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Diggin’ up the past

The story is as much about a family’s commitment to a place of peace for their ancestors as it is about finding a ‘final’ resting place for James Madison McLaney and his wife, Margaret Mariah Melton McLaney.

For more than 120 years, the couple had been at rest together at the site that was once their rose garden on South Brundidge Street. On Monday, July 5, 2010, the remains of the couple that once figured so prominently into the citizenry of Troy were exhumed and will be reinterred at the Briar Hill Carter Cemetery.

Members of the McLaney and Carter families gathered at Cemetery #141 at 707 South Brundidge Street in Troy around 9 a.m. Monday as diligent work began to exhume the remains of their ancestors.

After several hours, a metal handle off Margaret McLaney’s wooden casket was found. It was the first of many artifacts that were found over the next few hours. The initial find indicated that the couple had been buried facing east and west, not north and south as thought.

“Evidently, the markers had been moved at some point and put back at a different location,” said John Phil McLaney, great-great-grandson of the couple. “The information that we had was that the markers were facing north and south.”

As digging continued more, artifacts were found – casket handles, hinges and nails, buttons and a hair comb. There was also a large amount of clear glass.

Dillard Funeral Home was in charge of the excavation and Marv Dillard explained that the glass served a dual purpose on a wooden casket.

“The glass was used to viewing the body and it also sealed the casket,” he said. “The casket was probably built locally but the hardware was purchased elsewhere.”

All of the artifacts there were unearthed will be buried with the couple at Briar Hill Carter Cemetery.

Dillard said the artifacts will be cleaned to the extent that they can be without causing any damage and placed in boxes for burial. The artifacts that were found in James McLaney’s grave will be buried with him and those found in Margaret McLaney’s grave will be buried with her.

“The things that were buried with them the first time will be buried with them this time,” McLaney said. “Every one of them.”

McLaney said that he is satisfied that the graves were located and that his great-great-grandparents will now be a peace in a permanent final resting place.

Their first place of rest has not really been all that peaceful over the many years.

On Nov. 13, 1879 James McLaney’s obituary in the Troy Messenger stated that the honored and respected citizen of Troy had “passed peacefully away.” According to the same newspaper, on Nov. 19,1891, Margaret McLaney, who was “bent under the age being nearly 80 years old, in some way, fell into the fire and was fatally burned.”

Both were buried in the rose garden, which over the years, became a victim of progress. Houses were built near the McLaney’s headstones and, in time, the old rose garden became a prime parking spot and later a playground for children.

During the 1920s, the headstones were moved and, around 1975, removed and left for the trash truck.

However, a family member took the headstones off the curb and stored them under the house on the property.

In 2002, a descendant of the McLaney’s, Melton Carter, was made aware of a planned excavation of the graves and alerted the city and the work was halted.

Mary Alice Sanders of Goshen is the oldest descendant of the McLaneys and her great-granddaughter is the youngest. Both were at the excavation on Monday.

“I guess we have known for along time that the remains would have to be moved at some point,” Sanders said.

“The widening of South Brundidge Street made it necessary. It was just important for us to be here. We’re all relieved that now our ancestors can be at final peace at Briar Hill where a son and daughter are buried.”