Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Genealogist Aroused by Dowser

From The Wichita (Ks.) Eagle of June 29, 2005:

For him, grave dowsing is no myth

Associated Press

SOLOMON - Whether a person believes grave dowsing is just speculation or whether someone is a true believer, Ron Britt of Abilene is convinced that the method works.

Britt, president of Genealogy Researchers, was among several members of the group who recently met at Prairie Mound Cemetery in Solomon to experience the phenomenon of grave dowsing.

Dowsing is the practice of finding water or minerals by holding a forked stick in a way that allows the stick to swing up or down when walking over an area where the materials, such as water, are believed to be.


Since beginning his quest, [Lee Modrow of Lincoln, Kan.] has helped locate 250 unmarked graves. Most date back to the late 1800s and early 1900s.


As Modrow walked a straight line with the dowsing rods pointing straight forward, the rods would move outward as he passed over what he believed to be an unmarked grave. Modrow claimed four bodies -- three adults and one baby -- were buried at that spot.

"If you enter over a body and it's an adult, the rods will either both swing out or cross over each other," he said. "If it is a young child, one rod or the other will swing outward."

Modrow said the way to tell the body's gender is by using one rod and holding it straight in front of you.

If the body is a male, the rod will swing outward toward the back of the investigating person's foot. If the body is a female, the rod will remain straight or go inward toward the head.

"My goal now is to place stones on the graves," he said.

[Read the whole story]
My hackles have been raised. Placing stones on graves without good evidence of what lies beneath is like slipping extra documents into a file at the National Archives.

Two points about dowsing:

(1) You can't swing a dead cat in an old cemetery without finding an unmarked grave. The easiest way to find one: go to those parts of the cemetery where there are no markers, and look down. (BTW, do not swing a dead cat in an old cemetery. You will be arrested.)

(2) Who is confirming that he found these graves? Do they follow him around with a backhoe?
There are better ways of confirming a burial, including: sextons' records; contemporary newspaper accounts; previous transcriptions (to find if the grave was ever marked); and, as a last resort, excavation. I've seen a 19th-century diary entry which describes the exact location of an unmarked grave ("He was buried in the northeast corner of the yard. . ."). Ground penetrating radar is a great (if expensive) way of finding graves (though the sex and age of the occupant will remain a mystery).

Don't resort to pseudo-science until every other method has been exhausted.

And even then don't resort to it.

Dennis Lohr

Telling the sex and/or relative age of a burial is one thing, but using dowsing rods to locate graves is not pseudo-science.

I'm an avid genealogist, but I also have a Bachelor of Science in Mechanical Engineering. Can I explain dowsing? No. But it does work for electrical, water, and other buried items ... including graves.

Andy E. Wold


I seriously hope you never work for any utility / gas line company in my part of the country!

Dowsing has been proven again and again to be a hoax -- nothing more.

Andy E. Wold

I had to laugh at this one:

"Are Dowsing Rods Attracted to Human Bodies or Coffins?
... While I possess neither coffin nor corpse, we do own a nice old wooden chest with metal hardware, and I have a perfectly-alive wife. While I could not get my wife to get in the box to test my theory because of concerns that it would damage the chest, she was willing to lie on the floor while I dowsed over and around her and the box. In both cases, the dowsing rods were not attracted to either my wife or the chest when I held the rods still, and when I walked around them or passed the rods over them they would only cross when I intentionally made them, as discussed above."

From: "Grave Dowsing Reconsidered", by William E. Whittaker, Ph.D., RPA, Office of the State Archaeologist, The University of Iowa (

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