Who are we?

Mission Statement

Identify, study, conserve and protect cultural materials, peoples, and places related to the understudied, underrepresented, forgotten, or lost communities and individuals in history.

Current Objectives

Our Story

In February of 2018, the remains of 95 individuals were discovered during the construction of a technical school in Sugar Land, Texas. This discovery would gain national and international attention as the first population of a convict labor camp to be studied using modern analytical methods. The unmarked and abandoned cemetery represented a forgotten group of African Americans that were forced to work in a private-sector convict labor camp as punishment for conviction of mostly petty crimes in the late 19th and early 20th Centuries. Upon further study, it was found that these men had been subjected to unthinkable conditions of forced labor, malnutrition, exposure, and abuse.

Among the core research group that conducted excavation, laboratory analysis, and archival research for this project, a new idea coalesced. The close-knit group that had helped to illuminate the conditions suffered during this time of reinstituted slavery in the State of Texas wanted to continue the search for the identities of the deceased and use isotope and modern DNA analysis techniques to learn as much as possible about the cemetery population. In response to the outcry of advocacy groups, the descendant community, and other interested parties, Principal Research Group was formed to pursue DNA research and conduct genealogical and historical research to identify descendants of this lost population, as well as give these men and women back their names. In the Fall of 2019, the Texas Historical Commission issued a permit to Dr. Catrina Whitley as Principal Investigator and Principal Research Group as project sponsor to authorize the 10-year study.

Our Team

Dr. Catrina Banks Whitley, RPA, Co-Chairman


Dr. Whitley, RPA, is a CRM Bioarchaeologist and Archaeologist and the Principal Investigator of the Sugar Land 95 DNA Project. Dr. Whitley has worked as a project director/principal investigator of cemetery excavations and bioarchaeology/osteology. She has over 18years of experience as a principal investigator, 20+ years of experience in the osteological analysis of human remains, mortuary practices, and life history reconstruction of individuals and communities and has received 18+ burial permits from New Mexico and 5 permits from the State of Texas. Dr. Whitley has authored and co-authored over 25 professional reports in Texas and New Mexico, several book chapters and journal articles; including co-authoring studies on cancer and co-authoring an article on Henry VIII in The Historical Journal that impacted our understanding of his ability to have children and midlife mental crisis that has made news across the globe and in popular literature. She taught human evolution, forensic anthropology, and human osteology at the university level at SMU and UTA; which included teaching about genetics and evolutionary genetics. She has served as Lead Bioarchaeologist and a co-author of the final report of the discovery of the Sugar Land 95 titled: Back to Bondage: Forced Labor in Post Reconstruction Era Texas. In 2019, Dr. Whitley was issued a 10 year permit from the Texas Historical Commission to authorize the study of the remains of the Sugar Land 95. Dr. Whitley is the President of the Principal Research Group.

Abigail Eve Fisher, MSc, MA, RPA, Co-Chairman 

Vice President and Treasurer 

Abigail Fisher works as a contract archaeologist in Texas and is a PhD Candidate at Southern Methodist University, with focuses in Bioarchaeology and diet and lifeway reconstruction. She has a Master of Science in Archaeological Science from the University of Oxford and a Master of Arts from Southern Methodist University. She is a Registered Professional Archaeologist (rpanet.org), has 17+ years of experience in commercial archaeology, and 15+ years working in stable isotope biochemistry. She has worked on multiple cemetery excavations as a Human Osteology Specialist in Texas. She served as Assistant Bioarchaeologist, Laboratory Manager, and co-author of the final report Back to Bondage: Forced Labor in Post Reconstruction Era Texas.  Ms. Fisher is the Vice President and Treasurer of the Principal Research.

Dr. Helen Graham, 


Director of Genealogical Research and Secretary

Dr. Helen Graham, a Persian Gulf War veteran (Air Force), is Dean of Liberal Arts, Humanities, & Education Professions at Houston Community College (HCC). Dr. Graham has been a genealogist for more than thirty years and has worked on several genealogical initiatives to include the Freedmen’s Bureau Indexing Campaign. On behalf of the City of Missouri City Parks and Recreation department, she located the identities of those formerly enslaved on the Palmer Plantation. She teaches family history research and works one on one with individuals helping them to locate their ancestors, conduct oral histories, and preserve their stories. She consults on community outreach efforts in Texas, Oklahoma, Arizona, New Mexico, and Nevada. Dr. Graham serves on the board of Olive Branch Connections, a non-profit that connects communities' most burdened individuals to their courageous ancestors. Recently, she served as Historian, Genealogical Researcher, and co-author of the final report Back to Bondage: Forced Labor in Post Reconstruction Era Texas. Dr. Graham is the Director of Genealogical Research of the Principal Research Group.