Case in point...
Look at a "standard haunted house" story that you may have heard. The phenomena are limited to what we would term "light poltergeist activity,” basic small items moving about by themselves, and maybe some phantom footsteps. The witness, using methods of historical research, looks into the history and finds a "person" whom seems to have a good reason to "haunt" the place. Ergo: it is this person, regardless, that is now haunting and we will attempt to look for convenient 'clues' that further promotes this hypothesis - even though it may have nothing to do with that person in actuality.
A good rule of thumb for the investigator/researcher to apply would be; Correlation does not equal causation.
Yet another example of where a historical persona has been falsely applied to a reported “haunt” is a case that occurred in New Brunswick, Canada. It involves the property of an old Loyalist family and a favored slave (brought up from the States during the flight to Royalist Canada from then Revolutionary America). Apparently the slave was so beloved by his owners that he was invited to live on their property in his own cottage after his "retirement" as a free man. When he grew old and infirm he was convalesced in the main house by his former 'owners' and passed away in the home.
Many decades later new owners began to experience poltergeist phenomena in the home. Historical research is conducted and everyone now attributes the haunting to the slave who has been dubbed "Black Pete". This appears to be logical to those involved as the activity is mostly reported in the area of the home where the former slave had died.
But, just to prove there's always a monkey wrench to throw into any good story, finally an apparition is seen. An apparition so "life like" that it's mistaken (as many apparitions are) as a solid person... and guess what? It's a Caucasian fellow wearing "nautical attire".
This apparition whom doesn't appear to factor into the history of the home itself is seen by yet another witness later on - same description, different location of the house.
So, is this a second "ghost" or is this the fellow that was doing things that got pinned on "Black Pete"?
The answer to the above question is that in all likelihood we will never know with any degree of certainty. However, the evidence does not support the hypothesis of “Black Pete.”
How many times have we, as ghost enthusiasts, read or heard a report that starts with the history and then moves into the phenomena? Maybe we should be working the other way and even then, very, very, carefully and with a sceptical eye.
Another thing is that when you really think about it... We often use history as a crutch in some situations. When people can't find a "reason" for the ghost in their house, they then expand their historical research to include the land it's on... then the area of the home... the long and the short of it is, at some point, they'll find a "historical person" to attach to the phenomena... and even then, if that fails, they'll fall back on pre-history and attach the phenomena to a native encampment or something like this.
Should we do this? Of course not! Not only is it bad science, but it is also bad history.
In our eyes, the only time history must factor into a report or proper data collection of a haunted site is when there is, (before looking into the history) some sort of phenomena that does seem to be "going through the motions" that can be readily recognized as belonging to a historical figure. This can be defined as either an apparition with clear features and clothing or perhaps poltergeist phenomena that follows a distinct pattern - something like - cupboard door opens, sounds of sweeping, cupboard door closes all around 6:30pm.
Even then, a good researcher must be extremely cautious lest we start saying "Well, that phenomena doesn't seem to be related to 'X' person, but maybe this time, 'X' person was trying to do this!"
This article was not written to imply that historical data gathering is completely irrelevant in regards to ghost and hauntings research. We do not believe that we can or should discount any history of any given site. However we must look through that data as clinically and as objectively as possible when presenting a report. Not only will we maintain our academic integrity by doing such, but we will also eliminate a possible disservice to the study of these phenomena as a whole.
Constructive criticism is always welcome. If you would like to share your thoughts or offer feedback please contact the authors.
Ghosts, Pirates, and Treasure Trove By: Stuart Trueman 1981 McClelland & Stewart ISBN: 0-7710-8632-6
Devon Ghosts By: Theo Brown 1982 Jarrold & Sons LTD, Norwich ISBN: 0-85306-961-1