FamHist Blog

Family History Research Hints and Tips

Dowsing For Graves And Other Wives Tales

If you are like me, there are graves of your extended family that have either lost their grave markers or were never marked for a variety of reasons.

In my family, three of my great aunts and uncles died as youngsters and were buried on the family farm in Fort Canyon, above Alpine, Utah.  I made a post about them called “Little Ones Lost” earlier this year.

Today, I found an article titled, “Old ways help women find old graves” that describes the efforts of Cate Culver, who is using dowsing rods to find old unmarked graves around the Pioneer Cemetery in San Andreas, California.

dowsing As expected, scientists say that dowsing doesn’t work and that her efforts are a waste of time.  Unfortunately, the soil in that area is less ‘soil’ than rock and has a fairly high copper and other mineral content.  The article notes that ground penetrating radar won’t work in the area due to the terrain and of course, officials aren’t going to grant permission to open the suspected locations for ‘no’ reason other than to prove that the dowser can find old graves.

Long ago, I was surprised when I was first told that dowsing didn’t work and that it couldn’t be proven.  I’d grown up watching people dowse for water, power and other buried lines with great success.  In fact, when I was told that dowsing was bunk, I had actually dowsed for a long lost water line that was leaking the weekend before.  Running water could be heard in a pipe that entered the basement of our home but wasn’t attached to anything inside.

Curiosity got the better of me one Friday evening, so I pulled out the dowsing rods, marked the location of the pipe on the lawn and started digging with a shovel.  The location was about 100 feet away from the city water line feeding our home.

While dowsing, I had flagged a couple of 90 degree turns in the route of the line.

A few hours later, my wife was less than happy to find about forty feet of five foot deep trench winding its way through our north lawn.

Yes, the water line was exactly where I’d marked it and at the depth the rods had indicated.  No surprises.  The trench was so long because I had to follow the line to find the leak and then to clear enough length of pipe so that it could be lifted, cut, spliced and tested for new leaks.

As it turned out, the water originated three hundred feet south in the basement of the neighbors home.  They had owned our home before building their new home.  The water lines to the chicken coops that used to be on the back properties had originally fed from our home.  When they built the new house, they simply capped the water line in the basement of the old house and fed it from the new house.  Finally, decades later, the old water line deteriorated and began to leak.

Being on the end of the shovel doing the digging, I’d long ago decided that the dowsing rods had better work or you were only involved in a less than satisfying way to exercise.

We often used dowsing rods to find buried power lines when I worked for the power company.  The younger generation had to use the expensive tools that semi-find electrical fields, but the old hands just grabbed a pair of iron tie wires, bent one end of each long enough to use as a handle and marked the line.  No big deal.  Fast, accurate and easy.  And because the fellows were doing the digging by hand, the marks had to be accurate due to the seemingly never ending layers of river rock or they’d never use their dowsing sticks a second time.  Inevitably, the dowsing marks were always more accurate than those created the using multi-thousand dollar buried line identification equipment.

I’ve continued to use dowsing rods to find the dozen or so telephone drop lines that cross our orchard when I’ve installed fence posts, sprinkling systems and other buried features in our landscaping.  Thus far, they’ve always provided 100% accuracy.  I guess that I need to read the scientific reasons why the rods don’t work but really don’t want to.  If I do, I may believe the scientific reasons and then the rods won’t work any longer.  After all, scientists are rarely wrong.  Right?

Over the years, I’ve chatted with folks from all over the world who have dowsed to find water and other buried features for all of their lives with great success.  They grew up using them and apparently, none of them had been taught that stringtheorydowsing doesn’t work either.

My ancestors dowsed.  Their ancestors dowsed.  Maybe you have to have a naive faith that dowsing works for it to work for you.  Maybe it is tied to string theory or quantum mechanics.  Maybe you have to acknowledge that the laws of the universe are a lot stranger and more elastic than all of us whiz kids realize.

Maybe the old healing and ‘wives tales’ medical remedies that my mother, grandmothers and great grandmother taught and practiced don’t work either.  I guess you’d have to convince the almost invisible scars on my body that the old remedies didn’t work though.  While in that discussion, maybe you could tell the adjacent scars from wounds that were ‘healed’ by doctors that they shouldn’t be so big and ugly because they were treated by highly educated men who convinced me that my ancestors old remedies didn’t work.   But that topic is a whole other discussion.

I wonder how many of the old remedies and ‘ways’ have been relegated to the pit by us as we’ve become more ‘educated’ over the generations?

Don’t get me wrong.  I’m absolutely delighted to be living when so many medical, technological and other advances have been made to make our lives so much physically better than those of our ancestors, but I wonder what we’ve lost in the process of worshiping our scientific ‘Gods’.

What commonly practiced old ‘Ways’ and ‘Remedies’ in your ancestral history have been lost?  Post a note and let us know.

Don’t necessarily expect us to believe them though.  Maybe you can ascribe our unbelief to our being taught that they don’t work and hence our faith in them being literal is missing.

Remember, my dowsing rods ’don’t work’ either and most readers will probably assign me to the group of ‘characters’ of a past age.  That’s ok.  We’re relatively happy in our ignorance….. and, before you ask, no, I don’t dowse for water or power or telephone lines for anyone else.  Who’d believe that it worked in today’s world anyway?

5 June 2009 - Posted by | Ancestors | , , , ,


  1. My brother can dowse, as could my father, but I am not able to feel the pull. Whatever it takes, I didn’t inherit it.

    Comment by Genevieve | 19 November 2009 | Reply

  2. Liked your talk on dowsing. I used to think it was all crazy, but now I can dowse, but however I use a very scientific way of doing it. I have only taught it to 4 other people and of course it worked for all of them.
    Sincerely, Robert

    Comment by Robert Shrewsbury | 4 December 2009 | Reply

  3. My husband took me out to our water line coming to the house and he showed me how dowsing works for him. He has two brass rods that he bent to 90 degrees at the end that he lightly holds on to and, sure enough, the rods crossed where we knew the water line to be located. I was still skeptical so I did it. The rods crossed the instant that I got to the water line. He also showed me how it worked when he walked over the septic tank. I am a believer and now we are going to go to the cemetery where my family has a few unmarked graves and see if we can confirm the gravesites. Thank you.

    Comment by Phyllis | 23 June 2010 | Reply

  4. My daughter and I tried dowsing for unmarked graves just out of curiosity one day, we took my 88 year old mother to a family cemetery where there were some unmarked graves, or graves with just rocks for markers, and mom remembered where the graves should be, it worked for her, me and my daughter, what a neat experience. Yes, I can find water lines, and so could my dad.

    Comment by Lou High | 6 November 2010 | Reply

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