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Finding Unmarked Graves

Most cemeteries contain unmarked graves. Even today some families don’t have the funds to buy a headstone, so the grave goes unmarked. Many graves can be located by rectangular depressions on the ground surface. However it is important to find and document all the existing graves to prevent accidental intrusion later on.

In the above video you see Bob Perry, owner of Topographix based in Hudson, New Hampshire. It is a digital mapping service using ground penetrating radar. It’s all about the disturbance in the soil when he is looking at the radar, he will find little air pockets in the soil. This technology is the best way to find lost graves and Bob gets calls to go all over the country to map cemeteries.

A more economical way is to use dowsing rods, a practice called Grave Witching. Scientists say that dowsing doesn’t work, I guess our ancestors didn’t know that because they relied on it to find more than grave sites, it is also a way to find needed water. Pioneers used probing to locate existing graves before burying their loved ones in a family graveyard or rural cemetery.

Along with a dowsing rod you can use a metal probe, however you may need a state permit to do this. Probing detects softer areas where the ground has been disturbed next to the surrounding soil that remains more compacted. You use a metal probe measuring at lest 4 feet in length and 1/8 inch in diameter. Most historic graves are not six feet deep. Most historic graves are oriented east to west with the head to the west, the probe transects should be oriented north to south to maximize the chances of locating a soil anomaly possible grave shaft. Probes should not be more then three feet apart. This will reduce the chance of missing infant graves. Probing is a good way to find the missing headstone.

Once you have located an unmarked grave, find a way to mark the location. Metal spikes in the four corners of the grave works well, they are easy to find later with a metal detector. You can use flags for temporary identification purposes. Put all the possible unmarked graves on a map. If you can have a registered surveyor create a certified map. File the information with your local land records office so that the burial locations are not lost again.

In the video below you will see a man talking about using dowsing rods.

Many people don’t believe that dowsing rods work, William Whittaker, Ph.D., RPA from the Office of the State Archaeologist, University of Iowa, Iowa City, IA. Published this guide “Grave Dowsing Reconsidered” You will need to make the choice for yourself. I believe it is a low cost way to find a grave site.

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