To identify which sites contain bodies, Ann Hatcher, member of the Sixes United Methodist Church Cemetery Committee, said the church has utilized the services of a nationally accredited human remains detection K-9, a 6-year-old Belgian Malinois named Shiraz.
Hatcher said there are 500 marked graves and “well over 100” unmarked graves at the church’s cemetery.
“Back in the historical area, it could be up to 150 (unmarked graves) and that’s just merely a guess,” she said.
So far, with the help of trainer Susan Goodhope from Havana, Fla., Shiraz has detected 75 sites likely containing human remains.
“We’re going to follow that up with ground penetrating radar to verify all of the unmarked graves,” Hatcher said. “They will be located and then a brick or marker will be put down.”
Hatcher said she was introduced to the cadaver dogs last fall, when she and her husband, Doug Hatcher, chairman of the Sixes UMC Chairman Committee, traveled to Thomasville for the Georgia Municipal Cemetery Association annual meeting.
“They had a lot of different workshops, and one of the workshops was what they had done in their local, historical cemetery in Thomasville with cadaver dogs locating some old unmarked graves,” Hatcher said. “So we decided that we would ask a team of cadaver dogs to help our church.”
The cadaver dogs, which are search-and-rescue dogs specializing in human remains recovery, are trained to listen for a certain phrase and, upon hearing it, immediately begin searching for remains.
“They have an uncanny sense of smell,” Hatcher said.
Shiraz is trained and certified and has won medals from the Georgia Bureau of Investigation and Naval Criminal Investigation Service. An 18-month-old Belgium Milionis, Merci, is in training to accompany Shiraz on human remains searches.
Hatcher said the dogs have greatly helped in efforts to revitalize and preserve the cemetery.
“Our mission that has been put upon us to try to be good caretakers of the cemetery,” Hatcher said. “There are a lot of unmarked graves, and there is a lot of historical preservation that needs to be done.”
Hatcher said the land dates back to the 1830s.
“It started out to be a community cemetery,” she said. “It’s reported that in the old section, there are (the bodies of) slaves, gold miners and (Native Americans). It dates back to the gold mining area.”
Former Georgia Gov. Joseph E. Brown of Canton dedicated the cemetery, which includes the graves of his parents and many of his relatives, to the community in his will, she said.
Hatcher said there are still more sites to be identified.
“If anyone knows of unmarked graves or have family members in the cemetery, please let myself or the church know,” Hatcher said.
The church can be reached at (770) 345-7644.