Research is Key

The Stacks

What is your procedure for background research when investigating a location?  Do you have one?  Background research is not an optional part of a thorough investigation; it is a key part of an investigation.  Many locations and sightings we investigate often have a great deal of folklore, “urban legend” and just plain embellishment attached.  Our job as investigators is to sift through this to arrive at the facts.

A good researcher does not simply accept the prevailing story.  A good researcher also spends time in the archives attempting to check the facts.  Failing to verify a faulty hypothesis leads to faulty conclusions.  Unfortunately, too many people in the paranormal field what to “see ghosts” so badly (I’d call these people “paranormal thrill seekers” as opposed to true investigators or researchers) they accept the story without conducting any fact checking or background research on their own.  For example, are you aware the prevailing story regarding Chloe and the Myrtles Plantation is almost completely false?  Here’s an article which shows the historical facts simply do not match the current “ghost story.”

Another example is the “Ghost Tracks” in San Antonio, Texas.  This now very popular story, which is included in several Texas “ghost” guide books, appears to have first originated with a newspaper story in the 1980s.  As the story goes, “sometime” in the 1940s or 1950s (or even the 1970s or 1980s depending on the version of the story) a school bus full of children stalled on the railroad tracks and was hit by a train, killing all the children.  As a memorial, the streets in the area were renamed after the children killed (Cindy Sue Way, Laura Lee Way, etc.).

Now the ghost part: “sometime,” again perhaps in the 1980s, an unnamed woman, or a man, was driving near the area late at night and saw a little girl walking alone near the tracks.  Fearing for the girl’s safety, the driver offered to give her a ride home.  The girl gave an address and then sat unusually quiet for the entire drive.  Upon reaching the residence, the girl didn’t get out.  Concerned about a possible domestic situation, the driver went to the door and told the woman who answered her little girl was in the car.  The woman became outraged thinking it was a sick joke as their only daughter had been killed in the bus accident years ago and slammed the door shut.  Thoroughly confused, the driver returns to the car only to find the little girl has….wait for it…vanished into thin air!  But that’s not all!  If you stop your car on the tracks and put it in neutral, the “spirits” of the dead children will push your car over the tracks to safety!

Unfortunately, this story is completely false and any investigator who takes the time to do some basic research will discover this.  A train hitting a school bus and killing several children is huge news in any era.  However, no newspaper articles, no police reports, no fire department reports — nothing can be found to document this story.  Therefore the overwhelming evidence strongly indicates it never happened.  What about the street names?  It turns out the developer in that area named the streets after his children when it was originally built.  What about cars being pushed over the tracks?  It’s an optical illusion – there’s actually a slight downhill incline which causes cars to roll downhill.

Even though nothing supports this story, it continues to proliferate – an internet search reveals the story posted on several sites.  It’s bad enough a completely false story keeps being repeated as true.  But that’s not the worst part.  Thanks to book and internet stories, “paranormal thrill seekers” go to the area to “experience” the spirits for themselves.  Unfortunately, this area of San Antonio has a significant problem with drug dealers and gang activity.  Consequently, people going to the site often experience a thrill, but not exactly the type of thrill they wanted!

Research helps us learn what really happened at a location.  It allows us to better interpret a location and the associated activity.  Plus, as far as I’m concerned, it’s just plain fun since you never know what research will uncover.  For example, I’m currently researching a location which on first glance pointed to one identity for the entity.  Through some diligent research at the local archives, it turns out the history of the location wasn’t as straight forward as it first appeared.  Thanks to that research, other possible identities of the entity come forth – now it also appears possible there are more than one entity at the location and we now have a pretty good idea of possible suspects.

Your local historical society is often able to provide a plethora of information – all free.  The only cost is your time and effort to go research.  Additional often overlooked research sources are local and state genealogical societies.  We are after all looking for people from the past.

Solid background research should be an integral part of every investigation.  With the amount of easily accessible, free information, there’s really no excuse for not checking your facts.

2010 All rights reserved.  This copyrighted material may not be reposted or reproduced in any form without permission.]

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