Locating Your Ancestors Underground

Duane Kniebes, Co-President of Colorado Chapter of Palatines to America, will be presenting April’s program on “Locating Your Ancestors Underground.” His presentation describes the Cemetery Location Project sponsored by the Colorado Council of Genealogical Societies and a dowser tool used to confirm burials. The dowser rods, normally used to find underground water, actually confirms burials.

The Colorado Council of Genealogical Societies (CCGS) published a directory of Colorado cemeteries in 1985. A committee led by Duane Kniebes updated the publication by adding latitude and longitude coordinates to the location information for each cemetery. This project not only updates the 20-year-old directory, but gives future cemetery searchers the exact, easy-to-find location using GPS coordinates. This is especially useful in finding the many small and remote cemeteries that were created before the 1920s. The US Geological Survey is cooperating with Duane and CCGS on this project.

Interestingly, 90% of most remote cemeteries are oriented on high ground above a family’s home on farmland. Other gravesites will be close to the home. Rocks are often used to mark graves, but some are marked with wooden markers. The wooden markers deteriorate over time and become unreadable after several decades of weathering. The better grave markers are made of engraved stone as found in today’s cemeteries. Also look for different types of plants around unmarked gravesites.

Duane and his wife, Susan, have worked on the CCGS Cemetery Location Project for seven years. They have located, visited and obtained the latitude and longitude of about 160 cemeteries and remote burial sites just in Larimer County, and have collected histories of a number of the early settlers in the county. Duane is now coordinator of the state-wide project, with about ten volunteers visiting cemeteries around the state.

Duane gave a demonstration of the dowser rods (even a pair of coat hangers will work), which can be made of steel, brass, glass, or even plastic. Several of our audience members tried it with success using other audience members as the target.

Dowser rods, sometimes called “witch sticks,” have been used for decades to locate water, objects, animals, and burials underground. There is a technique to holding the rods, which must be parallel to each other and the ground. The L-shaped rods, which can be of any length convenient to handle, are usually made of steel, about one-eighth inch in diameter.

The rods are held lightly in the hands by the bent handle, keeping the thumb well out of the way and the hands low enough to not interfere with the rods’ movements as shown in this picture. The two rods will realign on their own accord from parallel to crossed over, at a grave site. Sometimes, the rods will move at right angles.

An experienced dowser can even sometimes distinguish whether the person buried is a man or a woman, depending on how the rods react. Testing on known graves should indicate this. Try it at a local cemetery! For more information on this method, search for “grave dowsing” on the Internet. There are societies and certification courses for dowsers.

Duane and his team found an uncharted cemetery on farmland in Larimer County. A farmer removed the gravestones, although he suspected it was a graveyard. Duane located all 18 graves using the dowser rods. There is no state law on preserving remote cemeteries like this, but at least their location is known, and in many cases, who the graves belong to.

The last part of the presentation included a segment on communicating with your ancestors at grave sites using the dowsing rods. Although many people are skeptical about this subject, Duane discussed this technique used by several pro-genealogists including himself. One pro-genealogist, who has given presentations to our society before, communicated with her ancestors using the dowsing rod method to ask about and locate a marriage certificate in another county. The basic technique asks the ancestor to cross the rods for simple yes or no answers.

Ironically, this should inspire genealogists in locating their ancestors. I for one, will be trying these techniques in locating several ancestors on remote farmland and hopefully getting some long needed answers. But as Duane says, the ancestor may not want to communicate with you. This technique won’t work on very young children, since they never learned how to communicate. Either technique works on older gravesites back to the 1700s unless there are little or no remains left at the gravesite.

Regardless of what you think, James Van Praagh of psychic medium fame, has been highlighted on many TV talk shows about this controversial subject. He talks with the dead (without the dowsing rods) using his “gift” that apparently only a few possess. He is also one of the executive producers of the popular TV show, “Ghost Whisperer,” which is based on his life. So if you discover you can locate or talk with your ancestors using the dowsing rods, let us know. I know I will after using Duane’s intriguing method this summer!

From the Larimer County Genealogical Society Newsletter, Volume 27 Number 1

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