Cemetery publication documents wealth of history

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Special to the Opelika Observer

Lee County Cemetery Preservation Commission (LCCPC) has completed a 14-month project for the Union Grove Baptist Church Cemetery. At the beginning of this project a cemetery clean up took place. LCCPC Chairman Arthur Jones arranged to help with cleaning the cemetery and church members, volunteers and descendants completed the task. The cemetery is now neat and clean. There is more work to be done, but the progress already made is remarkable.
As the project moved along, the idea to create a church directory including tributes to the pioneer families of Union Grove was born. Research was completed and a 168-page book is now in print. Descendants shared photos, stories and obituaries. Opelika newspaper microfilms were searched for obituaries and death notices. Not everyone buried in the cemetery had an obituary.  In cases where enough family information was available, a tribute was written for some of those pioneers, too.
There are over 400 interments at Union Grove; 264 have engraved markers. From research, 367 graves are identifiable. It can’t be said with certainty who is in any of the unmarked graves.
Early church records were lost in fires. Even records from the new part of the cemetery from the 1960s cannot be located. Bill Richmond, who handles the cemetery affairs for the church, would like anyone with information about cemetery lots or who can identify any unmarked grave to contact him at 741-9669.
One of the interesting interments at Union Grove is Samuel Winslett  (1844-1923.)  Samuel was the son of Milton Winslett (1812-1880) and Elizabeth Royal Winslett and the great-grandson of Samuel Winslett (born 1749 in England, died in 1829 in Green Co., Ga) and Dicy McMichael. Samuel Winslett (1749-1829) was deported from England as a very young man, having been convicted of killing a deer on another’s property. In those days, that was a capital offense. He settled in the colony of Georgia, where he married and he and his wife successfully reared a family.  Descendants of Samuel Winslett who live in the area today are Albert Smith, Opelika’s retired fire chief; Lucille Armstrong; Oline Price, Lee County Revenue Commissioner; Faye Ross; Wanda Hildreth and others.
From a popular television show, “Who Do You Think You Are?” the lineage of country singer Trisha Yearwood was also traced back to this same Samuel Winslett. These are the kind of discoveries that make genealogy exciting and fun.
Other Union Grove descendants made contributions to Opelika, too. Bobby McCullough was Opelika’s mayor from 1973-1977.  Wilma Ophelia Parker, who grew up in the Union Grove community, married James A. Kilgore.  They had no children.  They left their wealth in a scholarship program which has benefited many of Lee County’s children.
One of the worst tragedies ever to happen in Opelika impacted one Union Grove family. William Benjamin Martin (40), Johnny Clyde Martin (21) and Mack Bruce Martin (37), three brothers, the sons of Paul and Jewel Martin, died as a result of an auto accident in 1962. William died first, on Oct. 10, 1962, the day of the accident.  Johnny Clyde and Mack Bruce died the next day as a result of their injuries. William and Mack Bruce were both WWII veterans. A triple funeral was held; interment was at Union Grove.
The information developed during this research enabled the LCCPC to apply, on behalf of the Union Grove Baptist Cemetery, to the Alabama Historical Commission for historical recognition. There has not been enough time for the application to be processed, but when approval is granted, the net proceeds from the sale of the book will go toward the cost of the historical marker.
To buy a copy of the Union Grove Baptist Church Cemetery book contact Bill Richmond at 741-9669; Luther Robinson at 745-3252; or Edna Ward at 745-6713. The book sells for $20. To order by mail, order from the following address: LCCPC, c/o Edna Ward, 1319 Clearmont Circle, Opelika, AL 36801. The mailed cost is $23, which includes postage.

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