Paragenealogy

ParagenealogyParagenealogy, by Fiona Broome (work in progress)

My upcoming book, Paragenealogy, explains how to use historical records to correctly identify haunted places, uncover the roots of each site’s ghost stories, and sometimes help spirits with unfinished business.

Book ETA: 2016

Related information

Summary

Paragenealogy is the study of history related to paranormal places and events.

That history is important.

For example, without historical documentation, hauntings become mere “ghost stories.”

With documented history, we can understand haunted places, faerie lore and alien tales.  We can predict recurring manifestations and gain insights to residual and active hauntings.

This research involves traditional genealogical resources as well as input from psychics and folklore. Since I started ghost research in the late 1970s, it’s how I’ve evaluated ghost stories and studied haunted places.

Now, it’s the subject of a book I’m working on.

Paragenealogists start with a broad study of the location, events, and personalities that may relate to a ghost or other paranormal encounter.

Through trial and error, that focus narrows. You’ll isolate credible factors that fit the reported activity, and look closely at those that conflict.

Paragenealogy is a precise study.  If you’re a fast learner, you can learn the basics within hours. However, I’ll be honest: The most accurate research and conclusions may require years of experience in both traditional genealogy and paranormal studies.

That said, anyone can learn the basics and make important discoveries.  If your home is haunted or you’d like to learn more about a paranormal location, you can use traditional genealogical resources. They can be time-consuming to use (especially if they’re not indexed), but most of them aren’t very complicated. A beginner can dig up a lot of important and useful information.

For example, census records and deeds will tell you about the people who’ve lived in a particular home.  Vital records, where available, will fill in details about an individual, so we can compare that information with what seems to present as a ghost.

Then, you can compare “ghost stories” with what you’ve learned. Does the reported ghost seems to match for a real person? Did he or she have a good reason to be at that location… and perhaps haunt it, later?

CASE STUDY: JAMES SHERAN (ca. 1827 – 1854)

James Sheran memorial marker
A memorial like this gives you a good start if the related grave seems haunted.

Let’s say you’re researching a haunting at the memorial for James Sheran. (Photo at right.) A quick search of the Internet will give you a little more information.

Further research leads to this information: “The graves located in this cemetery were moved when a lake was formed on the river they obviously were working for and during the gold rush.” That means his gravestone — and, I hope, his body — were moved from their original resting place. Some spirits don’t like that, and regularly return to the new grave to be sure it isn’t moved again.

However, many markers that say “in memory of…” are just that: markers, not gravestones.

Sheran’s death was sudden and tragic, according to this description, “They were digging or panning for gold along either the Calaveras or Mokelumne river when the wet bank caved in on his friend and this Mullaney carved the stone for his companion.”

  • Next, you’d search Calaveras County (CA, USA) death records for the 9th of December 1854. A death certificate may be the most important record for a ghost hunter. It will tell you a lot more about Mr. Sheran, including where he lived. (Online records aren’t as reliable as death records you can search — in person — at the state or county level.)
  • A memorial like that was fairly expensive. Either he was successful in the gold rush, or he was well-liked and had many friends who contributed to his memorial fund. (Probably the latter.) So, there could be more records about this James Sheran.
  • Note: You could take your search back to County Mayo (Ireland) records, but I don’t recommend it. The name “James Sheran” wasn’t unusual enough. Even in the United States, it may be a challenge to separate his records from other James Sherans, Sheerans, Sheehans, etc. of that same era.

However, with just the information from Mr. Sheran’s death certificate, you’ll know a lot more about him. Using those facts, you can decide if the ghostly manifestation seems to match him, or if the ghost may be someone else altogether. (In some communities, graves were several coffins deep. So, your ghost might be someone else in the same plot as Mr. Sheran and his impressive memorial.)

If you’re working with a psychic, or you’re able to use any ghost hunting device (like an EMF meter) with yes/no questions, you may find more pieces of the puzzle. Eventually, you may identify the ghost with certainty.

There’s a lot more to paragenealogy, but what I’ve explained, above, is a good, basic start. In many cases, you can unearth the truth within hours.

If you want to know the real story behind a haunting, and the ghosts’ actual identity and history, paragenealogy is where you’ll begin.

Ghost Hunting – Keeping Tragedy in Context (Report)

Ghost hunting often puts us in touch with tragic events from the past. Emotions can influence how we interpret cues and events related to a haunting.

However, what we think is tragic today… it might not have been so horrific in the past.

Understanding history can be essential when you are trying to:

  • Understand the quirky things that seem to activate a residual energy haunting.
  • Identify a ghost, and the era he or she is from.
  • Figure out why the ghost remains here, and whether his (or her) story is true… and enough to trigger a haunting.
  • Put active sites into an historical context that makes sense.

