It's not witchcraft. It's not black magic or "the work of the devil." In fact, many people claim that it works. Some individuals claim to be able to find unmarked graves by dowsing (sometimes called "witching"). Others claim it doesn't work. I'd like to make an offer to prove or disprove it once and for all.
The typical method is for the dowser or "witcher" to hold copper or brass rods or even coat hangers in his or her hands; others use a forked stick. The dowser walks over an area of possible buried bodies. When on top of a grave, the rods will cross or the stick will suddenly be pulled downward. Some dowsers claim they can even tell if it is a male or female body.
Does it really work? Some people will dismiss such activities as wishful thinking, and yet others will point to numerous examples of graves successfully located by dowsing, including a number of cases in which police departments found unmarked graves of murder victims by using the services of a dowser.
Indeed, many others use dowsing to find water. I had doubts about this technique, thinking it was a scam. Quite a few years ago, I attended the annual meeting of the American Society of Dowsers held in the small town of Danville, Vermont. This organization typically finds water, not graves. A "competition" was held in which dowsers from all over the U.S. and Canada attempted to find buried water pipes under the town common and nearby. It appeared that none of the contestants had any advance information about the location of the pipes. While judges also had maps showing the locations of the pipes, the chief judge was the recently-retired head of the Danville Water Department. He probably had memorized the location of every buried water pipe in town in the 40 years he worked for the department. In short, there was no need to dig holes to prove the locations.
I was amazed as I watched over a period of two or three hours while contestant after contestant located pipes in and around the town common. In fact, none of the dowsers actually failed. After all, at a national convention of dowsers, you can expect that only experienced and self-confident dowsers would attempt the feat.
The 2011 convention of the American Society of Dowsers will be held in Lyndonville, Vermont, not far from the location of the event I witnessed in Danville. In fact, I used to live in Lyndonville. You can read more about the 2011 conference on the American Society of Dowsers' web site at http://www.dowsers.org/.
So much for water, but can dowsers actually find graves? Many people believe so. I want to find out and to prove or disprove it in such a manner that will satisfy everyone's curiosity.
You can find many articles online about the successful location of buried human bodies. Here is a sample that I found in a Google search:
Dowsing Cemeteries to find graves...My story at http://www.archercousins.com/dowser.htm
Dowsing for Unmarked Graves at http://goo.gl/snP61
Grave Dowsing by Brenda Marble at http://goo.gl/wD4eq
Dowsing Methods Used to Find County Graves by Linda Bell at http://goo.gl/ca5g7
The above is just a brief list. You can find many more articles about dowsing for graves if you start at http://goo.gl/fsaFF
We Need a Verifiable Test
Let's find out. I'd love to go back and visit my old home town of Lyndonville, Vermont, for the annual conference of the American Society of Dowsers on June 8 to 14, but I have a conflict. I will be in Burbank, California, that weekend. Besides, the folks in Vermont will only be dowsing for water, not graves.
I'd like to conduct a test of dowsing for unmarked graves, but I need some help. First of all, I need a dowser. Ideally, there should be several dowsers involved.
NOTE: I have already tried dowsing for water and have found that it doesn't work for me. Whatever "the gift" that is required to successfully find water, I don't have it. I have held metal rods in my hands and walked over known water pipes in my front lawn, and the metal rods never twitched a bit. I know the pipes are there as I watched them being buried some years ago.
Next, we need a location that has unmarked graves, ideally a place that is unknown to the dowsers involved. The locations of the graves must be verifiable without digging. Verification could be done by old records or any similar, believable method.
Finally, we will need judges. I would suggest we find more than one judge–people who are intimately familiar with the old records of the chosen location and can reliably verify the locations without digging.
There is but one problem: I don't know of any such location.
OK, here is the offer:
If a genealogy society or any other group of interested genealogists can nominate a verifiable location, I will publicize it in this newsletter. Next, I will ask for experienced dowsers to visit the place. I'll be there also, and I'll bring along a video camera to record the experience, digitize it, and make the video available for all to see on this newsletter's web site. Successful or not, we can show the results to doubtful genealogists around the world.
The location involved can be a cemetery or an archaeological site or an abandoned hospital or anyplace else that has unmarked graves. The location of the graves cannot be visible to the naked eye as we don't want the dowsers to find graves visually. However, the locations also must be verifiable without digging. That's a challenge!
It strikes me this could be an interesting one-day outing for a bunch of dowsers and interested genealogists who would like to witness the event.
I suspect it is a bit too late to schedule this in the northern states this summer. First, we need to find a verifiable location. We need to make a few arrangements and publicize the event. All this will require a few months. I also need to make an airline reservation.
Perhaps we can find a suitable location in the sunbelt for this fall or winter or in the northern states next spring or summer. I'm willing to travel most anywhere to make the videos.
Maybe we can even cater a barbecue at the site. No promises until I see what is available in the area, but a picnic lunch of some sort seems appropriate. Just think: a picnic in the graveyard! Who else but genealogists would do that?
Are you interested? Can you convince your local genealogy society to find such a place? You can post a response in the comments section below this article or else contact me privately at http://eogn.com/support/
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