FamHist Blog

Family History Research Hints and Tips

Grave Witching

I’ve heard from a number of folks who read my earlier posts about Grave Witching to find lost or unmarked graves in cemeteries, farms and other locations.  All of them are active ‘witchers’ using the craft to locate lost graves of loved ones, military burials and lost graves in old cemeteries.

As noted in the earlier posts, I’ve used ‘witch sticks’ to locate buried water and power lines for decades as a matter of need, without thought that the activity may seem strange to folks who haven’t seen it done.

Growing up, I frequently saw people bend a couple of metal rods or lengths of wire into short handles and then find the water lines to their corrals, homes, churches, etc., and then toss the sticks and start digging.  The rods were just a tool so they could dig in the right spot and not waste any time and effort, without any more thought than grabbing a circuit locator to find wiring in our walls today. 

I never thought of using witch sticks to find lost graves until articles started to show up in smaller news publications around the world in recent years. 

Wondering if I could locate ‘bodies’ – alive or dead, I made a pair of sticks and then did a search for the giggling bodies of some of our granddaughters scattered across the living room floor.  Sure enough, every time I came to one of them, the sticks crossed and then opened again after I passed by the wee lasses, so the ‘alive’ part of the question was answered.  What about finding the ‘dead’ in their burial locations?

Knowing that I still have the ‘touch’, I’ll take a set of sticks up to the old burial grounds of my ancestors this summer and find the exact location of their graves.

Jack Robinson told me that he frequently uses sticks to find the lost graves of veterans in his efforts to clean up their burial locations.  He also brings and buried tombstones up to the current level of the soil.   Read about his project on his site, Resurrection Mission ~ Protecting Endangered Cemeteries

No all folks use witch sticks to locate lost graves.  Robert Nichols, cemetery sexton of the First Presbyterian Church of Rockaway, New Jersey, enlisted the high-tech help of Ithaca College to search for unmarked graves.  Read the article here.  (It loads slowly.  Be patient.)

If you haven’t seen someone using witch sticks to find lost graves, you’ll enjoy the three videos below.  They are followed by a video of the folks from Ithaca College using their ground penetrating radar equipment with the same goal in mind.

Are you going to give it a try yourself?  You may find the burial spots of some of your ancestral family members on the old homestead too.   Good Luck!



  Click on this link to view the video of Ithaca College students using ground penetrating radar to find unmarked graves.  

25 June 2010 Posted by | Cemetery | , , , | Leave a comment

The Family


The sight of Paw with his axe always brings out the best in the family and tears to Mom’s eye. Unfortunately, there aren’t many suitors for Sally’s hand.

24 June 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Oh My. Grandma Was Not Attractive


I suppose the name of Hepzebah Death should have been a big clue, but her photo sealed the deal. Great Grandma was not an attractive woman.

19 June 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Texas Spring Palace


If you were anyone in the swing of things, you were at the Texas Spring Palace in May 1890.

12 June 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

I Like Aeroplane Jelly


Sing along with the areoplane jelly song

10 June 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

FamilySearch – Portal To Many Wonders

Long enamored with the films, books and documents at the Family History Library in Salt Lake City, I’ve lived long enough to enjoy the library coming to me.

I first visited the library as a youngster when it was in the office of the LDS Church Historian on 58 East South Temple in Salt Lake City. 

My mother and I used to make regular day trips to search for our ancestors.  At first I enjoyed the photos in the books but was soon filling out family group sheets and pedigree charts with the information I’d gleaned from the books. 

Learning to use the library catalog wasn’t difficult, but I seemed to spend more time looking through it than through the books that referenced my family.

When the library moved into the Church Office Building in 1971, the card catalog was still in existence but the years of training at the old building had made the finger-walking quest much easier.

When a dedicated building for the library was built in 1985, I frequented it constantly.  Eventually, the catalog migrated to a digital format.  The quest for ‘That’ record was shortened dramatically.  Life was good.  Very good.

Then the books and films entered the digital library domain.  I don’t visit Salt Lake very often now.  Increasingly, the Library comes to me on the monitors in my office at home.

FamilySearch has become a portal to all things genealogical.  New titles and record groups seem to arrive to the portal daily.  The Pilot pages of FamilySearch have become a favorite friend.  http://pilot.familysearch.org

This week, I’ve reveled in the Massachusetts Death and Burials pages.  Death information about my ancestral families has emerged from the pages.  I thought I had covered every source document related to this area, but new information is pouring off my screen. 

Decades of microfilming records by the folks from the the Library is now is being followed by the digitization, indexing and publication of the records on FamilySearch. 

Genealogists everywhere benefit from this work. New records are added to the site daily.  If you haven’t visited for a while, do yourself a favor and stop by today.  You’ll be pleasantly surprised.

