempt to match those individuals with people recovered at Avondale with similar physical attributes.  Since the cemetery was unmarked and was not identified on any county map, we also hoped to discover the historic name for the Avondale Burial Place within these records. 


We found that Bibb County does maintain older records, but were discouraged to discover that the records were organized by the date of death—not particularly useful when one does not know the exact date of death and only has a surname.  The records also appeared to consistently capture mostly deaths that occurred in the City of Macon, and only rarely rural locations such as Rutland.  The other missing information was the burial place. In spite of these challenges, Julie and I were able to browse some of the records and record some names that could be a “match.”  


Although we did not get the information we wanted, these old records might be a good source for a researcher with the approximate death date of an individual.  Once identified, it might be possible to determine the last address, cause of death, marital status, and occupation of the deceased. 


By the way, the Georgia Division of Archives and History maintains a large public collection of historical records plus a library of genealogical histories.  


This is a status on the DNA testing. Samples of the remains of 25 individuals were sent to the University of Oklahoma in October. As you may recall, the skeletal preservation at Avondale Burial Place was better than we had originally expected, but there were concerns that it was less than optimal for DNA testing. New South, in consultation with the University of Oklahoma, elected to submit teeth for the testing. The teeth were selected because they are very dense and tend to preserve well. Now it seems that this was the perfect choice for DNA testing, considering the overall skeletal preservation of those recovered.

Once the teeth arrived, DNA was extracted by the laboratory and the time-consuming process began. Even with all of the care and planning, there was no guarantee that there was enough usable material present to do any sequencing and comparison. We have recently heard that the DNA extraction was successful.

Now that we know the extraction was successful, extractions from living descendants are being planned. At this time, we expect that at least 6 or 8 potential descendants will be tested. The University of Oklahoma is going to guide this process and will be sending New South guidelines aimed at yielding the best results. Once this is received, New South will identify and make contact with the individuals to be tested.

Because of the importance of this study, the University of Oklahoma is trying to obtain additional funding in order to do additional testing. We would like to include additional members of the Barton family, as well as other long-time Bibb County residents in the additional testing. If you know of anyone with ties to the area but known to be unrelated to the Barton family and would be interested in being tested, please let us know. The process of obtaining grants might be a slow one, but watch this blog for updates!

Always the choice of last resort, there are times when a cemetery has to be moved in order to preserve and protect the remains. How this is done is often established by state law.  In addition to the law and the guidelines they establish, a great deal of care is taken by mortuary archaeologists employed to remove the remains so that none of the opportunities to learn from the recovery is lost. These individuals are trained in the excavation and analysis of skeletal material and are able to recognize different coffin fragments, handles, clothing, and other remains that might be preserved and interpreted.   This is particularly important when the individual identities of the deceased are unknown.


In the case of the Avondale Burial Place, actual recovery was completed in July 2010.  Since that time, the remains of the 101 individuals recovered have been temporarily housed at New South Associates as a new burial site was sought.


Once a final count of individuals to be relocated was determined, a search for the new location for the remains began.  Several alternatives have been considered including nearby churches and public cemeteries.  Because the burials within Avondale Burial Place were arranged in what appeared to be family clusters, one goal is to reinter all remains together in one place and with the cluster arrangement intact.    Taking this arrangement and number of burials into account, it is estimated that less than 0.05 acre will be needed for reburial.


After recovery was completed and several churches were approached, an established church cemetery with sufficient space was located approximately 10 miles from Avondale Burial Place and negotiations began.  Details such as access, maintenance, and location within the already established site must be worked out and agreed upon.  At this time, GDOT is continuing to work with the church to negotiate a possible driveway to access the new burials, avoid disturbance to existing burials, establish maintenance capabilities, and determine the aesthetic of the markings for the relocated burials.


In school, we learned the subject of history by reciting a series of events—explorations, battles, economic shifts, and social upheaval.  But it is easy to lose the real meaning of history if the ordinary individual is not studied.  This project gives us an opportunity to investigate ordinary lives and conditions at a particular place and time….and then place these individual stories within the larger context of social issues, pressures, and problems of the day.

