I’m going to be honest, I may be a bit of an over planner. I’m the type of person that walks around with a notebook that has notes regarding just about everything I’m doing and a plan for how to accomplish it. My boyfriend has told me it’s a bit much and I’ve had to learn to fly by the seat of my pants in our relationship, but I just can’t do it with an investigation. I strongly believe that while things may not always go as planned, failing to plan will likely lead to chaos.
When the average person goes ghost hunting they plan by deciding what equipment to bring, which black t-shirt to wear, charging batteries, and maybe packing a snack. In my opinion, this is fine for a fun night of ghost hunting but does not get you anywhere near ready to conduct a residential investigation. So, what does it take to be ready to go when you walk through your client’s door?
I always start with research. What can I learn about the property? I’ve already done my interview with the client so now I need to collect additional information. Property records, old plat maps, and if you live in St. Louis, a quick search of the online archives of the Missouri Historical Society can all be helpful. “Find a Grave” is useful for connecting names of former property owners and I’ll admit to using “CaseNet” when investigating a location where a former resident died recently. Any names or events you can find relating to the property can be useful during an investigation. If you have a team member who is really good at research, you can send them to the local historical society to talk to someone about any records available on the specific property.
Another key pre-investigation task is to draw a rough map of the location. During the interview, you will have walked through the location and made notes about the space. I have been known to draw really ugly, lopsided maps as I walk around just to help keep the space straight in my mind. I’m certain I’m the only one who can understand the crazy mesh of lines, words, and numbers I scroll on my notepad. That’s ok, later I take this “masterpiece” and turn it into a digital map. While it is rarely accurate to size, it gives me and my team a good understanding of the space we are working within. It also allows me to plan camera placement and have copies ready to record EMF readings.
Pre-investigation team notes are another essential. When a client is interviewed, you do not take the entire team so you need to be able to convey the important location information to everyone involved before they arrive. Having the client retell all of their stories and tour the house with the team sucks up a lot of time. So make sure your team knows what they are walking into. These notes include all of the relevant claims, client information, any research material, a copy of the map, a list of equipment to be used, equipment set-up, and a chore list for the team when they arrive on site. The chore list took our team set-up process from an hour plus of chaos to an efficient 30 minute task (depending on the location size).
Your team notes should also include a rough timing plan. You will need to consider the type of activity being experienced by the property owner and what activities will be most effective for that space. This plan can be changed on the spot but having a rough idea about session times and activities you want to include will help you and your team keep moving throughout the night.
The final prep item is to ensure that I have all of my legal and record keeping documents prepared. I have client and investigator waivers along with media release forms for any Facebook live or evidence sharing online that may occur. The documents protect everyone involved and make sure we all know the “rules” for the investigation. I also make sure to pack a blank investigation log so I can take notes about the environment, session information, and specific events during the investigation.
Once I have done all of these things and shared the plans with the team, I start the actual packing. This is when the battery charging and equipment packing occurs. In addition to cameras and EMF meters, I take pens, paperwork, a small first-aid kit, and all the other odds and ends that keep the investigation team running. While it may seem like a lot of prep, doing these things before a residential investigation will help things run more smoothly and instill confidence in your client as they can see your team working efficiently and effectively throughout the investigation.
I hope these tips help you when planning for your next residential investigation.
Until next time, Happy Hunting!