That’s why I wrote Ghost Hunting – Keeping Tragedy in Context.  It’s a three-page report explaining some harsh realities of the past, and why the stories and grave markers that seem so tragic may not tell the whole story or even the correct one.  Those hauntings might be related to a very different story.

This isn’t a cheerful report.  You may be shocked by some of the statistics.  But, to really understand ghosts and their stories, a glimpse into the past can be important.

Click here to visit FionaBroome.com for the download:
Ghost Hunting – Keeping Tragedy in Context

Ghost Hunting – Mind Your Manners!

Regency Manners - 1798Ghost hunters should be aware of the rules of etiquette and manners of the ghosts they hope to contact. Of course, it helps if you have an idea of the era when each ghost lived. Manners changed considerably, from time to time.

Remember, through much of the 19th century — and even today, in some cultures — when someone flagrantly or consistently broke rules of etiquette, people with good manners usually ignored them… quite deliberately.

So, learn the manners of the time if you want to establish rapport with a specific ghost.  I discussed this briefly in my earlier article, Consider the Ghosts’ Contexts.

At right is a specific example.  It’s a list of “ill manners” for anyone attending a party or dance in 1789.  These kinds of manners will apply to ghosts from 1750 – 1850, and perhaps a wider time frame.

What might offend your ghost so much that he or she will act as if you’re not there?  Here are a few things not to do, mentioned in the 1789 guide.

  • Arriving with your hat on, and — even worse — leaving it on, indoors.
  • Whispering.
  • Laughing loudly.
  • Tapping or drumming with your hands or feet.
  • Leaning on a chair that a ghost might be sitting in.
  • Throwing something to another person in the room, instead of walking over to them and handing them the object.
  • Ridiculing anyone.  That includes sarcastic comments about other people who aren’t in the room, or making fun of someone else, even as a joke everyone enjoys.
  • Smiling too much.  Frowning (or looking concerned) too much.

If you want to establish rapport with your ghost(s), know the etiquette of their time.  That’s not just about avoiding bad manners, but keeping good manners in mind.

  • Knock before entering a room that might be occupied by a ghost.
  • Introduce yourself, and explain what you’re doing there.
  • Once rapport (any kind of communication) is established and someone else enters the room, you should do the introducing, since you’re already known to the ghost.
  • If you do something that might startle the ghost, apologize.
  • When you’re preparing to leave, explain why you’re leaving, and whether or not you plan to return.

Though most ghost hunters have success without following all (or any) of these guidelines, consider trying this approach to see if it improves your results.

For a wider range of manners and rules of etiquette, visit your public library.   Some of the best authors for our work will include Emily Post and Letitia Baldridge, as well as Miss Manners.

For further reading:  Consider the Ghosts’ Context

More Ways to Use History

Public sites are among my favorite locations for research, and also for training new team members.

I’ve also talked about the importance of using haunted cemeteries for those purposes. (That’s why I go into such detail in Ghost Hunting in Haunted Cemeteries.)

They’re still my most important research and training sites.

However, sometimes you’ll want a fresh and unusual location. To find those locations, dusty old books can be among your best friends.

Here’s an example of my book research.

Along coastal New Hampshire (USA), a massacre site — and related burial ground — are on property that’s open to the public.  The magnitude of the violence that occurred there… well, it should be an excellent investigation site.

Frankly, I was saving this location for my own research.  However, with an overloaded writing schedule in 2011, I’m not sure that I’ll have time for this Rye site… not in the near future, anyway.

The site is related to a 1691 massacre that I’ve briefly mentioned in the past.

I found it described in a dusty old book in the library at Harvard University.  Fortunately, the book is also online. It’s called The History of the Town of Rye, New Hampshire: from its discovery and settlement to December 31, 1903.  (You can tell from the title, this isn’t a book that many people look at.)

Several stories in that book suggest sites that could be haunted.  However, the story that begins on page 245 is probably the most lurid and promising for paranormal research.

The tale was summarized, “… a party of savages, variously estimated at from twenty to forty, came from the eastward in canoes and landed at Sandy Beach. They did not attack the garrison house there, but killed some of the defenceless families living on or in near vicinity to Brackett’s lane (now known as Brackett road), took a number of persons captive, and burned several small houses.”

The story is grisly, involving the loss of about 20 people.  Most of them were buried at the Brackett Massacre Burial Ground. [Link to photo & map.]

Driving directions: Brackett Road runs parallel to Rte. 1A.  From either the center of Rye or from Rte. 1A, take Washington Street (in Rye, NH) to Brackett Road and turn north.  Massacre Marsh will be on your right, shortly after you cross a small stream.  If you get to Geremia Street, you’ve gone too far.

