Help, my House is Haunted: unlikely ghost
Help, my House is Haunted, is a UK-based paranormal investigations programme. Things have moved on since the early days of the genre. When a few ‘orbs’ (that looked like moths, or dust!) were enough to claim some paranormal activity when any actual ghosts declined to perform on camera.
Thanks to US programmes, investigators now have a lot of interesting kit, for a start. Things like REM pods and SLS cameras. And there’s the ovilus, and the evp recorder… All familiar tech to regular viewers. Who (like the people using it) have to take it on trust that any of it actually works and isn’t recording/mapping stuff that isn’t there.
And viewers therefore expect to see/hear something. Because let’s face it, an hour of people asking: “Is anyone there?” isn’t riveting viewing if there is no response.
I’m not about to accuse anyone of faking things (unless I have 100% proof).
But in the case of the visit by the Help, my House is Haunted team to Norfolk, I do think they got the ghost’s name wrong!
Most Haunted, the fake ghost (revisited)
Cumbrian Characters is primarily that: a blog about Cumbria’s history and people. It’s also about family and social history, and based on my expertise as a genealogist (amateur) and journalist (professional). So two years ago, when I saw an episode of Most Haunted that purported to have contacted a named ghost, of a man who died in 1901, I dug into the archives and newspaper records. And found it was a total fake.
That post is the most-viewed on the blog, by several thousands – mind, the others are more ‘niche topic!
Help, my House is Haunted
So back to Help, my House is Haunted. Which I find interesting for the history of the places they visit, more than anything. Earlier series did seem to ‘find’ a surprising number of darker entities as well as ghosts. Had me wondering if Buffy, the Vampire Slayer, and Angel were on to something!
But I hadn’t really noticed anything that could be disproved by research. (As I say, proving is a lot harder).
Until Friday, when the Really channel showed an episode set in the True’s Yard Fisherfolk Museum, King’s Lynn, Norfolk
And while there was nothing I could prove or disprove, there was one thing that screamed out louder than, well, if I’d seen a ghost.
What’s in a name?
Anyone who is seriously into genealogy gets to know a lot about names. I’ve written posts on Cumbrian surnames, for example here.
and on surname origins here.
But first names are key, too. Until the Victorian era, UK parents rarely ventured beyond a couple of dozen first names for their children. And as they did branch out, names came into, and fell out of, fashion. (You can read more here).
These days, the Office of National Statistics records them. For instance: Oliver and Olivia remained the most popular names for boys and girls in England and Wales in 2020 for the fifth consecutive year.
And what screamed out at me in the Norfolk episode of Help, my House is Haunted as ‘really???’ was the supposed name of the child ghost.
An unlikely ghost
For the Help, my House is Haunted ghost was, according to the medium, called Jessica.
No time frame was given. But I was instantly sceptical.
And a quick check confirms that:
‘Although Shakespeare coined the name in 16th century, Jessica only became a common name for girls in the second half of the 20th century.’
Ok, a further check shows there are just three Jessicas on my ‘big’ family tree. One born 1900… one 1968, one 1995.
That’s three out of 18,829 people.
Unless my tree is really untypical, I think the base number of 18,829 is sufficient enough for the statistic of ‘just three’ to be meaningful. However, for all I knew, Jessica was a really popular name in Norfolk: after all, names run in families, and by geography.
Jessica, according to Help, my House is Haunted, was six and complained about her chest. Which didn’t narrow it down to any timeframe.
True’s Yard was built in the late 18th century, so I started with Family Search, 1760-1840, for the whole of Norfolk. Take out the repeats and variations (Jesse, Jessie) and there were only a dozen or so individual entries. None of them for King’s Lynn.
A search for Jessica, King’s Lynn, on all the available census returns (1841-1911, plus 1939) pulls up five entries, only one of them under six (and she didn’t die in childhood).
As a comparison, there are 1,114 Janes; 2,473 Sarahs, and; 5,210 Marys. There were just 24 Jessicas in the whole of Cumberland, and 116 in the whole of Norfolk,. Obviously, this includes the same person showing up across several decades: eg a Jessica J Daynes accounts for four of the Norfolk returns.
OK, maybe Jessica the ghost was born and died between censuses. Or after.
FreeBMD lets you search for all deaths in the county of Norfolk. No Jessicas died between 1837-1850. Four died between 1850-1862 (all in Norwich district). And none between 1862-1930. No Norfolk Jessicas since 1930 (FreeBMD works to 1993) have died aged six.
The four between 1850-62 meant more digging, as no ages show on initial checks. But they turned out to be a baby and three adults.
The only child death I found in King’s Lynn at all (from 1837-1993) was aged 11.
Of course, I can’t disprove that the poltergeist activity experienced by staff at the True’s Yard Fisherfolk Museum is down to a child ghost called Jessica.
But given the rarity of the name until recent decades, I am far from convinced.