Grave Dowsing 5

You meet the most interesting people on airplanes. A recent flight was no exception I was reading a genealogy book for background research on a current project. The lively, fun-loving mother-daughter team sitting next to me struck up a conversation with me when they saw I was interested in genealogy. They aren't genealogists per se but the daughter, I’ll call her Maria, spent a number of years with her father cataloging cemeteries in North Dakota. Maria is particularly proud of their work in older, forgotten, or nearly forgotten, cemeteries and their efforts in uncovering and recording nearly obscured grave markers.

One of the men they worked with taught Maria how to use a witching rod for the purpose of dowsing for graves. I have heard of this but have to admit I was pretty skeptical. It sounds like something straight out of Harry Potter. Seriously, a willow divining rod that points down when you walk over a grave? But after our conversation I was ready to give it a try.

Maria swears by the technique of dowsing not only for locating graves but also ground water and buried water pipes. She would walk along holding the witching rod very lightly and suddenly it would point down. Almost without fail, she had located a grave! By the time our plane had landed I was ready to give dowsing a try. As I understand it, however, not everyone is successful with a witching rod. It takes just the right touch and just the right person.

Do you have any experience with Dowsing? Do you believe it works? Or is it just a bunch of hogwash?


Michelle Goodrum

About Michelle Goodrum

Writer, family historian, and researcher Michelle Roos Goodrum has been researching her family for over 20 years. Being the caretaker of over 135 years of her family’s papers and photographs, Michelle enjoys piecing her ancestors’ stories together. Michelle is also a Teaching Assistant for Boston University's Genealogical Research Program. Follow Michelle on her blog The Turning of Generations ( ) Michelle is the author of IDG’s monthly column, Timeless Territories.

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5 thoughts on “Grave Dowsing

  • Lisa Sullivan Taisey

    Water in the Southwest is a premium! Some folks swear by this man that uses the “Dowsing” means to help them find water so they can drill a well for water…great article!!

  • Lisa Sullivan Taisey

    Folks around here in New Mexico swear by a local man that uses the dowsing technique that tells a land owner where to find water and how far down to dig your well..great article and topic for discussion!

  • Wendy

    Hi there – I do not normally reply to these things…but when I saw the subject…how could I resist? You will be happy to know that YES it does work. In fact, it works VERY well. My experience started with my husband who was playing a video game in which they used a dowsing rod. He was curious, folded a wire hanger he had cut in half, and out the door he went. It worked – reacting to our water main, again and again! I did not believe it and pulled the coat hanger wire away from him to take my turn. I was equally impressed. He went back to the game that day, but something in me had changed. I wanted more. I soon discovered that these little wires could locate more than just water. I have used them to find unmarked graves and measure the bodies many times. Of course you can try it out at a regular cemetery first, just prepare yourself to be amazed. The common ‘L’ rods will cross over the bodies, it does not matter how old they are – 200 years or 2 days it works the same. Just make sure that you do not use your thumb to hold the rods firmly in place as you could change the outcome and you want to allow them to move on their own. For total freedom of movement they do sell rods on ebay that have copper sleeves over the handles….but for the beginner, nothing works better than a simple coat hanger cut in half and bent into 2 ‘L’ shapes. Have fun everyone – don’t try to figure it out, you are wasting your time. I suppose this falls into the ‘paranormal’ unexplained area – but it does work….

  • d.t.p.

    I’ve located many graves w/ fallen headstones here in rural Maine.
    My grandfather located wells for folks using a forked branch from an apple tree, which works similarly to the willow branch you describe.
    I use metal rods bent @ the end enough to hold very loosely, waist high, body width apart, parallell to the ground, w/ bent elbows(straightened coathangers work fine, or slender welding rods) which cross when over a grave & uncross when not 🙂