Since their removal, the remains of the 101 individuals recovered from the Avondale Burial Place have been temporarily housed at New South Associates as the new burial site is being prepared.  The remains have been weighed and measured, and the artifacts studied and catalogued.  In addition, some material was removed during recovery with the intention of conducting DNA analysis (see Matt’s post dated October 25, 2010).  

GDOT has been approached by a graduate student at Georgia State University with a request to conduct additional research on the remains.  The name of the process being suggested is multi-isotopic analysis.  In combination with what is already known about the region, location of the burial site, the artifacts, and the individuals recovered (approximate ages, sex, date of burial, ethnicity, etc.), multi-isotopic analysis could reveal variations within the group, such as the presence of non-local individuals as well as variations in diet.  The variations in diet could be related to differences between males & females, social status, or immigration. This information would be made available to future researchers and could provide the potential descendent community with more information regarding the origins and health of the individuals laid to rest at Avondale Burial Place. 

In order to conduct this analysis, a tooth sample would be needed from each individual studied, and these samples would be taken from teeth already broken (since there is no point in disturbing a whole tooth if there is no need). The researcher would also be making resin replicas of each tooth to preserve exact copies of the teeth as a form of record. These replicas could either be used for future study of wear patterns on the teeth related to diet or returned for re-interment with the rest of the remains. 

We plan to pursue this additional research in the hope that more is learned about the individuals and their place in American history, the history of segregation, and the history of the Great Migration.

Porcelain Doll

Doll Found at Cemetery

Few artifacts were more poignant than the doll found tucked in the arm of the child in Feature 34. Toys and dolls are relatively rare inclusions in graves and their presence in African-American mortuary contexts has only been occasionally observed.  They are   more commonly seen on the surface of graves, a tradition that is still carried on today.  Dolls have a long-standing history in African and African-American communities.

Porcelain dolls did not become popular until the 1840s. These toys featured a glazed ceramic surface (popularly referred to as ‘China dolls’), molded hair and hand painted facial features. Early porcelain dolls (those generally dating before the 1860s) were made with clays pressed into two-part molds; seamless slip cast molding was introduced in the late 1860s. Nineteenth century porcelain dolls typically sported a glazed surface, however in the 1860s and 1870s unglazed porcelain or bisque dolls with more intricately molded facial features and real hair were introduced. Glazed and press molded doll production, howveer continued until the early twentieth century Hairstyles tended to mimic what was fashionable at the time. Porcelain dolls were gradually replaced in the early twentieth century by composition, celluloid, rubber and other less breakable forms.

Ceramic doll parts were sold either as component sets, allowing the buyer to apply the body of their choice or they were attached to wooden, kid or cloth bodies.  Homemade bodies were frequently made from available materials that would have included cloth, wood and leather. Cork, hair, excelsior, cotton and sawdust were commonly used to stuff commercially made dolls.  Surviving handmade examples were also stuffed with rags or wool.

Ceramic doll making became a specialized industry in Germany and France. Doll making factories frequently specialized in making one particular component that would be assembled and marketed under a different brand name. It was common, therefore to find identical parts on dolls made by different companies. Changes in export tariffs meant that dolls made after 1891 were marked with their country of origin. Unfortunately, most mass produced porcelain dolls bear no maker’s marks.

No elements of the Feature 34 doll’s body survived indicating that they were probably made of a nondurable material.  Infield measurements indicted that the body was only about two inches long.  The total length of the doll (crown to heel) was slightly over four inches long.  A fully clothed five-inch long doll similar to this one was listed in a John F. Stratton catalog from the 1880s as selling for 25 cents.

Remaining parts of the doll consisted of five components, a head and shoulder bust, two arms and two legs. The head was heavy for its size and lacked a conduit through the neck; it probably was solid and not hollow. Very general facial features had been molded onto the head.  Specks of black paint were present in the hair and traces of red enamel defined the mouth. Eyebrows, eyes and other painted facial features were undoubtedly present originally, but have since been lost. The cheeks had been rouged by pink color that was applied underneath the glaze. The wavy, molded hair was parted down the center and braided or looped to form a ridge along the neckline. This hairstyle has been found on a variety of dolls made by German factories in the 1870s and 1880s.

