DOUSING PREVIOUSLY UNMARKED GRAVES
August 28, 2011
The Collin County Commissioners recently gave a $1,000 grant to restore and clean the McMillen Cemetery located in Murphy. All was accomplished except for one thing the cemetery committee wanted to do. That was to identify the unmarked graves using ground-penetrating radar (GPR). The cost of the GPR was prohibitive and three times that of the grant.
The cemetery is small, but there are what appear to be depressions in the soil indicating where the casket had caved in leaving a visible depression. One hollow in particular is where an indentation appeared after the earlier removal of a large dead tree, previously known by cemetery committee.
At a recent Historical Coalition meeting, someone identified two men in the audience, Edward “Ted” Wright who is a douser and President of the Collin County Historic Preservation Group, Inc. and Jim Bundy. Besides being interested in all things historical relating to the county, they are dousers.
When contacted, Ted and Jim offered to douse the cemetery this past Monday at no cost. They enjoy this little ‘side job.’ Ted brought two welding rods with a bend at one end, and the committee provided the spray paint to outline the graves. After locating 13 unmarked graves, Ted then stood over the center of each of them to indicate whether the remains were male or female. In a blind test, he successfully identified the gender of a couple of marked graves without reading the engraving on the tombstone. He identified them correctly.
To further mystify and entertain the committee at the cemetery, Ted asked each of them to hold the two shiny rods and commence to douse. Each person was amazed as the rods crossed repeatedly in their hands over areas of unmarked graves. I was one of those people who tested the divining rods, carefully, and they worked. I anchored the bottom of the bend in my palm and rested the horizontal part against one finger without gripping the rod. Without holding or squeezing, the rods crossed over an indention in the soil.
The trick, or technique, Ted used to get the outline of the grave was to stand outside the suspected grave and walk onto the grave to locate the edges from the ends and the sides. The entire little cemetery was doused and several suspected graves were located, outlined with spray paint and marked as to the gender. Only the male graves were marked with a four-inch circle of the spray paint.
The placement of the remains in relation to the headstone for the marked graves caused me a little worry. Usually the head is placed so that when Gabriel blows his horn on judgment day the deceased will rise facing the rising sun in the east. This was not always the case in the McMillen Cemetery. Then I was told that many years ago, the cemetery was cleaned and the stones reset. Furthermore, one of the caretakers supposedly gathered some stones and threw them in the creek. Why didn’t someone rescue the stones from the creek? The shuffling of the stones explains the unusual placement of the body in relation to the headstone. Wonder if any stones remain partially buried in the Maxwell Creek that runs on two sides of the graveyard. That would be a good project for a Scout Troop.
The committee intends to mark permanently the recently found graves. When marked, the Corinth Presbyterian Church recognizes the pioneers of the community and the members with the respect they deserve even if they never identify all the unmarked graves.
For the skeptical readers, I found where dousing, also called witching and divining for graves, is becoming more accepted according to William E. Whittaker, Ph.D., RPA, from the Office of the State Archaeologist, University of Iowa Burials Program. You can read his paper online at www.uiowa.edu/~osa/burials/Dowsing.pdf. The title of the paper is “Grave Dousing Reconsidered.” It is certainly worth a read.
Brenda Kellow has a bachelor's degree in history, teaches, and lectures on genealogy. Before retiring to publish her family’s histories in 2007, Brenda held certification as a Certified Genealogist and as a Certified Genealogical Instructor. Send reunion announcements, books to review, and genealogy queries to: TracingOurRoots@gmail.com.