Ghost Hunting – 5 1/2 Pre-Investigation Steps

Ghost Hunting - 5 1/2 pre-investigation steps to take at home.The best place to start ghost hunting is at home.

No, that’s not because your home may be haunted.

It’s because you can learn so much that will be useful later, when you investigate the site.

And, nearly all of this research can be done at home – or even during your lunch break – with Internet access.

In my recent article series about haunted Eden Camp and the ghosts of Malton, England, I explained what I look for, with examples from those locations.

Here’s exactly what I do…

5 1/2 Pre-Investigation Steps

First, I look for ghost stories. (This is the half-step. If I’m investigating a private home, their may be no ghost stories at all.)

If I find some, I check them against history. Do historical events and people match the stories?

A bogus story can diminish the likelihood of the site being haunted, but I won’t dismiss it altogether.

Maybe King Henry VIII or George Washington didn’t spend the night in that haunted castle or home. A similar-looking ghost – a different man in royal robes or a Revolutionary war uniform – might haunt the sites.

Then, I check for ley lines. I’m looking for nearby haunts and reported anomalies, or places that usually have ghosts.

Those include:

  • Cemeteries and rumored “ancient burial grounds.”
  • Battlefields or where skirmishes occurred.
  • Significant historical monuments.
  • Current or former sites of institutions such as hospitals, orphanages, and prisons.

I want to “connect the dots” with a straight line between the site I’m investigating and at least two other haunted/anomalous/weird locations.

After that, I look for other patterns… things that connect the investigation site to other, similar haunts.

For example, in Austin (Texas), I discovered ghosts at nearly every site related to Abner Cook and bricks from haunted Shoal Creek.

So, I look at geography, history, related sites (nearby or in other areas), etc.

Next, I dig into ancient history.  In Britain, that’s usually related to the Celts, Vikings, and Romans. In the US and Canada, I research Native American history, and which locations were considered “sacred” or “forbidden.”

The last online (and library) research step involves recent history. 

I’m not just looking for ghost stories. I’m also looking for extraordinary people and events – and related secrets – that can indicate a haunting.

Crime reports and court cases (reported in local newspapers) can provide some of the best insights.

The final step is to ask, “What’s weird?”

That is, what leaps out as different? What location or person or moment in history seems to linger in my mind, as something odd?

In a series of “odd” things – like the Salem Witch Trials – whatever stands out is usually connected to the darkest history of the area. 

I keep notes from those five research sessions: ghost stories, ley lines, other patterns, ancient history, recent history, and “what’s weird?”

Those give me a context – and possibly credible support – for whatever we’ll find during the on-site investigation.

And, with those clues, the investigation can be more focused. We can find the “hot spots” of ghostly phenomena – EVP, cold spots, apparitions, shadow people, and so on – faster than if we’re just… well… working in the dark.

A Fresh Approach to a Haunted Building’s History

This week, I was charmed by a CBS video about informal, modern-day archaeology.

Then I realized we could do this in many haunted locations, especially private homes and businesses, where the owners ask, “Who is that ghost?”

The video is less than three minutes long. I think it’s worth viewing if you’re actively involved in private investigations.

Though this kind of dig may not confirm anything, it might give you more clues about the history of the site. That could suggest a context for the haunting.

As I see it, this is a fresh research approach. It uses a little “informal archaeology” and it’s something almost anyone can do. You can include the site owners in this project, as well. (It might mean a lot to them, even more than it does to you.)

Since this kind of research is limited to areas like closets, it won’t disfigure the more visible parts of the home or business. That’s important.

(If you can’t watch that video, here’s a link to the related article: )

Until I saw this video, I never realized how many historical clues could — literally — fall through the cracks.

If you try this (or have, in the past), I hope you’ll share results and insights. I’m very interested in whether this could be useful.

The site in the video is about 100 years old. So, this kind of dig — with permission, of course — could be useful at sites from the mid-20th century and earlier.


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


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.