The News Courier in Athens, Alabama

Local News

May 12, 2013

Hangers help archives director identify graves

(Continued)

They all drove to a cemetery. Ozbirn told the women she knew approximately the location of their ancestor's grave, but the grave did not have a headstone.

"They said that's not a problem, and they went to the car and got a coat hanger," she said.

The women brought out a pair of straightened hangers and walked along the area. Soon, the hangers crossed, indicating the grave's location while Ozbirn looked on in astonishment. She asked about the hangers.

"They said they're just ordinary coat hangers, and they cut the hook and bent them for a handle," Ozbirn said. "I said, 'yeah, right,' and she said, "I promise it works every time.' "

Ozbirn tried it and discovered it worked. She said she has researched grave dowsing, as it's called, online and read theories about physical elements of a corpse's body playing a role in the phenomenon, but she does not know the validity of the theories.

"Whenever I show this to somebody, I make them do it, too, so they'll know it's not just something that this crazy red-headed woman came up with," Ozbirn joked.

She said there are practical purposes for using the dowsing method. For example, she has come across cases in which a descendent knew that a husband and wife were buried side by side at a specific location of an unmarked grave or worn grave marker, but didn't know which grave was the husband and which was the wife.

Dowsing allowed Ozbirn to identify the gender so they could properly mark the graves.

Ozbirn takes genealogy and history seriously and said dowsing plays another important role, in that it attracts others to genealogy.

"People really get involved when you show them this," she said. "It's the most amazing thing I've ever seen and I've been doing genealogy for 27 years. Anytime you can get somebody interested in genealogy, it's a great thing."

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