a3Genealogy - Accurate, Accessible Answers - specializes in military, naturalization records, Native American and African American ancestry. The a3Gen blog is penned by Kathleen Brandt, an international genealogy consultant, speaker and writer. a3Gen clients span from Europe, Asia and Africa to the Americas.
As you've probably already figured out, when it comes to researching institutionalized ancestor's it’s not locating them that is the issue; the problem is how to access the records. Is it even possible? In the post Mental Health Facilities and State Hospital Records, 4 Jan 2010,
the case of 3rd Great-Uncle Willis Cox and his daughter Freddie Reba (Cox)
Looney from Coffeyville, Kansas and Washington County, Oklahoma, respectively, was
shared. As I mentioned there, “not everyone can boast that at any given time
one, or more, ancestor was being treated in a State Hospital, but I usually
exclaim that my family actually had a wing at the Kansas - Osawatomie State
Hospital, also known as the State Insane Asylum." But locating other ancestors scattered across the USA, have been a bit more challenging. (Read Stalking Irish Madness and Me, 11 Jan 2010).
Where to Start
step is to confirm your ancestor’s whereabouts. Using the following records/documents will assist you in determining where your ancestor may have been institutionalized:
Every state has has in place statues specifying the distribution, and release of records of the
mentally ill. Many of the earlier records were discarded, leaving perhaps just an
index to past patients holding minimum information. The Kansas
Statute 65-5603, specifies the information that can be released for family
history research. "Examples include: dates of birth and death, dates of
stay, names and addresses of family members. Medical information,
including the DIAGNOSIS, is not open."To obtain copies from these records, researchers must submit arequest formwith payment.
This is the case for the Topeka Kansas State
Hospital Records. Although microfilmed records are held at theKansas Historical Societyfor patient case files from 1872 until the
1960 "only familial relations of
deceased patients and living former patients can request information from these
Other states, like Minnesota have
year restrictions for retrieving hospital records. In Minnesota there is a 50
year hold on all records from the date of admittance. Accessing these
restricted records from theMinnesota
a signed "Application and Use Agreement." For more information on privacy and genealogy research read: Privacy Restrictions Keeping You From Research?
Why So Challenging?
State Statutes, often state hospitals like Osawatomie, Kansas discarded the patients’
original files. However, often indices of past patients are still on record. But
to successfully obtain a copy of the medical file, the researcher must broaden the
states, like Illinois, state mental hospital records are "closed". Researchers
will have to piece information using death certificates, military pension
records (sometimes widow pension requests), probate records (sometimes closed
if assigned to custodian), cemetery records, and local newspapers to obtain
sufficient information. We have also seen copy of medical records submitted and
filed with court cases.
A complete 100+ page medical record of Willis
Cox’s including his examination records, and doctor's observations at he State Hospital were held with his Civil War
Pension records. In the "Survey for family medical history" a bit of information
from the attending physicians was also mentioned his daughter, Freddie Reba’s convalescent
time at the State Hospital.
In addition to the sources
mentioned above, and exhausting your State Archives and Historical repositories
be sure to do a keyword search at thefamilysearch.orgwebsite. Here you will find a
variety of state hospital records. For example, the Family Search microfilmed New Orleans (Louisiana). Insane
Asylum, Records of the Insane Asylum, 1858-1884 contains records on entries and
releases of patients.