Ghosts, History, Triggers and Synergy

What’s really going on at haunted sites?

Are ghosts real, and – if they are – how can we interact with them, without provoking their anger and increasing their pain?

With more research, we might learn more about why some places seem haunted.  That’s why I share my favorite ghost hunting tips.

Let’s talk about using historical research to encourage ghostly responses.

If you’re busy, here’s one of my earlier 10-minute podcasts about this topic. (Otherwise, just scroll down to read the article.)

Ghosts, History, Triggers, and Synergy

In this 10-minute recording, you can learn how to use history to confirm and increase ghostly activity at haunted locations. Fiona shares some of her best-kept secrets, with tips for putting them to use in your own investigations.  The related article – and helpful links – are at

History and ghost hunting

Recently, I read an article about renovation ghosts. I wasn’t familiar with that phrase, but the concept behind it is part of my everyday research.

It’s how you can get extraordinary results at haunted places, too.

So, what is this technique…?

In one word, it’s synergy. Here’s the Cambridge Dictionary‘s definition.

Synergy: the combined power of a group of things that, when they are working together, is greater than the total power achieved by each working separately.

To get the most from a ghost investigation, it helps to – ahead of time –  research the likely ghosts at that site. Learn their personal histories, as well as what life was like in their lifetimes.

You’ll use that information to get an emotional reaction – or even a clear response – from each ghost. (This is different from “provoking.”)

When ghost researchers use this kind of synergy, the results can be spectacular. Literally.

History as a trigger

Emotional triggers can range from mentioning a sore subject to outright bullying.

Here’s how author Martha Beck describes emotional triggers.

Emotional triggering is, at root, a survival response. Our brains create powerful associations between things that hurt us and whatever happened to be occurring when we got hurt.

That’s  similar to what I’m describing: using historical reminders that will get the attention of the ghost.

What you’re looking for are historical cues that each ghost will associate with his/her/their past.

Yes, this sounds like provoking, and that can get a response. I believe provoking can cause deep pain for the person who’s haunting the site.

Avoid provoking. We have more and better options.

So, how does this work?

One of the first things to confirm at any location is: Is it really haunted? The best way to verify that is to do something that can magnify ghostly activity.

Instead of taunting ghosts to evoke a reaction, you can use external, physical cues that invoke the ghost’s most vivid memories. He, she, or they may respond on a personal level, or in a way you can measure with ghost hunting equipment.

Those cues may include archaeological research, historical reenactments, or even simple home renovations.

Let’s start with an everyday trigger: renovations.

When DIY gets scary

Ghosts - when DIY gets scaryI’ve witnessed this first-hand in a 19th-century California home my husband & I renovated.

It was only mildly haunted when we moved in.

Then, we started opening walls and ceilings to replace the electrical wiring.

Almost immediately, poltergeist activity began.

It was noisy, day and night. Sometimes, objects were moved and even broken.

We knew two ghosts were involved, because we could hear his heavy footsteps and her sobbing.

Within a few weeks, we realized that my husband was starting to act like the male ghost. And I was doing a lot of crying.

We moved, almost overnight. At the time, it seemed the only answer. (Today, I’d handle things differently.)

But, I’ve seen this same pattern repeated among private clients. And the Amityville Horror story is an extreme and iconic example.

In many homes, the ghostly activity will diminish (or completely stop) within two or three weeks of completing the renovations.

But, if you hear of a story like this, visit it as quickly as you can. Document what’s going on. (Of course, do this discreetly, to protect the homeowners’ privacy and peace of mind.)

Why this works

In many cases, ghosts don’t like change. They really don’t like changes in their homes. (As far as they’re concerned, the new homeowners are just interlopers.)

Sometimes, they’re they’re trying to return to the past. (Remember the movie Heaven Can Wait?)

Maybe the ghost is afraid you’ll reveal a long-held secret. That’s why he/she/they remain here: To be sure that secret stays hidden.

How to use this

Renovate an old home, or find someone who’s remodeling a home or business.

Even better, talk with friends in the contracting, remodeling, or redecorating field. Ask if one of their clients suddenly seems uneasy about the changes, and if that might be a ghost issue.

Or, talk with staff at a historical site. Ask if anything at the site was remodeled or underwent big changes. Then ask if anything weird happened at that time.


On Twitter, I regularly link to archaeology news, especially in the UK.

Here’s why: When a dig uncovers something related to a noted ghost (royals like Henry VIII or Anne Boleyn), I may hear reports about that same ghost becoming active at other sites he or she was associated with.

That’s where synergy comes in.

