- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 15, 2000

Edith Estes traces her roots to one of the founding families of Alexandria, Va., so she took more than a passing interest when seven graves from the late 1700s were found north of Eisenhower Avenue.

Archaeologists excavating in the city had discovered a cemetery vault and the seven graves, which, it turns out, belong to Mrs. Estes' ancestors. She is a descendent of Thomas Owsley, who married Ann West, a sister to one of the bodies found in the vault.

"I'm excited about this because the West family [history] has been sadly neglected by the city of Alexandria," said Mrs. Estes, who also is the vice president of the Association for the Preservation of Virginia Antiquities. "This will bring them back to the forefront."

Archaeologists found four bodies in the vault, two of which they were able to identify from old obituaries in the Alexandria Gazette. Those remains belong to Sybil West and her son, George West, according to David Soldo, field director for the project.

One of the other bodies likely belongs to Mrs. West's husband, Hugh. Another body, that of a child under 10 years old, has not been identified, Mr. Soldo said.

The site is owned by the Hoffman Management Company, which is planning to develop several empty lots into a new AMC movie theater.

City law requires an investigation before any work can begin, and early research revealed that there were several historic sites on the property. The company hired R. Christopher Goodwin & Associates to conduct the dig, and the project has been monitored by the staff at Alexandria Archaeology since the fall of 1998.

The vault was a surprise find, as only two documents a deed from 1791 and a rough map drawn in 1945 made any mention of a burial site. After working to unearth a water line in December 1999, the team found the vault and began the full excavation in April. Discovering the vault helped lead diggers to several other graves nearby.

"It was common not only to inter individuals in the vault, but in the surrounding area as well," Mr. Soldo said.

Seven bodies were discovered in graves next to the vault. They were facing east, likely in preparation for the Second Coming of Jesus Christ, according to Christian Davenport, an archaeologist who specializes in separating human bones from those of frogs, snakes and rats common finds in old grave sites.

"Figuring out who the others are will require a little detective work," said Martha Williams, the project manager.

After analysis has been completed on the bones to determine the age, sex and cause of death, the bodies will be reburied on the Hoffman property, he said.

The plan is to match analysis from the lab with the genealogical record to make an educated guess about the identity of those outside the vault.

Work should be complete on the burial site in another week or two, and analysis should be finished in September.

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