Ceramic portions of the legs were only knee-high and were incised to allow drawstring attachment. Left and right sides appeared to be interchangeable. Molding of the right thumb indicted that the arms were side specific, although in the field, it was noted that the right arm had originally been mounted on the left side. The left hand had broken off prior to deposition and the margins of the break were slightly worn.  The toy was undoubtedly used and loved before inclusion in this grave.

All ceramic elements were composed of white, hard-paste kaolin clays similar to those used by German manufacturers in Thuringia and Northern Bavaria.  The interior of the shoulders was partially glazed a manufacturing technique common among German produced dolls. The arms ended in spatula-like hands and were indicative of a late nineteenth century manufacture. The lack of a marked country of origin may have indicated a pre-1891 manufacture. Prior to the 1880s, doll legs tended to be relatively thin and sported flat-heeled boots; subsequently, legs started exhibiting more bulbous calves and high-heeled boots. Unfortunately, the Feature 34 doll’s legs were thin, only slightly bulbous and clearly shod with high-heeled boots; these may reflect a transitional leg form. Unglazed portions of the shoulder’s interior exhibited a rough, uneven surface reflective of a press mold construction.  This generally supported a pre-1891 manufacturing date. Most likely the doll was made in the 1870s or 1880s.

There was little question that the doll in Feature 34 was a personal possession and probably a well-loved belonging of the decedent. Artifacts such as this, re-emphasize that mortuary sites are not filled with skeletons and artifacts, but were places where human beings with lives, loves and personalities were laid to rest. This was an artifact that continued to connect with the living and transmit important social information about the decedent despite the passage of time.

Promotional Token

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In general, tokens are objects designed to symbolize someone or something else. While tokens may come in a wide variety of shapes and forms, promotional tokens are designed to entice the holder to purchase or support an object, person, organization, or idea. They tend to be relatively small and made predominantly of metal or wood. Most promotional tokens appear similar to coins, but they possess no legal monetary value. They may be designed to be carried in the pocket or purse or worn on a string or ribbon. They were commonly distributed as a form of advertisement, often enabling the bearer to a special price, service, or benefit when presented at the appropriate establishment. When displayed, they frequently communicated that the wearer as part of an elite group. The use of promotional tokens can be traced back into antiquity.

Commonly referred to as a ‘Hard Times Tokens’, this type of political media symbolizes the economic depression blamed on Jacksonian and democratic policies that focused on US fiscal management plans based on hard currency. The Panic of 1837 and subsequent depression resulted in the hoarding of hard currency and shortages of coinage. Many hard times tokens bore a familiar resemblance to U.S. coinage of the time. They were probably intentionally sized close to the large cent to lampoon the currency’s lack of value. Some forms bear busts of Columbia that are similar to those on the large cent. The substitution of “Not One Cent for Tribute” for “One Cent” not only prevented charges of counterfeiting being leveled on the token’s private manufacturers, but also served as a political slogan aimed against tribute payment to the Barbary Pirates . Biting political slogans were rampant. While none of the tokens were struck by the Federal government (and hence carried no official monetary backing), some forms were unofficially accepted by merchants as legal tender.

A single promotional token was recovered from the neck region of the adult in F-86. The token was circular with a diameter of 0.875 inches (2.7 centimeters). It was made of a cupreous alloy. Generally these tokens were composed of copper, although one specimen in the Alan S. Fisher collection was listed as made of brass. A small hole was drilled near the margin and fibers, preserved by absorption of copper salts, indicted that cotton filiments (probably a string) once passed through it. The object was undoubtedly worn around the individual’s neck. On close examination, the bust of a man in military garb was minted on the obverse side and a scale inscribed “Democrats” and “Whigs” was cast on the reverse. The date “1840” was placed below the scales. These features matched no known legal currency, but alternatively identified the object as a campaign token from William Henry Harrison’s 1840 presidential election campaign.

