Thursday, November 30, 2017

Researching Institutionalized Ancestor Records

Boston Almshouse
 Asylums and Almshouse Records
Family researchers will inevitably uncover an institutionalized ancestor battling insanity, feeble-mindedness, mentally disabled children, or other mental illnesses.. Although there were twenty United States mental asylums in existence in 1850,[1]  it was most common for almshouses to care for those with mental and physical disabilities as well as for the aging.  Almshouses, often referenced as “poor houses,” notably boarded old, distressed, ill, and insane citizens prior to 1880. By 1890 there were 162 mental hospitals.

Accessing Institutionalized Records
Welfare Island, Insane Asylum, NY
built betw. 1834-1839
Every state has statues specifying the distribution, and release of records of the institutionalized and mentally ill.  Prior to State Statutes, some state hospitals like Osawatomie, Kansas discarded the patients’ original files leaving perhaps just an index to past patients. 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." 
Restricted State Records
When hospital records are not available, recreating an ancestors’ medical history is still possible. Gathering genealogical data using death certificates, military pension records, available probate records, or medical records submitted and filed with court cases, cemetery records, and local newspapers often yields sufficient data to understanding your ancestor’s medical history.[2]

Open State Records
Contrary to restricted states’ statues, many open-state records are accessible using digitized databases. For example the New York, Census of Inmates in Almshouses and Poorhouses from 1830-1920 may be retrieved from

10 Resources to Begin Your Search
Doctors notes from Osawatomie Kansas State Hospital
Filed in Civil War Military Pension Records
  1. wiki hosts a listing of historical asylums, almshouses, state hospitals, reform schools, private institutions and sanatoriums across America, “and around the world.”
  2. Census Records: In 1850, the Seventh Census of the United States enumerated insane persons, deaf and blind, and idiotic persons to include the Slave Schedules. “Deaf, dumb, blind, insane, idiotic, a pauper or convict patients were also noted on the 1860 and 1870 Federal Censuses. The 1880 census included “maimed, crippled, bedridden, or otherwise disabled.”
  3. Crime, Pauperism and Benevolence report created in 1890 by the Bureau of Justice Statistics identified the mental hospitals that housed part of the 91,997 USA insane population.[3]
  4. Database Catalog search using keywords “lunatic” “insane”, “blind” etc. on will also provide research resources for institutionalized patients.
  5. State Archives and Historical Society Records. Practically each state has collections or information on area asylums and almshouses.
  6. Court Records.  Divorce records, guardian records, and agreements for care by a state or facility may be located in these records.
  7. Will and Probate Records. Often names a guardian or person to care for the mentally (and physically) disabled.
  8. Military Pension Records. Often hold medical records for mental health patients.
  9. Cemetery Records Across the nation, patients were buried on the property of asylums, or at neighboring cemeteries.
  10. Death Certificates. Although lunacy was rarely noted, cemeteries, institutions and almshouses were named as resident or death place. 
Unearthing African American medical history records may be more challenging. Admitting ‘free coloreds’ to state poorhouses and insane asylums prior to the Civil War was not widespread but these records may be uncovered. Slave names were rarely provided, but ailing slaves (deaf, idiotic, etc) were identified by age, gender, and color. For more information, visit the Museum of disAbility History website.

Women’s Mental Health
Women were disproportionately committed to the State Hospital by disgruntled husbands. Insanity was often the argument used to dissolve a marriage. Researchers will discover cases of women being committed to asylums for alcoholism, dementia, “moral insanity” such as infidelity, contradicting a spouse or being too opinionated.

For more information, reference the following:

[1] Pg. 207,
[3] Pg 207, , pg 2 for 1890

Kathleen Brandt
Accurate, accessible answers

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Living is Knowing - Secrets of DNA

As you know I'm hosting a new genealogy TV pilot about late discovery adoptees and reunions and the a3Genealogy DNA and a3Gen Private Investigative (PI) teams work tirelessly on adoption cases. Using DNA as a tool is so healing for so many!

