Ginny’s Genealogical Gems
Special Facilities Records
In times past, the mentally ill were believed to be possessed or in need of religion. Fearful attitudes towards mental illness persisted into the 20th century in the United States, leading to stigmatization of the person, and unhygienic and degrading confinement of mentally ill individuals. In the 1800’s you could be institutionalized for a wide variety of reasons: females who did not obey their husbands or fathers could be put away, alcoholics, depressed and angry people, anyone who could not care for themselves, including old people and very young children, and people who did not fit into society would also have been institutionalized. A lot of families may be able to find members in a mental institution even though they were truly not insane. The types of records found in mental health institutes include admissions and discharges, death and burial records, diagnosis and treatments, personal communications and legal papers which may include commitment papers and trial transcripts.
Special schools for deaf, dumb and blind students were established by states as the need for them became apparent. These schools worked on the presumption that the children had normal intelligence and could be educated and bettered. However, it soon became obvious that there were children who didn’t fit into these categories who also did not fit into a normal classroom situation. States then started to provide institutions for the feebleminded. Unfortunately, in the wisdom of the times, they felt that these children were uneducable and few efforts were made to teach these children. When educational philosophies changed, these institutions were changed to training schools where the inmates could learn life skills and even earn their way in a supervised environment. The types of records created were admission and discharge, death and burials, medical, subjects taught and grades achieved, and in later years training schedules.
Many records for the residents of these institutions are restricted. Some jurisdictions allow access if the patient is dead or if the records are older than a set amount of years. When applying for these records you may also be required to prove your relationship to the patient. Records can be found in State archives or libraries, historical and genealogical societies, university and other special collections, extracted and posted by individuals or in institutional archives. Many records have been destroyed because of storage issues or institutional policies.