Though some websites mention fierce mosquitoes at the burial ground, one person joked that the insects seem to attack everyone except descendants of the Brackett family.  (Yes, I know she was kidding, but I still pay attention to quirky comments like that one.)

The massacre occurred long ago.  The burial site may not be haunted.   The massacre site — around Wallis Sands beach — is far less likely to be active since the energy has be diluted by centuries of tourism.

However, this is such an overlooked episode in history, and the burial site has had so little attention (before this article appeared, anyway), it could be excellent for research.

You can probably find similar sites in your own area, using similar research methods.

During the chilly winter months — or sultry summer days — you may enjoy spending time at public libraries with really old, regional books.  Often, those books are kept in a room used by historians and genealogists.

There are no shortcuts in this kind of preliminary research.  You really do need to sit down and browse a lot of dusty old books.

Tip: Bring change for the copy machine.  Many of the best old books cannot be taken out of the library.  Though you may find several books reproduced online (such as the Rye, NH book), don’t count on it.

Whenever I think I’ve taken enough notes, I usually regret not photocopying relevant pages in the book/s.

People often ask how I find such great haunted sites.  Though I’m now exploring obscure sites revealed by my paranormal patterns work, the simple version — browsing dusty old historical books — still works well.

If you’re not able to conduct much research during winter months, it may be an ideal time to identify sites for future investigations.

Visit the public library.  You may be pleasantly surprised.

Research for ghost hunters

A “real ghost story” is only as credible as the history that supports it.

When I hear a report of a significant haunting, I research the story before taking it seriously.

Here’s an overview of my research process:

1. Verify the age of the site.

castle-ruinsOften, in areas anticipating tourism, new buildings are designed to “old.”

I recently researched several Irish castles.  One of them is an old building, but it didn’t become a castle — complete with tower and “Medieval” embellishments — until about 20 years ago.

Likewise, Hollow Hill has received reports that seem appropriate for the apparent age of a building, but the building is a reproduction and has no significant ghostly history.

  • You can often trace a building’s history the same as title insurance is researched. Find out how that’s done in your area, and use the same records for your research.
  • Usually, the local city or town hall has ownership records and building permits to indicate the age of the site.
  • City directories — 19th-century listings, similar to phone books but before telephones — usually include a street-by-street directory. It lists each building, and who lived or worked there.

Use those kinds of resources to learn more about an address: Who was there, what the purpose of the site was, and more.

2. Verify the history of the site.

The most famous site I debunked  may be the supposed “Ocean-Born Mary” house.

The house was old enough, but something didn’t seem right. My  research revealed that Mary Wilson Wallace never lived in the house that she supposedly haunts. She only visited it once or twice, if at all.

Trace the homeowners’ histories.

  • Start with ownership records at the town or city hall. (You may need to check county or state records, as well.)
  • Also, examine historical diaries and other documents — especially civil court and probate records — to determine the reported ghost’s links to the site.

Likewise, if someone claims that an event took place at the site, check contemporary records. Look at newspaper reports from the time of the event, and verify the locations or addresses.

3. Verify the ghost’s personal history.

I often hear reports including the ghosts’ names and stories.

If a story sounds a little like an urban legend, it probably is one. However, whether the ghost story sounds real or not, homework is necessary.

First, be sure that the person really existed. Birth, marriage, and death records, as well as census records, should support the ghost story.

I routinely check the free and paid resources at Ancestry.com.

However, those same census and vital records are available to the public at no charge, especially if you live in the area of the reported haunting.

  • Your public library probably has census records that you can use.
  • Birth, marriage, and death records are generally kept at the town, county, and/or state levels, and may be free for you to examine.

Or, you can check online for helpful research materials. You’re doing genealogical research. The best single source for useful links is CyndisList.com.

For a quick search on ghosts from the early 20th century and before, I usually check FamilySearch.org. It may contain some errors, but it’s a fast way to gather information.

Before you share a “true ghost story,” be sure that there really is a ghost, and real history matches the tale.

Remember, the ghost may haunt because he (or she) had been forgotten, or he wants the story told the way it really happened.  Historical records can go a long way towards uncovering  the truth.

Identify Your Ghost

Sometimes you can find out who your ghost was, even if no one knows the ghost’s name.

It starts when you (or someone else) has seen the ghost, or received a fairly clear impression about the appearance of the ghost.

In addition to the obvious things (such as if the person wears a noose or has a weapon in hand), carefully observe the clothing if you can.  Usually, that tells you a lot about your ghost, including the era when the ghost lived, and his or her economic status.

With those insights, you may develop a “gut feeling” as you research, and soon conclude the most likely identity of your ghost.

Most ghosts respond to their names. They may act startled or angry, but you’ll almost always get a dramatic reaction to the correct name.

That’s your goal, whether you’re trying to confirm whether a place is haunted, or help the ghost to “cross over.”

