It’s land that borders Pine Grove Cemetery, which has been salvaged by bands of volunteers who in recent years have kept its gravestones from being overtaken by the ever-advancing undergrowth.
Molly Shears, who served as the groundskeeper at Pine Grove for decades, said he believes the indentations in the neighboring plot of woods are actually forgotten gravesites, possibly of African-Americans, that have already been overtaken by the Alabama pines.
The possible sites are hardly distinguishable from the woods, but they may soon be added to the Alabama Historic Cemetery Registry. Pine Grove was added to that registry in March, but these forgotten plots were left out.
“If there were any other burials there, they need to be included,” said Lee Anne Wofford of the Alabama Historical Commission. “The whole cemetery needs to be marked off.”
The sites were not intentionally left out of the registry, but were forgotten, said Hunter Gentry, a Georgia teenager with an intense interest in his family’s genealogy and who led the charge to have Pine Grove registered.
Gentry, 15, said he had no knowledge of the unmarked, overgrown gravesites, but said he believes there are numerous unmarked graves in Pine Grove. He also said he has compiled a list of those family members’ names to a website dedicated to cultivating cemetery records.
“I have at least 30 family members buried there, mostly unmarked, but I do know where most are buried from rock or some other type of markers,” Gentry said in an e-mail to The Star.
The gravestones, Shears said, were made by a local company and stood for years. But over time, they either deteriorated, were removed or were vandalized.
“I saw the tombs but they’re not there anymore,” Shears said. “I don’t know if people moved them or not.”
Undergrowth took root and trees shot up hiding the gravesites in the woods and leaving the unmarked graves behind. The unmarked sites atop the hill in Wellborn are not the only ones around, and it’s not uncommon to find small unmarked plots.
“Those things happen quite a lot,” Wofford said. “Either they didn’t have money to pay for a gravestone or they have since been (destroyed) or misplaced.”
The only visible sign of the presumed graves are the depressed patches of earth that rest atop them. Those depressions, which are elongated and dip down only slightly, likely mark the gravesites Shears remembers.
Jacksonville State University professor of earth sciences Harry Holstein said archeologists commonly find that the elongated impressions indicate a gravesite. Unmarked graves in Talladega National Forest have been found with this clue, he added.
No one knows how many hidden graves have been lost in the lot adjacent to Pine Grove. In general, Wofford said, researchers rely on information from locals to identify who is buried in unmarked graves, but with no local voices coming forward to help, just who is buried beneath the pines off Loop Road may remain a mystery.
“Finding out who these people are is going to be next to impossible,” Wofford said. “Even if you can’t find out who they are, the graves should still be protected.”
Contact staff writer Laura Johnson at 256-235-3544.