If your community has a regular ghost tour, that’s a great way to get started. Generally, ghost tours focus on public places that you can visit on your own.
Go on the tour, note the locations and stories, and return later (or another day) for your own research.
However, most ghost tours are designed to be entertaining… not necessarily factual. I talk about that in my article, Choosing the Right Ghost Tour.
In that article, I describe some of the problems with most New Orleans “ghost tours.” They tell great stories, but most tales about the Lalaurie Mansion aren’t true. She only lived in the house for two years. There was no third floor on the house. And, she wasn’t French, she was the daughter of Irish immigrants.
If you’re looking for a truly haunted New Orleans site connected with Madame Lalaurie, visit Brennan’s restaurant on Royal Street, and the antiques shop beside their outdoor dining area. All of those locations have verified ghost stories and eerie histories, and Madame Lalaurie lived there for many years, before her brief time at the “haunted mansion.”
Although the easiest to research, I place websites low on my list of resources. Many — perhaps most — aren’t reliable. They’ve copied from other sources. Even when they’ve conducted their own on-site research, they don’t always fact-check the legends.
In the 1990s, mine was the first website to describe the hauntings at New Hampshire’s Gilson Road Cemetery. (Back then, it was an isolated cemetery surrounded by woods, on a dimly-lit rural road on the far side of Nashua, NH.) I also provided the information for the Halloween 2000 Nashua Telegraph (NH) newspaper article. Today, most people who write about Gilson Road Cemetery are drawing from my original reports… whether they realize it or not.
In fact, when I search online, I find impossible and ridiculous stories about that cemetery. Some include completely misleading directions to the site. Obviously, the website owners had never been to Gilson Road Cemetery. They’re just writing about it to attract visitors to their websites.
Here’s another example: Many websites (and a few books) describe the ghost of “Mary Miller Jason” of the Old Burial Yard in York, Maine. (In fact, as of 2010, over 14,000 webpages mention “Mary Miller Jason” as York’s famous ghost.)
That’s the wrong name. I’m pretty sure it started with a mistake in an old, regional ghost book.
If the people writing those articles — online and in books — had actually visited the cemetery, they’d recognize the mistake right away. (That’s the haunted grave, at left.)
On the gravestone, as you can see in the photo, her name is actually Mary Nasson.
How to research haunted places, online
You can use the Internet to research ghost stories.
Here’s what I do:
I start with one of the original (and best) websites listing haunted places. It’s the Shadowlands, by Dave Juliano. I go directly to the Shadowlands’ Haunted Index, and make notes about haunts near the location that interests me.
Next, I look for additional information to confirm each story. At the very least, if the ghost has a first and last name, I check FamilySearch.org to see if they have genealogical information about the ghost.
For example, Mary Nasson of York, Maine, is listed there, with an alternate spelling of Mary Nason. A typo from the Nason spelling probably explains the ‘Jason’ surname error.
I also use paid resources, like Ancestry.com, for more in-depth and reliable research. Military records, census records, newspaper reports… all of them help me verify (or debunk) the ghost stories. They often help me dig deeper into the ghost’s history, to understand why he or she is connected with a haunted place. However, I don’t recommend using paid resources until you’re sure ghost hunting — and this kind of historical research — are for you.
My point in this lesson is: If you’re using websites for research, confirm every story with at least one other, reliable source.
If a site has no history to suggest why a ghost lingers there, it’s not the best places for a beginner to start ghost hunting.
Instead, look for well-known haunts that have some historical information connected to the story. Otherwise, I’m not sure it’s worth your time.