STURGIS, Mich. (WOOD) — Forensic anthropologists are trying to determine if the human skeletal remains recently discovered in the Sturgis area include a Revolutionary War veteran and early settlers.
Construction crews digging a retention pond found the first set of remains around 11 a.m. Tuesday near S. Nottawa Street and Bogen Road. The bones were buried about 6 feet down. Anthropologists were called back to the site Wednesday morning after construction crews unearthed additional remains.
Carolyn Isaac, a forensic anthropologist for the St. Joseph County Medical Examiner’s Office, says the bones belong to at least three adults and two children. She added that based on teethwear and the soil color of the bones, they are probably historic.
“They don’t strike us as Native American. They look like they have more European ancestry,” she explained.
Historians are hopeful the discovery may solve a yearslong search for the remains of Revolutionary War veteran David Randall. They say his family walked from Ohio to Sturgis, settling in the Bogen Road area around 1833. Historians say pension records show Randall died in St. Joseph County in October 1835.
Historian Stoney Summey speculated Randall was buried at a cemetery on the site before Oaklawn Cemetery opened in 1867.
Historians have been looking for Randall’s final resting place for about four years so they can unearth his remains and give him a proper burial with a military headstone.
“I think I was the only person in Sturgis doing a happy dance that we found old bones somewhere, so. Yeah, I was pretty excited,” said Anne Davis, who is a member of the Lagrange de Lafayette Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution.
Historians say a school was also in the area where the remains were found and an object that may be the handle to a coffin was also unearthed. According to Summey, schools would also occasionally serve as churches, so it is possible there was a cemetery at the site next to the building.
Isaac said the adult bones discovered appear petite, which typically mean they are female. But there’s still plenty of hope of finding Randall’s remains.
“We have a feeling they’re going to find even more as they continue their work,” Isaac said.
Isaac said the next step is bringing the remains into their lab at the medical school at Western Michigan University, where they will be grouped by person, cleaned up and analyzed to determine age, sex, ancestry and distinguishing features.
Even though the area is not a crime scene, researchers say it is still important the remains are properly handled and analyzed.
“We want to treat them with as much respect as we can so once our analysis is complete, we will look to either repatriate them to their family if possible or arrange for a reburial,” Issac said.
Experts will also obtain a mitochondrial DNA signature and send off bone samples for carbon-dating.
Historians say Randall’s ancestors in the area have submitted DNA through genealogical testing kits, which could help determine if his are among the remains.
“That is something that I’ve never encountered and something pretty amazing to be a part of,” Isaac said of the possibility.
The forensic anthropologist said it could take several months to identify the remains.