I love to do research, especially into American history. But for my contemporary ghost story, Traces, I had Meredith find the skeleton of one of her ancestors. Then I had a question: what would she be required to do after finding it? In other words, what authorities needed to be informed? Could she bury the bones in the family cemetery on the fictional plantation property? Or did she need to do something extra to get permission to do so?
I dug around (pun intended!) online, reading the information on various Tennessee government sites related to regulations for graveyards and such. But I couldn’t figure out the answers to my specific questions.
Then I stumbled upon a government site that listed a contact person I thought might be able to either answer my questions or point to me someone who could. Pay dirt!
I was referred to the TN State Archeologist who was able to clearly and concisely answer my questions. Here’s what I asked:
Would the person discovering the remains call the sheriff if the site of the find is in the county? Would the sheriff then call the ME to come collect the bones, etc.? How long from the time of the call to the local police would it be before the police or ME showed up to collect the remains? Hours? Days? What happens to the remains once collected: carbon dated? DNA? Other tests? Finally, once the remains are returned to the family, is there any special permit or anything needed in order for said family to bury the remains in the family cemetery on their property?
Mike Moore then gave me the specifics to my questions. In the county, the sheriff would be notified, and he’d call the ME; sometimes the notification is reversed. Since human remains are involved, they show up the same day. No permit is needed to rebury skeletal remains. As for the kinds of tests, he said:
Medical examiner will try to determine age and sex of individual, and note any obvious trauma or pathology. Radiocarbon dating is not conducted in a modern forensic case (this particular analysis is conducted on carbonized wood, nutshell, corn, and at times shell recovered from prehistoric Native American sites). DNA testing could be done, but probably not unless there was a specific need due to expense and time involved. Not sure what other analysis/tests they may do, perhaps contact a medical examiner’s office to ask that question.
So, armed with this knowledge, I could portray in the story how Meredith and Max dealt with the skeletal remains of the Lady in Blue and know that it was as accurate as I could make it. After all, I didn’t want someone to think they could do something that might have been illegal if I had not done my research.
Digging to find the facts to provide the proper context for any story I write is one of my main focuses. In this case, I chose to have Max know the proper response since he’s a preservation lawyer, rather than have Meredith bungle around trying to sort it out. I wanted to keep up the pace of the story and the focus of the situation on their relationship and not the legalities involved.
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If you’d like to find out more about the Lady in Blue, you can get your copy of Traces at any of these places. Note that it’s available in paperback also at Amazon and B&N. Happy reading!
Barnes and Noble: http://bit.ly/1j7WOwq