Step 1: Start with the ghost’s clothing.

Fashions

You can guess the era when the ghost lived, based on the clothing he or she wears.

  • Researching a female ghost, you may narrow the time to a ten-year period, based on fashions.
  • Men’s styles vary less dramatically from year to year.
  • Children’s clothing can be more challenging. In most cases, only the upper class dressed their children fashionably.  Even then, little boys and girls were often dressed identically until around age four, and sometimes older.  So, “the little ghost in the dress” isn’t necessarily female.

A ghostly woman with a very large and extreme bustle extending over the back of her skirt (possibly a fairly narrow skirt to the floor), is probably from the 1880’s. Bright yellow was fashionable for both men and women — particularly for footwear — in the 1890’s.

Those are easy to date.  However, don’t seize stereotypes.

Here are a couple of examples:

  • A woman with sloped shoulders and large, poofy sleeves plus a full skirt, may be from the American Civil War era. However, affluent women of the 1620’s through 1640’s would match this profile, too.
  • High-waisted gowns are reminiscent of the “Titanic” era. (The ship sank in 1912.)  High-waisted gowns were also worn during England’s Regency period, in the early 19th century.

By contrast, some fashion cues are sure things.

For example, in America, a powdered wig will usually be seen prior to the Revolutionary War, and even then, only among the upper class or those who aspired to appear influential.

When you see a female apparition (or perceive her, psychically), it’s usually easy to notice dramatic fashion details.

If your ghost is male, try to look for specific details in his clothing.  Here are some examples:

  • For men, hats and lapels are key points. The length of the jacket is also helpful.
  • Tricorns, the three-cornered hat usually shown on Patriots in illustrations of American Revolution, were worn from the late 17th century through the late 18th century, but were soon replaced by hats with flat brims and taller crowns.
  • Likewise, longer pants, also called “Irish trousers,” replaced breeches after the American Revolution.
  • Men did not wear “top hats” with tall crowns until around the 1820’s.
  • Men’s suits, as we know them today, did not come into fashion until towards the end of the American Civil War.
  • Gaudy fabrics in suits, including brilliant colors and plaids, usually represent fashions after 1885.

For more information on costuming, check your public library. I recommend illustrated guides by John Peacock.

Step 2: Match people to that era, at that location.

If you can narrow the time period using clothing or some other means, you can then learn who lived in the house, or what company was in the building.

Site and residents’ history

For houses, go to city hall and search property records.

Or go to the public library (or a genealogy library) and use the census records which are generally listed by state, then town, and then neighborhood. All the houses on one street are usually grouped on one set of pages, in order.

Census records from the mid-19th century will usually tell you the names, ages, and professions of everyone in the house, and their relationships to each other.

City directories listed homes and businesses. Before phone books, city directories listed, street-by-street, every adult in each household. Most included where the person was employed, too.

Those directories also listed businesses by street address. Businesses advertised in city directories, providing additional information.

Once you enter the era of the telephone book, look for “reverse directories,” which list names and phone numbers by their addresses. If the house was at 123 Main Street, you can look up Main Street and then find who (or what business) was in number 123.

Step 3: Use genealogical records to learn more about the most likely people.

With the location, a name, and a time period, use genealogical resources — such as civil and church records — to learn what happened to the occupants of the house, or the owner of the business.

  • Civil records include birth, marriage, and death records.  They’re usually kept at city, county, and state offices.
  • Church records may be at the actual church, or at a broader office, such as Catholic Archdiocese archives.
  • Many older records are online, and some are indexed.
  • Historical societies, family history libraries, and the historical collection at the public library may be helpful.

Other resources

Many newspaper articles are indexed. Newspaper obituaries are, too. They can provide considerable information. Once you have names to work with, you can look for articles about their lives. You may find clues in those stories or reports.

Court records can be useful. For example, you may find a series of lawsuits disputing a property line. That was common when property and income were closely tied.  A running dispute could explain lingering residual energy, especially at a site that never had a house on it… or never had a house on it, until now.

After a person had died, their will and probate records can provide insights into family relations. These records are usually at the courthouse.  Most are open to the public once the will has been read, after the individual’s death.

siseTown and city histories can provide colorful (but often fictional) biographies of leading citizens. No matter how much the person’s background was embellished, you can find clues to their real lives.

This is a simplified explanation, but hopefully it will help you identify your ghost, or narrow the possibilities to just a few people.

Remember that some ghosts wander. One famous example is the ghost of Room 214 in the Sise Inn of Portsmouth, NH. The Sise Inn — shown at right — appears to have no violence in its long history. However, the ghost may be a visitor from a house two doors away, where a murder was committed many years ago.

You may not identify every ghost, but — in many cases — you can narrow the possibilities to just a few real people from the past.