Research is critical before an investigation - don’t skip it. There are some great resources for you to use and most of them are free to the public.
Use these resources:
- Libraries (public, school and/or university)
- Record halls
- Newspaper archives
- Historical societies
Notice, we didn’t list the Internet. I think it’s fine to use Web sites to get background information, but the quality varies a great deal from site-to-site. If you want to start some place, we recommend Shadowlands.com, Ghostvillage.com and Ghosts101.com.
It’s a good idea to call ahead, if you can. Most of the information you need is locked away and it will take the librarian or archivist some time to pull it together for you. In most cases, libraries and newspapers have original documents, PDFs, microfiche or other copies in good shape. Town record halls and historic societies may not.
You also want to focus on the specific era when you call. This gives the librarian/archivist a much smaller set of information to collect for you. Just imagine if you asked for all the mob hits in Chicago during Prohibition - That’s not easy to collect in a short-time frame. Now, if you asked for all murders at the Congress Hotel in 1919, you’ll get better documents much faster.
In some cases, you do have to pay to get the information. This usually happens at newspapers. It may be less expensive to use an online subscription for the archives, like with the New York Times. A simple search will return your results. If you do go, the same targeted request will get better documents for you, much like the library request.
Historical societies are great if you can visit them during their business hours. The material may not be in great shape, but the archivist should be happy to hear someone’s interest in their town and local folks. Sometimes, they will let you browse through all their documents they’ve collected over the years. Just stay focused on the site and potential spirits who lived there. You can quickly become overwhelmed by all the material. Historic societies also have records of the people, personalities and tragic events that shaped the town’s past. You can pick up great anecdotal information to help with EVP. Ask a lot of questions, but use a reporter’s filter when you do it. This means ask who/what/when/where/why/how to help get the facts, then ask the society staff to elaborate on them.
Record halls are usually hit-or-miss for older records (before the 1940s). We use them to see the history of ownership of a potential site. This will help you get names for your archive searches. We also use the geologic information. The rocks/soils/bodies of water can help indicate if the ghostly energy is right for a residual haunting.
Once you compile all the archives, look for recurring patterns of names and events, like murders or unexpected deaths, that happened at the site. Note the dates. This can help you gather questions for EVP or identifying a person in an apparition. Combine these details with any stories you may get from the historic society and a picture of the haunting potential should start to form. Keep great notes for the actual investigation.
Now, all of this information is more for an abandoned building, outside haunt or cemetery. For a private residence, you’ll use a questionnaire and conduct an interview with the people living there.
And that’s a post for another day.