The mystery of the “unknown children” and how they were found

LOCATING GRAVES–Ken Williams is pictured dowsing, using two metal rods, in the St. John’s Lutheran Church Cemetery. By using this method, he was able to help find the locations of the graves of the “unknown children.” *

Back in September, as part of the Red Bud 150 celebration, a historical cemetery tour was held. One stop was at the St. John’s Lutheran Church Cemetery and part of the stop there that captured quite a bit of interest was the “unknown children.”

As several readers have expressed interest in the mystery of the unknown children and the process in which their graves were found, the North County News reached out to Ken Williams to find out more information.

According to the booklet given out during the cemetery tour, a bad strain of summer colds, also known as the Summer Consumption, struck in 1866-67, 1870 and 1875-77, afflicting many area children. Williams told the News that not only does their church records confirm this, but other area churches also show record of children succumbing to the Summer Consumption in that time period.

What caused the death of these children is not so much the mystery though. The mystery is why their graves went unmarked and were relatively undiscovered until a Girl Scout Gold project helped them be found.

Both the cemetery tour book and Williams note that older church members recalled hearing stories of children buried by a tree. This was not very specific though, as there were several trees located in and around the cemetery.

In 2014, Tessa Miller, the daughter of Bart and Danette Miller, decided that for her Girl Scout Gold project, she would create an updated map of the St. John’s Lutheran Church Cemetery.

She, along with her mother, spent countless hours going through the church records, sometimes needing to have older records translated from German to English. Then they began matching up the records to the church’s old cemetery map, which was printed on a leather canvas.

But not all burials on record had matching headstones. This is where Williams came in to help.

Williams says that he learned “witching,” also known as dowsing or divining, while on a mission trip to California in 2001.

Dowsing has historically been used to find things underground such as water, gas and electric lines, oil, minerals, metals and even human graves. It is labeled as a pseudoscience, with many scientists saying it is no more accurate than random chance, and that the person dowsing is actually influencing the results. Many cemetery caretakers and farmers would disagree, saying it is more accurate than any modern detection device. How exactly it works is not fully understood.

For more on this story, please see this week’s print edition.