My uncle lives in an older house with crazy wiring. The kitchen lights, microwave, most receptacles and fridge stopped working yesterday for 4 hours. Then they came back on with us doing nothing. Well there off again now. Replaced the breaker, nothing. We went to the first receptacle that came from the breaker box and replaced it. Have power there when ground and either side of the receptacle are touched. Nothing when something is plugged into it. We touched the plug of a lamp end to the neutral and the ground and everything in the kitchen turned on. We could actually turn everything in the kitchen on and off with that lamp. What would the ground have anything to do with this and any thoughts on how or why this is happening or what else we should try. Baffled.
Sounds like there's a break in the neutral wire between the panel and the first receptacle, or possibly a bad neutral connection at the panel.
Power is going out on the ungrounded (hot) conductor, passing through a load somewhere on the circuit and returning on the grounded (neutral). However, since the neutral is not continuous back to the panel, the circuit is not complete. When you put the lamp between the grounded (neutral) conductor and the grounding conductor, you completed the circuit through the lamp.
If you measure with a digital multimeter, you should measure 0 volts between the ungrounded (hot) conductor and the grounded (neutral) conductor. You'll measure a voltage (1 - 125 volts) between the grounding conductor, and either the grounded or ungrounded conductor.
If you disconnect the grounded (neutral) conductor from the receptacle, and measure continuity between it and the grounding conductor. You'll get an open (or infinite) reading, because the neutral is not continuous back to the panel.
Fix the break or loose connection, and your problem will be solved.