Ghosts and Haunts - Investigation Methods
Some evidence gathering methods involving equipment were covered under the Equipment topic so I won't repeat those here. Instead we'll concentrate more on obtaining evidence by observation and interaction with your surroundings. On occasion some form of physical evidence may be found, but generally in haunting cases evidence is less tangible. Doors may slam, lights may flicker, sounds or smells may be present. The investigator will have to try to determine the source or cause of these effects, often with little more than the word of the witness.
The first thing you should do is record the environmental conditions. Temperature and air movement may affect photographs, they can also slam doors. Your observation skills will be tested here. Most paranormal cases are resolved at this level if the investigator is successful at putting all the facts together. If a door slams the first question to answer is why? Is the door frame square? If not this could cause the door to open or close on its own. Does the room have forced air heat or central air conditioning? Either of these can set up air currents which can move doors when the furnace kicks on. How easy does the door swing? The easier it moves the less outside influence would be needed to move it. Even temperature changes can cause warping which can in turn force movement. How good is the latch? Sometimes warping can pull the strike away and allow the latch to release and the door swings open. Check the door, can this happen here? You'll need to find out.
Another common claim is electrical in nature. Lights go on or off, TVs turn on, sometimes appliances burn out for no apparent reason. Some of these claims you can check out, others may require the assistance of an electrician unless you have a working knowledge of electrical theory. The first thing to check, does the TV have a remote control? These are often the problem, if the television uses one it is never really off. Some circuits remain on to detect the signal from the remote when the user wants to turn it on. If a stray signal or surge on the power line activates this, you have a typical case of a haunted TV. The same thing goes for lights which are either touch activated or on a dimmer switch. Many of these use a form of solid state logic to control their operation. It's a perfect set-up to allow for interference from outside sources. Now if you have a traditional mechanical switch that controls your electrical devices it is much less likely something like this would occur since the switch requires physical movement to operate. But even then the strength of the internal spring must be considered. They weaken with age, so if the switch is an old one it is quite possible that allows the contacts to open or close at random. Another ghost.
If your case involves electrical devices which malfunction or burn out you could be dealing with a wiring problem. The easiest way to check this is to use a voltmeter to ensure that the voltage present at the receptacle is within its required specifications and stays that way. (In the U.S. that is 120 VAC, some other areas differ) Connect a meter to the outlet and monitor the voltage. It should remain constant at all times. If it does not you have a wiring problem which will require a professional to correct. Often this type of malfunction involves a poor ground return which could be a fire hazard. In any event it should be corrected as soon as possible.
Creaks, thumps, bangs, and bumps are another common symptom of hauntings, or so it is said. But many of these can be traced to structural sources in the house. That is where temperatures can play a big part. Is the temperature outside changing, either warming up or cooling down? Either can cause expansion and contraction or rafters and wall studs which can make very loud sounds at times. Plumbing inside walls can also be blamed, especially if it is a hot water line. When the pipe is warmed by the water it expands. This can cause creaks and groans as the pipe slides in its hangers. Even water flowing through a pipe can create sounds. At night, when the house is otherwise quiet, and the homeowner is in that half awake-half asleep state, these sounds can make one believe the place is home to a ghost. I read recently of a case involving a shower which turned itself on like clockwork at 3 AM. Suddenly it changed to 2 AM. After a little investigation it was found that at 3 AM the pumps at the water company kicked on to fill the community storage tank. This created a surge in pressure which forced the faucet open. The change in time was the clue that broke the case. Someone at the water company failed to reset the timer when the change went from daylight savings time, and this alerted investigators to the source. The fix was a pressure regulator installation and a rebuild of the shower faucet. No exorcism was required.
Then there are vermin. It is amazing how much noise a squirrel in the attic can make. Or a raccoon trying to get into the garbage can outside. Not to mention a mouse in the wall of the bedroom while one is trying to sleep. Think it's funny? I have been on cases where each of these has been found to be the culprit.
By now you are probably wondering when I'm going to get to the paranormal aspects of investigating. Actually I'm not. As I started out saying, most cases are not paranormal at all. If you are going to investigate claims of hauntings you will need to consider the rational first. In doing so you will solve most cases, which is what this is all about.
