BOWIE, Md. (DC News Now) — 50 Catholic University students volunteered at Sacred Heart Catholic Church on Martin Luther King Jr. Day where archaeologists are researching unmarked graves.

“People who’ve been clearing, you know, fallen trees from the ground, they’ve been clearing leaves, raking leaves, trimming branches,” said Laura Masur, assistant professor of anthropology at Catholic University.

Masur is one of the leaders trying to identify former enslaved men and women buried at the church in Bowie.

“Ground penetrating radar has been run, and that shows anomalies in the ground, and there are about 175 likely burials that have been identified through that method. I think there are probably several 100 more,” said Masur.

The church sits on a former tobacco plantation. Jesuits sold the property in the 1960s. The Archdiocese of Washington now owns it.

Among the students were descendants like Lynn Locklear Nehemiah and Stephanie Locke, who believe their ancestors were also laid to rest at the site.

“I found out that my family surname was Queen… most Queens, as my mother used to say, are indeed related,” Locke said.  “I can’t think of a more appropriate day is the day that we’re all supposed to embrace the day of service and what better service into your own family,” she said.

“My family remained enslaved by the Jesuits until 1865, at the time of emancipation,” Nehemiah said. “My hope is that as people or as our families are recognized… that there will be just a tremendous amount of healing and celebration even though it came out of something that was horrific.”

“And that they’re being recognized, you know, for their contributions to this country,” Nehemiah said.

The unmarked graves date back to the 18th century according to researchers.

The next step is to review burial records to connect descendants to their ancestors.