Life today is not just good -– It’s Great! –- Thanks to FamilySearch!



10 June 2010 Posted by | FamilySearch, Genealogy | , , , , | Leave a comment

Anvils – 9 1/2 Cents a Pound


Every farm and shop needs a good anvil — 150 lbs or larger.

6 June 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Tanks – Treat ’em Rough


Join the United States Tank Corps

4 June 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Knocking on an Ancestors Door

In the mid-1990’s I happened to visit the homes of my 2nd great grandfather within a day of each other even though they were located on two different sides of America. 

Tuesday.  Copperopolis, Calaveras County, California. 

In the area on business, I stopped by Copperopolis to take photos of the tombstones of my 2nd great grandparents, David Lewis and Helen Farrar Drew.  Their home still existed along the highway through this wide spot in the road.

Looking east from the top of the cemetery hill, it was fairly easy to identify it based on photos of it from the early 1900’s. 

As you can see in the photo above, David had built a water tower on the side of their home.  It was filled with water fed from a windmill uphill from the home.  A pressurized water system in homes in that era was far and few between.  Grandpa’s innovative design put them ahead of almost everyone else in the area.

The home was owned by Helen’s father, Thomas Farrar, for a period of time.  He passed the title on to David and Helen a few years after they married.

Knocking on the front door, I was greeted by the current owner.  She wasn’t thrilled to see me.  I asked permission make a walking circuit around the home to get a feel for the setting and was given five minutes to make the loop and get off the property. 

I briefly touched the door frame for a second when saying “Thank You”.  Four minutes later, I had made a quick loop and exited the property through the stand of stag horn trees.  The water tower was gone but the home was largely intact in size and outward appearance.

The stag horn trees weren’t there in the 1905 photo above, but my quick glimpse inside over the owners shoulder, verified the seven foot high ceilings were still in place.

Wednesday.  Boston and then Plymouth, Massachusetts.

I had hopped from Sacramento to Salt Lake City and then to Boston.  A two hour drive took me to Plymouth where David Lewis Drew was born.  The morning was spent walking through the Burial Hill Cemetery finding and taking photos of the tombstones of dozens of my ancestors. 

Folks smiled and waved at my wife and I as we walked through town down to Plymouth Rock.  Visitors with ancestral quest crazed stares were common place there and besides, they were good for the local economy.

A stop at the library at the Mayflower Society was fruitful and then after doing the touristy things a few hundred yards down hill yet again, we wandered arm in arm through Brewster Gardens.   Following the stream uphill under the highway, we exited its course when we were adjacent to Pleasant Street. 

Within a few minutes we stood in front of the Drew home at 51 Pleasant Street.  It was built by my 4th great grandfather and had been home to four generations of the family.

On the 4th of July 1907, the home was decked out with an American Flag and other colorful decorations celebrating the holiday.  Family members sat on the front porch watching their neighbors return home from the celebratory activities downtown as seen in the above photo taken from the green across the street.

The power pole on the corner in front of the house was still there but now it also carried large telephone and cable television cables that almost acted as a flying curtain to block the view of the home.

Photoshop is a very useful tool when removing visual pollution from photos.

Knock, knock, knock on the front door.  No answer.  No sounds from inside.  Knock, knock again.  No one was home.  Reaching out, I touched the door frame here too.  Undoubtedly, the doors at both of the homes has been replaced in the last 100 years, but if the thickness of the paint covering them is any indication, the molding around them appeared to be original.

How many hours had it been between the time David touched the same molding when he left for California during the gold rush and his arrival in Jamestown in Calaveras County, California?  It was certainly a lot longer than the relatively short flight time in my pilgrimage. 

David never returned home to Plymouth.  I wonder if he knew that his goodbyes to his family would be his last vision of them?  His youngest brother eventually moved to California and stayed with him for a time but the smell and sights of Plymouth didn’t survive the journey.

Google Maps tells me that the two homes are 3074 miles apart and that I could drive from one to the other in 45 hours.  That means I’d average 68 miles per hour if the travel estimate is correct.  Most of my time would be spent on freeways with stops only dictated by the need to refuel, defuel and stand under a waterfall.

David’s journey wasn’t quite that easy.  Nor were the journeys of your ancestors.  It would be an enjoyable experience to walk with them as they told how their homes and cities looked in their day and then returning the favor by showing them the magic associated with technology in our day.

If you have spent many hours in the quest of your ancestors and have then followed their migratory paths in person, imagining them with you isn’t too difficult.  I’m sure I felt a second rush of excitement in addition to my own reaction as we approached 51 Pleasant Street. 

Knock, knock.  Was that an echo of the rap of my knuckles or was it another knock mirroring mine?  

Welcome home grandpa.  Has the place changed?


1 June 2010 Posted by | Ancestors, Genealogy | , , | 1 Comment