The Art of Grave Dowsing

by Wendell Culberson
(Posted with permission)

It has been over 25 years since I first discovered this old cemetery in Shelby County, Illinois. I remembered the exciting story that my grandmother told of her hike back to the cemetery. It’s backwoods location and association with the early pioneer days of the area going back over 150 years, held a special fascination for me. This would be my first experience using the dowsing method of locating unmarked graves. I had been invited to go with a cousin and a lady from a local genealogical and historically society. She was experienced at grave dowsing and gave me many pointers. Also with us was a man and his son who took us in his truck back to the cemetery. Only 8 graves had markers standing. Our purpose was to determine if there were unmarked graves. We believed besides my great, great grandfather’s marked grave, his first and second wife as well as his parents were buried in that cemetery. The burials go back to the 1840’s. I had prepared my own divining rods from some scrap heavy copper wire. I cut the wires about 20 inches long and the end 6 inches or so bent in a “L” shape to form handles. It is best to use the wires when there is little wind to effect the movement. I wasn’t too sure that this would work but it would be worth a try. We started using the wires around my forefather’s marked grave. Since several of us were using the divining rods, we were able to verify each other’s findings. Taking hold of the handles of the wires and holding them apart in front of me, I walked only a few steps and noted the wires slowly crossing. At that point there was a grave. It was amazing! As I held the wires loosely in my hands, the wires crossed before my very eyes. It is something that we don’t understand according to those who do dowsing for graves. Some have offered that it has something to do with the magnetic poles of the earth. The Art of Dowsing for Graves (search the Internet) has been around for centuries. By holding one wire out in front of me over the grave, the wire would slowly turn to the left (a female) and to the right (a male). On either side of my forefather we found a female and thus concluded his first and second wife. Next in the row we located 2 more graves, female and male, and thus concluded the old parents who died in the 1840’s. None of these graves had markers but we now were sure they are buried there. There is also a way to determine how deep the grave is. I stood over the grave and held out one wire. I counted the number of times I stomped on the ground. When the wire turned, the number of stomps indicated how deep the person was buried. We found most of the graves were 6 feet deep. The graves not as deep may have been babies or children. Deeper depths would likely indicate a spring of water as the cemetery was on a high bluff over a stream. Through dowsing for graves we located at least 72 unmarked burials in an area 70 x 100 feet. We were all astonished! The graves were laid out in neat rows which were always in line with existing markers. Several graves were under large trees which had grown there in the 150 years since the burial. It is possible that the family planted the trees over the grave to mark it. We found many small sandstones used as markers with no lettering on them. By probing under the ground we found more grave markers with names on them. The accumulation of the years in the woods had covered these fallen markers. We hope to find many of these covered stones, clean them off, and erect them again. We are seeking help from local government bodies to make an access road, erect a fence and have the cemetery maintained. In Illinois there is a Cemetery Act whereby abandoned cemeteries are protected. The township officials have already shown much interest in what we are wanting to do. Our grave dowsing guide made a map of the cemetery on a sheet of grid paper. She showed where each grave was found and indicated female or male. To mark the graves in the cemetery we used lath sticks (lots of them) driven into the ground. We tied ribbons on the sticks to indicate female or male. We hope to put some kind of permanent marker at each grave. It was a most successful and enjoyable adventure in an old family cemetery.



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