It’s not just the site being renovated or dug up, but also related haunted sites, even hundreds of miles away.

For example, when a dig is related to the Black Friars (such as the July/Aug 2019 digs in Ireland), ghost hunters might make monk-related haunts a priority around that time.

The dig in Ireland might have triggered ghostly energy at other, related sites… and any location with the term “Blackfriars” in the name.

Why this works

Like renovations, archaeological digs churn up past energy, ghosts’ memories, and – of course – the danger of a ghost’s secret being revealed.

How to use this

Follow news from local universities with archaeology programs, and look for announcements about local digs, as well as digs with broad-scale connections, like the monk-related one I mentioned.

And that topic leads to a third kind of trigger. It starts with deliberately revitalizing ghostly energy… without provoking.

I’m talking about one of my favorite topics: historical reenactments.

Historical reenactments

historical reenactments and ghostsYou’re likely to find ghosts around historical reenactments.

In fact, you may see apparitions and think they’re just people in costume.

Historian and paranormal researcher John Sabol has made use of this for his “ghost excavation methodology.” I’ve witnessed this when he triggered reactions from ghosts haunting a Canadian theatre.

It was impressive.

Of course, John draws heavily on his Hollywood acting career. His approach distinguishes what he does from reenactments.

But, the basic concept isn’t new: Researchers can use history and location to create a resonance with ghosts at haunted places.

Why this works

Ghosts, seeing people in familiar dress, or reenacting their own past, may feel as if they’re back in their own time again.

Maybe it’s what they’ve been waiting for.

So, they step out from the shadows and go about their normal routines from the past.

Or, perhaps they knows it’s a reenactment, and resent how the past – or even their part in it – is being shown.

How to use this

Search for “historical reenactments” or “living history events” in your area, and learn about local reenactment groups. (In the US, here’s a useful list: Top 29 Historical Reenactment Societies. Worldwide, Wikipedia has a short list, plus links.)

Join the fun, or be an observer, and watch for anomalies. (Tip: If you’re using ghost hunting equipment, be discreet. Some reenactors are uneasy about paranormal research.)

Of course, you can do this on your own. You can have a mini-reenactment.

Be sure to include people representing the ghosts, or people who were part of the ghosts’ most intensely emotional experiences.

However, it’s vital to research related history. Accuracy is essential.

If it’s just a bad parody, that’s likely to disappoint everyone.

For example, if you’re researching or filming at a haunted site related to Henry VIII, I can recommend Neil Bakewell. (He modestly describes himself as a storyteller.) He’s probably the UK’s best Henry VIII impersonator, as his historical research is impressive and – frankly – with his coloring and booming voice, he looks the part.

In lieu of hiring a professional, a historically accurate performance – such as a scene from one one of Shakespeare’s plays, could attract and confirm ghostly energy. (However, the ghost might be an actor who’d played the same role, instead of the character he/she/they portrayed.)

After all, ghost hunters know that theaters are among the most reliably haunted locations, anywhere in the world.

Putting the pieces together

This is just one piece of the puzzle. In my work, I use history and resonance with other tools. They help me find haunted places and then confirm whether a site is haunted.

But, on its own, you can use historical references to trigger ghostly activity.

And this can make a big difference in your investigation results.

Finding “Outsider” Haunts – Free Worksheet

Finding Outsider Haunts - Free WorksheetRecently, we’ve been talking about “outsiders” in history, and their connections to haunted locations.

In general, they’re at one historical extreme or the other. Either they’re infamous, or they’re practically forgotten.

In most cases, ghosts connected to infamous people – such as Jack the Ripper – are already well-known.

Often, the places they haunt have been researched by so many people, the ghostly (or psychic) energy can seem diluted.*

In my opinion, the dilution occurs when recent residual energy – from the intense emotions of paranormal investigators – remains at the site.

That’s why I’m always more interested in lesser-known haunts, and unreported sites.

And, it’s one reason I’ve been a go-to person for investigators who want a haunted site that’s a little different from the usual. Or, when they seek ghostly locations near a site they’re already planning to explore.

Historical research may be necessary if you want to find fresh, intensely haunted sites. One way to simplify your research: start with “outsiders” in history, and places connected to them.

An added bonus: You can find these locations during daylight (non-investigation) hours, and with online research, as well.

To help you find fresh investigation sites, I’ve created a simplified checklist. It summarizes the main steps I take when I’m looking for a haunted site with unreported (or under-reported) paranormal activity, for my own research or for a TV show.