But let's assume you have gotten past the obvious. You found no easy explanation so it's time to dig deeper. So where to begin? As with most investigations, you start with the witness interview. The first step in any interview is to establish a confidentiality level for the case. Your report form should include a provision to establish this near the beginning of the page. I use three levels of confidentiality that applies to all cases regardless of type. It should be mentioned that cases with a low level of confidentiality are usually considered more credible than those with many details withheld. But some witnesses don't want any identifying details included, so it becomes a trade-off. ( I should point out that under NO circumstances do I release witness contact information to others regardless of confidentiality level. Phone numbers or e-mail addresses are never given out.) The three levels of Confidentiality I use are:
Level One - The least restrictive level. Here most details may be disclosed. The witness's name and city are provided. The witness narrative of the event may be disclosed, subject only to minimal editing as needed to maintain personal privacy. Photos or other evidence may be released provided basic privacy guidelines are maintained. Cases may also be published or discussed in the media, however names will be withheld from those discussions.
Level Two - This is the level most choose. Some restriction regarding disclosure, only basic details may be divulged. Only the witness's city and state may be released, names are not. The narrative will not be released, however an investigator's summary of the event may be disclosed. Photos and other evidence are held back unless the witness permits specific disclosure on an item by item basis. Cases may be discussed in the media; however both locations and all names will be withheld.
Level Three - This is the most restrictive level. Most information will be hard to validate, thus this level is the least credible. Only the witness's state or region may be revealed. An investigator's summary may be disclosed; however this will only contain generalities about the case, no particulars as to what happened. Any media discussion of this case will be limited to the generalities, no details will be provided. Also, no contacts will be forwarded since it is apparent the witness does not want to be associated with his sighting. I generally try to discourage people from choosing this level unless there is some aspect to the case of a highly personal nature.
Your next steps are to determine exactly what the witness has experienced. For that a narrative is your best approach. Have the witness describe in detail everything that has happened or is still ongoing. Don't interrupt him; let him progress at his own pace even if things seem a bit out of order. Once he gets through the basics you can go back and pull out details he may have seemed to overlook. For instance, most witnesses fail initially to consider environmental factors such as temperature, humidity, time of day, wind conditions, etc. These could be important so you will have to go back to bring them out. Also find out who else may have been present at the time. Then consider questions that build on his previous comments. It is important not to "lead" the witness; Allow him to direct the interview. But still you will need to obtain sufficient data to determine your next course of action regarding your investigation
We will cover obtaining evidence in the form of measurements, photos, and audio in the next topic so I will not detail that here. The details of that are determined by the initial interview and what the investigation requires. There is only one other factor to consider. That is the reason for the alleged haunting. What history is behind it?
If you are going to investigate a haunting then it is important to establish why you feel it is likely there is a ghost present. Do your research on the location. Find out who lived there previously, how they died, and whether it appears they left unfinished business. And particularly, why might they have a reason to influence the current residents? Of course this is all circumstantial evidence, but aside from the witness statement, and any photos or audio you manage to capture, it will likely be the only evidence you'll have.
So dig into the history of the place. Visit the courthouse and check previous property owners. Go back as far as possible, and don't forget to consider there may have been some other house on the land before this one. Many claim a haunting is attached to the location, not the building or the current resident. Go back as far as you can in the records. You may get this information from Titles and Deeds as well as property tax records. Local churches and family members of previous residents can also sometimes help out. And don't overlook some of the older residents of the area. They may be able to relate stories they have heard years ago as well.
Most include historical data as a part of their investigation but don't be caught up in it. The "Haunted House" concept may not be the only explanation of a ghost. Tradition has connected spirits, ghosts and the dead for years yet to date there has not been one solid connection between the two. Maybe its tme to consider other possibilities yet unexplained may be at work. Some form of residual energy, interdimensional visitation, even mass hallucination brought on by unknown forces have also been proposed as possibilities. If any of these can be proven the traditional connection between ghosts and the afterlife may be broken. So while you consider the historical aspects as a basis for the haunting clim, don't be entirely locked into its importance. Other factors may also be at work.
With all the attention the paranormal is receiving these days, one final aspect needs addressed. This is probably the most difficult, how reliable is the client? Does he have an agenda of his own? Many times people, for whatever reason WANT their place to be haunted. They want an investigation to validate those claims. People who fit this profile will do or say anything to support their claims. Evidence may be fabricated, hoaxes attempted, or unsubstantiated claims made. One of the characteristics of this is their unwillingness to hear anything that does not support the haunting. They have a ghost, and there's nothing you can do or say to make it otherwise. Whether you choose to stay with such a case or not is up to you. But considering that the witness statement is one of the key elements of the case, if a statement is possibly not entirely factual, where does that leave the case?