CANTON, GA – You'd think a church that's nearly 200 years old would know who's in their back yard, but then, you might be surprised.
"The graveyard goes back to 1832; Gov. Joseph A. Brown donated the property to the community to make a community cemetery," Rev. Joe McKechnie told 11Alive News on Wednesday.
That historic cemetery is now overseen by the equally old Sixes United Methodist Church on Bells Ferry Road in Cherokee County.
Gov. Brown's parents are among the many notables buried there. But there've long been suspicions that there were more than the 400 or so marked graves.
"There'd been rumors in this community circulating for a long time that there're a lot of bodies of slaves or Native Americans and miners who came in from other parts of the country to strike it big with gold mining," McKechnie said.
A few weeks ago the church brought in Susan Goodhope of Havana, Florida, who volunteered two cadaver sniffing dogs to help locate what turned out to be about 100 more unmarked graves hidden in nearby woods, many right up to neighboring Bridge Mill subdivision.
Both dogs also hit on some steps behind the old sanctuary where rumors also said a judge had once been buried.
"Underneath a stair well right now, where there's apparently a body buried, so maybe those urban legends are true," Pastor McKechnie added.
In addition to the dogs, the church now hopes to bring in some ground penetrating radar to specifically locate and map the previously rumored unmarked graves.
"We're trying to figure out where bodies are buried so in the future we make sure we don't bury a body on top of another grave," the pastor said.
He said it's a fascinating history lesson for a nearly two century old church that is once again growing its membership.
"There's a lot of great life going on here in the church, a fast growing community, a vibrant, dynamic church and a lot of great things going on for the living, but we also want to honor those who are deceased," McKechnie said.
Anyone who may know the identities of the previously unknown graves is asked to call the church at 770-345-7644.