Here’s the link to the PDF on Google Drive: Click here to download a free copy of Finding Unexplored “Outsider” Haunts. (It’s okay to share that link with others.)

Related articles at this website:

*There are exceptions to the dilution concept. Here are a few:

  • Of course, Tudor World (Stratford-upon-Avon, England) comes to mind immediately. That site is so eerie and so haunted, it breaks all the rules. I’m sure the site has a secret history that’s not been revealed yet – possibly multiple reasons why its ghosts are the strangest I’ve ever encountered. They’ve been there for so many centuries, I don’t think they’ll fade… ever.
  • I love England, including London, but there’s not enough money in the world to entice me to spend a night in London’s Highgate Cemetery. It has so many layers of paranormal activity, thousands of investigators could stream through, daily, for a century or longer… and it’d remain one of the most chilling, haunted places on Earth.
  • Lizzie Borden’s house (Fall River, Massachusetts) is another weird site every ghost hunter should investigate. Its ghostly energy probably won’t diminish until the real murder story is told. And, oh yes, if you explore the basement, be sure your companions have nerves of steel. I’m not sure those ghosts have any direct connection to sweet-when-she’s-not-angry Lizzie.
  • The library at Edith Wharton’s home, The Mount (Lenox, Massachusetts), is a room with an extraordinary level of paranormal energy, no matter how many ghost hunters investigate it.  The rest of the house is charming and at least lightly haunted, but the library… it’s in a powerful class of its own.
  • And then there are hot-and-cold sites like the Hellfire Club (Montpelier Hill, Dublin, Ireland) which seems to fluctuate between being insanely haunted… and then not haunted at all. Nothing in-between, and I don’t think that has anything to do with how many people investigate it.

Ghosts, Love, Provoking, and Triggers [Part 2]

In Part 1 of this article, you learned about:

  • The long-term effects of love and hate at a haunted site
  • Why stories are important (and how seriously to take them), and
  • “Hiding in plain sight” clues to the ghosts’ history.

Now, let’s talk about the extras that can make a difference, and how to put all of this information to good use.

Ghosts, love, provoking, and trigger objects

Historical Records

You may find additional clues in historical records. Look for wills, diaries, court records, and newspaper stories – including obituaries – related to the site and the people who lived and died there.

You may need to research the locations and people, offline, at public libraries and county courthouses.

But, if you’re researching someone famous, online resources can be a goldmine. For example, many diaries are already online. (Some of the largest and oldest collections are at The Diary Junction and the British Library.)

Double-check and cross-reference everything. That’s especially true if you use genealogical records, newspaper articles, or 19th-century anthologies of biographies or histories.

The number of historical resources can be overwhelming. If you have the likely ghost’s full name and it was a real person, start by searching online for “genealogy [person’s name].”

Tip: is great, but it requires a paid membership, and – even then – some submitted records can be really wrong. You’ll find many free alternatives, and can use them to piece together your ghost’s history.

Try Cyndi’s List: UK Resources / US Resources, and so on.

Near the haunted site, you may find many useful records. For example, visit local cemeteries. See the artwork and inscriptions on gravestones that might be related to the site’s ghost.

  • Two hands, clasped, may indicate romance… and possibly someone who died early in life. (Look at the cuffs. Men’s cuffs and ladies’ were very different.) Compare each death date with when the person married. (And see how soon the other person married again, after the death of his or her spouse.)
  • Before studying Victorian gravestones, learn the meaning of different flowers in that era. For example, if the headstone design features a rose in bloom (or a bud), it’s usually someone who died in the prime of his or her life.

This kind of research can be the most time-consuming, but also the most helpful if you want a successful ghost investigation.

Tip: If your ghost was a prominent person, check Find A Grave to locate where he or she is buried.

Assemble the Information, and Test It

Next, put all of the information together.

Understand your ghosts' histories

If you’re lucky, you may have a fuller picture of your ghost’s life, from birth to death. He (or she) may even remind you of someone you’ve met, or a ghost from another haunted site.

Or, your research might point to multiple ghosts at the site, or residual energy hauntings.

Now, you have names and events to work with. You can use them for real-time communications to establish rapport, or to trigger ghostly activity and interaction.

Test your theories

Maybe you’ve learned that the husband, Thomas, died young from “consumption.” (Usually tuberculosis.) You’ve also learned that he was engaged to Sarah, but he died about a month before the scheduled wedding.

You could ask:

  • Is your name Sarah? Is your name Thomas?
  • Are you looking for someone?
  • Sarah, is this your [object]? (Ask the same of Thomas.)
  • Are you someone else? Did you know Sarah or Thomas?

