New details revealed about 36 bodies found under Oakwood Cemetery chapel

Seven years ago, 36 bodies were discovered under a Chapel at Oakwood Cemetery. 

Each body is more than a century old. The bodies were exhumed, and taken to Texas State University where the initial analysis took place.

"We deserve to know our ancestors, and they deserve for us to acknowledge them," says District 1 Council Natasha Harper-Madison.

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The Oakwood Cemetery Archeological Project team, made up of multiple departments from UT Austin and the University of Connecticut, say they took samples from Texas State University for research using teeth and bones to extract DNA.

"Certain DNA molecules tend to preserve DNA molecules better than others, and therefore they become target sources to extract DNA from," says Samantha Archer, with the Anthropology Department at the University of Connecticut.

According to the group, they were able to sample from 35 out of the 36, one individual did not have good preservation.

There have been 27 DNA extractions completed in phase one.

"You can see here that the Oakwood individuals passed away long enough for them to not be considered forensic, but they are still relatively young when it comes to most ancient DNA studies," says Archer.

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A previous analysis from the city confirms the group was made up of African, Hispanic, European and Asian descent.

Studies from the isotopic analysis show patterns of corn, sugar cane, and plants like oats and rice in their diet.

"I'm really grateful that we can come together as a community to be accountable for this history, it's a really difficult history, as is most of Texas history," says the Oakwood Cemetery Chapel Museum site coordinator Jennifer Chenoweth.

The team is currently in phase two and plan to take saliva samples in 2024 for those interested in knowing if they have any relation to the individuals.