Paragenealogy

Paragenealogy
Working title (and cover) for Fiona’s upcoming book.

Paragenealogy, 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: 2018

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, Podcast)

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 describes some harsh realities of the past.

It explains why many stories and grave markers that seem so tragic, today, 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.

Here’s my related podcast: Ghost Hunting and Historic Context

Here’s that report link: 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 or use your camera to photograph pages of interest.  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 getting copies of 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.