And so on.

If all else fails, ask, “Can I help you?”

Try saying it two different ways. First, ask it the same as a clerk in a store might say it. Let it roll off your tongue, like you say it a hundred times a day. Weirdly, that can elicit the most immediate response.

If that doesn’t work, try a second, more consoling tone of voice. Lean forward and look interested, in case the ghost can see you; body language matters.

That simple question can be enough to start a dialogue with the ghost.

Be sympathetic rather than provoking. Kindness works.

Trigger Objects

Trigger objects – including everyday household items from the ghost’s era – may be useful.

People often think about bringing flowers to a grave, or a toy when the ghost is a child.

These can be useful in some settings.

During the 19th century, and sometimes earlier, many homes had a Bible. The ghost may respond to it. If you bring a Bible with you, make sure it doesn’t look modern. Black or brown covers were typical, and – when a family could afford an embossed Bible – the letters were usually gold.

Tip: If you read from it, your safest choice is a King James Bible, not a recent translation. (Prior to James I, only wealthy families and clergy owned Bibles. And, until 1782, the King James Bible was under a form of copyright, so some families didn’t – or wouldn’t – own them.)

But this is important: If you’re investigating an early American home, the Geneva Bible or Luther’s German Bible may trigger better responses.  In fact, ghosts of Pilgrims may feel uneasy if you read from the King James Bible.

Think about the class level of the ghost, and what kind of objects they might love to see again. Something beloved by a “downstairs” maid might be very different from an object that will trigger responses from the lady of the house.

However, think twice before bringing the ghost what he or she might think is a gift.  When you reveal it to the ghost, explain that it’s yours and you’ll be taking it home. You just wanted him/her to enjoy it for a short time.

Otherwise, the ghost may feel further betrayed. You gave him (or her) something… and then you took it away, for no reason.

Two things to consider before bringing/leaving gifts for ghosts:

  1. Will the object continue to “look nice”? Fresh flowers can wilt and look ugly in a short time. Plush toys will get soggy and mildew after a storm. If you leave anything, return in a few days (during the daytime) to remove it. And – just in case the ghost is listening – explain (out loud) why you’re taking it away.
  2. Don’t bring gifts to a ghost if those objects might further “hold” the ghost in this realm. For example, toys that a child’s ghost might not want to leave behind. (The sentiment is lovely, but don’t give ghosts an additional reason to linger here.)

If you’ve already left something you feel that you shouldn’t have, contact the owner or managers of the site. Ask them to remove it, with a kindly explanation – out loud – to the ghost. (If you left something at a cemetery, contact a team that tours it regularly. In most cases, cemetery staff routinely dispose of perishable items every few weeks, anyway.)

Love, Hate, Provoking, and Triggers

Provoking can be useful in extreme situations.

Instead, with more research and closer observation, you might learn enough about the ghost to establish rapport.

Understand who your ghost probably was, and reasons why he or she might remain at the site.

It’s easy to say “unfinished business,” as a catch-all reason. But, with a few hours’ research, you can dig deeper. You may find a personal connection.

That could lead to more productive EVPs, or other communications. As they say, “You catch more flies with honey than with vinegar.”

Also, personalized, real-time communications might help you learn even more about the ghost, to help him or her let go of the past… and move on. It could be a real, productive conversation.

Of course, if the ghost is rather mad and stuck in the past, he or she might respond with anger, once his/her name is known. The ghost might have secrets and fear you’ll expose them. (Perhaps the only reason ghost remains here is to keep his or her secrets concealed.)

Tread carefully if the atmosphere changes and you sense hostility. It may be best to leave, evaluate the evidence and team members’ reports. And then decide you next, best plan for that site.


Smart ghost hunters get better results when they go beyond the “everyone knows” stories, and learn more about the ghosts.

Behind almost every haunting is a story of disappointment. If you know that story, the ghosts are almost certain to respond more quickly and clearly.

Dig into history. Look closely at everything “old” at the site. Ask why it’s there. Is there a story behind it?

Listen to your intuition and pay attention to the mood – the emotional energy – at the site. It can be your biggest clue.

Old records – family histories, newspaper articles, obituaries, court records, and even cemetery inscriptions – can help you understand the real stories behind hauntings.

Communications may improve, including EVP and real-time responses through ghost hunting tools.

In most cases, kindness will evoke a far better response – and outcome – than provoking. Given a choice, I think most ghosts would prefer love and understanding rather than antagonism and taunts.

Let me know if you have questions, and also what happens when you try these methods.