Ginny’s Ge­nealog­i­cal Gems

Spe­cial Fa­cil­i­ties Records

Serve Daily - - NEWS - By Ginny Ack­er­son

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.

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