How to Find Unmarked Graves

Updated March 23, 2017

Although caretakers maintain the modern cemeteries of today, this was once not the case. Many cemetery plots were not marked or the original wooden markers decayed and rotted away. Over time, even the cemetery itself may have become "lost." While laws are in place to protect graves that are 150 years or older, if you are on a cemetery preservation committee or trying to locate a family grave site, there are some things you can do to help in the search for unmarked graves.

Use a commercial probing rod. Commercial probing rods are typically 6 feet in length, made of heavy-duty steel and have T-shaped handle on top with a blunt end on the bottom. Probing rods are inserted into the ground. Hitting something in the ground or meeting resistance typically signifies that you have found a coffin, grave or, in many cases, a rock.

Examine the area where you suspect an unmarked grave is located. Note whether there is an abundance of rocks in the area that you are searching. If the soil is full of rocks, you will most likely have to use another method since the rocks will give you false positives when the rod hits them during probing.

Insert the probing rod into the ground. If the probing stops or there is resistance in the same area of space during several different probes, this is typically an indication of a coffin or vault. If the probing does not meet with anything or the resistance is just in one or two spots, the probing rod is most likely hitting a rock.

Obtain two 14- to 16-inch-long pieces of straight copper wire. If needed, you may also cut a 28- or 32-inch wire in half.

Bend each piece of copper wire into an "L" shape. This will create handles for your dousing rods.

Place the first rod in your right hand with the end pointing away from you. Curl your first three fingers of your hand around the short part of the rod. The bottom of the rod will sit on the front part of your little finger. Use your thumb to gently stabilise the longer part of the rod. Repeat the process with the other rod in your left hand.

Walk over the area that you want to douse. Concentrate on finding the grave you are seeking. The rods will cross and point slightly downward when they locate the grave.


There are other more effective and easier ways to find an unmarked grave, such as soil coring or magnetometry. These methods are typically administered by an archaeologist, technician or soil expert, however, and require training with a more extensive knowledge of soil and cemetery surveying. Grave dowsers believe that dousing rods detect the metal hardware of the coffin or a magnetic disturbance of the soil where the coffin is.This has not been proven scientifically; however, and should not be relied upon in cases that may end up in a court of law.

Things You'll Need

  • Probing rod
  • Dousing rod
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About the Author

Based in Atlanta, Casey Kennedy has been writing online content since 2009. She specializes in writing about small business, careers, real estate, and ecommerce. She also enjoys writing about a variety of other subjects, including home improvement, gardening, and pet care. She attended the Academy of Art online, studying interior architecture and design while pursuing commercial flight training at Aviation Atlanta in Georgia.