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USF researchers to help Hillsborough County search for forgotten gravesites

Posted at 5:27 AM, Jan 23, 2020
and last updated 2020-01-23 18:26:12-05

HILLSBOROUGH COUNTY, Fla. — USF Researchers will now help Hillsborough County search for forgotten burial grounds across the Tampa Bay area.

On Thursday, January 23, County Commissioners unanimously approved getting help from the university.

So far, Hillsborough County has completed a preliminary review of currently-owned county lands by cross-referencing all readily available cemetery and property records. Staffers discovered no record of overlap with a known cemetery.

Recognizing that records may exist that staff is unaware of, staff have started to work with associate professor Dr. Erin Kimmerle of the University of South Florida’s Department of Anthropology.

Dr. Kimmerle has extensive experience in the field of forensic anthropology, including research and field investigation focusing on historic cemeteries and burial grounds, according to Hillsborough County.


Hillsborough has about 84 active cemeteries, according a report by Kimmerle. It also says there's a list of 45 burial grounds that were possible destroyed, disturbed, or at-risk and right now, researchers are working to verify the status of each one.

"This is something that really hasn’t been considered in the past unless it's obvious," said John Lyons, Hillsborough County Public Works.

The problem is that some possible grave sites may have less formal documentation and may not have been evident on the landscape at the time. This includes convict burial grounds, sites where slaves were buried on plantations and family grave plots on what used to be farmland.

85-year-old Clarence James says his grandmother and other relatives were buried in a cemetery behind the Mt. Pleasant Church off of Gunn Highway in Odessa. James says now the area is a horse pasture on private property and he has no idea what happened to his family's remains.

Recently gravestones were pulled out of a lake next to the pasture.

"I don’t want to see them just cast away, and that’s what's been done so far," said James.

This comes after nearly 150 coffins were found on the property of King High School in Tampa. The Tampa Housing Authority also searched around Robles Park Apartment complex, where archaeologists found more than 140 coffins.

Researchers will now be using remote sensing to locate burial grounds and cemeteries, as well as Ethnographic interviews, grave record websites and family ancestry websites.