The bust depicted William Henry Harrison; his military uniform emphasized that he was a distinguished officer during the War of 1812. The scale portrayed on the obverse weighed in favor of the Whig Party (over the Democrats) and was surrounded by the inscription “Weighed in the Balance and Found Wanting”. These features set this specimen apart from the several hundred Hard Times Tokens that have been identified by Numismatists. The token does not appear to have been part of Lyman Low’s original 1899 catalogue of Hard Times tokens, so no Low number as been assigned to the form. Twentieth century token expert Russell Rulau, assigned the number HT-819 to this particular token.

Harrison spent much of his adult life as a career politician, holding office as Governor of the Indiana Territory, elected to seats in Congress and the Senate, and appointed as diplomat to Columbia. In his bid for the presidency in 1840 and with the backing of the Whig Party, he soundly defeated Jacksonian Democrat Martin Van Burin. Harrison’s views on slavery made many Southerners view him as an unreliable candidate. In true political style, Harrison’s rhetoric committed himself to both sides of the issue. In general, he viewed slavery as a non-Federally mandated issue that was best decided on a state-by-state basis. As a young man he joined an abolutionist society, a move that he later used to ground himself as anti-slavery. While Governor of the Indiana Territory, Harrison supported the emancipation of slaves in Indiana, even freeing his own slave, but recognized the right to maintain their services under indentureships that lasted for as long as 90 years. This move brought virtually no change to the status of the enslaved person in Indiana. In the 1830s he supported emancipation, but only if the slaves returned to Africa. During the 1840 election campaign, Harrison wooed Southern voters by denying that he was ever an Abolitionist, only the member of a humane society. Harrison could hardly be seen as an inspiration to people in the South and perhaps even less so to African Americans. It seems unlikely that the importance of the token included its relation to Harrison or the presidential campaign of 1840.

Coins carried special meaning in the historic African-American culture. Perforated coins are predictable finds around the necks, ankles, and other appendages of post-Emancipation period African-American interments. These artifacts, particularly those made of silver, were viewed as charms, able to ward off malevolent magic and possessed medicinal properties. Copper objects shared many of these same qualities. Wearing a penny around one’s neck was considered a cure for indigestion. Coins may have also served to ground important dates among illiterate or marginally literate community members. Folklorist, Harry Hyatt noted that perforated coins often bore the date of one’s birth, therefore served as a good luck charm. Rose and Santeford proposed that the dates on similar coins recovered from African-American interments in Arkansas recorded the date for the individual’s birth.

While not technically legal U.S. legal tender, it is likely that the Harrison Campaign token’s shape, size, composition, and inscriptions prompted the community to treat it like a copper coin. The token from F-86 was recovered with Harrison’s bust facing down and the scale and 1840 date facing up; this orientation may have intentionally deemphasized the token’s association with a political candidate in favor of information provided on the back. Most prominently this may have been the date. It was very likely that the token’s date may have also been the decedent’s birth date. The token was struck and dated in 1840, representing the only securely dated pre-Emancipation artifact from the graves at Avondale. Unfortunately there are no supplemental artifacts in the grave to provide a cross-date for its placement in the cemetery. Grave dimensions and skeletal features suggest that the individual was an adult when death occurred; if the assumption that the token represents a ‘lucky coin’ is correct, death as a young adult could place the date of death as early as the late 1850s and potentially represent a pre-Emancipation interment.

Caution however is in order. New South Associates has noted that copper does not survive well in burial environments, so the token’s poor condition cannot be viewed as a result of use, rather from exposure to caustic conditions. The aperture in a silver dime recovered from F-311 at New South Associate’s recovery of 9CH875 in Savannah, Georgia was extremely worn, an indication that the dime was used as a pendant for a considerable period of time; this wear was lacking in Avondale’s F-86 token, emphasizing that this object that was probably conserved. It is unclear how long the object may have been stowed away. This individual’s death may have occurred long after emancipation, particularly if the object was valued and protected, so it cannot be assumed that this token is unequivocal evidence of a slave interment.

The token may have also served other purposes. The medicinal properties associated with copper coins would likely be seen in this token and the token would have served as a fine substitute for these. As noted among coins, the token may have also served as payment for transport to the world of the dead. The token’s placement with F-86 may also be an indication of the decedent’s health and relationship with the supernatural world.

Please click on the upright page links to see the current research page and see how easily and quickly we can update information for the Avondale Burial place website and keep it’s original feel visually.