I will be talking about, familytreedna, 23andme and MyHeritageDNA and others at the Topeka Kansas What's In Your DNA? workshop Nov 17-18. Here's the workshop schedule. Be sure to join me there. Take a look at this ABC Good Morning America video of a reunion. Can you image the conflicts, the questions, etc.?

This is a revised version of what posted to family and friends today:  
Holidays are coming and I want you to get gifts for a lifetime. Like a DNA kit. They are on sale now everywhere. Please test the oldest persons in your family on both father and mother side (that old uncle who talks with a mouth full of spit can spittle it right into the DNA kit tube). Test both parents if possible. If you want more suggestions on who to test and specific recommendations for your genealogy needs just drop me a note.
 Why? Because now you are busy working and coping with life. But one day you will stand up and ask yourself "Who in the world am I?"
 So, I’m saying the same to all of you: “Get a Thoughtful Gift!”

Kathleen Brandt
Accurate, accessible answers.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Chancery Court Record Research

Sally Grimes, daughter of Gabriel Winston
Another Brickwall 
Another brickwall was solved using chancery reports.  This was a case of which Johnson? Well it was Silas! We were able to prove kinship of the Johnson family in Howard County, Missouri to Virginia. All the children were named in grandpa's record since dad had died.  JOHNSON's.  The one family line we were not looking forward to tackling! This deserves the reprint.

Kinships Named: Parents and Maiden Names
As family researchers and genealogists, one of our common brick-walls is a result of the lack of resources to confirm kinships. Familiar relationships, parents’ names,  maiden names are all needed to complete family units, but what happens when we’ve exhausted all the normal resources - census, wills/probates, deeds, vital records, church records…etc.? Well, hopefully the researcher has not overlooked Chancery Records when they are available.

What are Chancery Court Records?
Chancery Court records hold a wealth of genealogical information. Although not necessarily a part of every states’ historical legal system, when available it will behoove the researcher to take more than a cursory glance at these genealogical-rich documents. Researchers will find personal testimonies that include family relationships. In some states (i.e. Virginia, Tennessee, etc) chancery court records are available from the early 18th century through early 1900’s. In Virginia alone there are over 233,000 multi-paged cases. More on Virginia Chancery Courts can be found at this informative piece on 

What is "Next Friend?"
Of course the key to understanding any court record relies on period vocabulary. In the Chancery Court record of Sally Grimes of Hanover County, VA vs. Joseph Grimes, Sally’s father Gabriel Winston is identified as both “father” and “next friend.”

A "next friend" can be considered the person who represents and speaks on behalf of the plaintiff. The next friend may be a parent, a guardian, an older sibling , etc.  By no means should the researcher assume it is a parent or even a relationship. We have uncovered many next friends proven not to be of blood relation.  In many cases the next friend is identified, removing the tempting guessing game and solidly identifying kinships. This is most useful, when also looking for a maiden name.  

Unlike many states, Delaware's "Court of Chancery" has survived since 1792.  Of course its roles, jurisdictions and litigation realms have been consistently updated to meet the needs of the court to include corporate litigation. Visit Delaware Courts for a quick history of the English Origins of the "Court of Chancery." 

As the times have changed, so has the role of the Chancery Court. In current day Mississippi Chancery Courts are the repository for land records.  Researchers will also find divorces, guardianships and wills in the Mississippi Chancery Courts.

Other states like Missouri, may boast of early records of the Chancery Court.  For St. Louis MO. Chancery Court Records may be found as early as 1811 to about the Civil War.  These records can be found at the Missouri State Archives. Like other states, Missouri researchers may find other counties with salvaged Chancery Court Records.  

Be sure to check FamilySearch Wiki for your state / county. 
(Updated from Chancery Court Records for Genealogy Brickwalls posted 3 May 2016).

Kathleen Brandt
Accurate, accessible answers