Ghost Stories versus Historical Research

I love a ghost story. Any ghost story. My book shelf is loaded with books on Florida ghosts, Irish Ghosts, New England ghosts, lighthouse ghosts, battlefield ghosts; basically, I have a lot of books with ghost stories in them.

Likewise, I find myself often watching T.V. shows about ghosts. I enjoy the stories for what they are – entertainment. The problem comes when you start looking into the actual facts of these stories. Often, the tales are impossible to research because they fail to give important details such as names and dates.  Do stories that are unsubstantiated have less value than those with verifiable facts? I suppose it depends on your outlook.  If all you’re looking for is entertainment, then no.  But if you’re looking for something more, something deeper, you have to be able to weed out the urban legends and get down to the bones of a story.  That is where historical research comes in.

I know we don’t update the website very often, but that isn’t because we’re not active.  While you won’t find us posting endless hours of EVPs or countless orb photographs, that doesn’t mean we’re not hard at work.  We’re usually plodding away in search of a stray fact, some dusty truth hidden below the fantastic tales told by so many websites and books.  Here is where we conduct most of our paranormal investigations:

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Yep- we do most of our investigating at the local library.  You’d be amazed what you can find in there! The items in that image are the tools of the trade that often get overlooked when you drop by a ghost hunting website and check out their recommended equipment. A pen, some paper, old newspapers on film and a microfiche reader. They pair nicely with HeritageQuest, NewsBank and Ancestry.com. In fact, it doesn’t need to get much more high-tech than that to debunk most ghost stories we come across.  Fact checking the tales is tireless, often unrewarding work.  Often, we discover some tidbit of information in an old newspaper article or locate a headstone that proves without a shadow of a doubt that the tale we’ve been investigating is, well, complete make believe.  It can be quite a let-down, and being the voice of reason when everyone else wants to hear a good story can be daunting at times.  It’s a bit like being a detective, a genealogist, a historian and a lawyer arguing an unpopular case all rolled into one.

Despite all that, there is sometimes a reward; a pot of gold at the end of the research rainbow.  A good example of this can be found in the Boston House.  We’ve been researching the claims attached to the building for years.  Many of them have proven to be nothing more than a really great story to tell around a campfire.  Yet as we debunked those tales, a different picture emerged.  The Boston House has been dubbed haunted for many, many years- something well documented in the local papers.  Those reported paranormal encounters pre-date the currently popular explanation for the hauntings.  Even more interesting is the fact that the home played host to a number of tragedies, any of which could have resulted in paranormal activity.  Finally, as if it were icing on the cake, many credible witnesses have come forward over the years to share their experiences.  These experiences create the perfect situation for furthering the investigation; specific claims that can be investigated on site.

I often wonder how other groups work through their cases.  I find it hard to believe we’re alone in the stacks, the odd group out as we sift through the sensational stories to find the gems that call for further investigation.   I can only hope there are, and that groups with this methodology prevail in finding out the truth behind all the ghost stories we love to tell.

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