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The original content for this article was contributed by The National Institute for Genealogical Studies in June 2012. It is an excerpt from their course United States: Institutional Records by Amy Johnson Crow, CG. The Institute offers over 200 comprehensive genealogy courses for a fee ($).
Records of County Homes, Asylums,
and Other Institutions for the Poor and Sick
Minutes of trustees meetings contain discussion of business matters. They rarely mention any patients by name. It is possible to glean context from the minutes, as the trustees debate the merits of various programs and attend to the business of running the institution.
In many infirmaries and hospitals, patients drew a clothing allowance; they were issued a set number of new clothing articles per year. In terms of genealogical information, clothing allowance records are poor. As one state historical society archivist said recently,‘Researchers tend to be disappointed to gain access to these records and only discover that great-grandma was issued a new nightgown in 1917.’
As their name implies, day books record the business of the institution on a daily basis. This could include statements of receipts and disbursements, visitors, and a statistical overview of the condition of the patients (total number, admissions, discharges, deaths, births.) Individual names are usually not noted.
Social historians, local historians, and former patients or orphans have published a number of histories about specific infirmaries and orphanages. Like annual reports, they can be scant on names, but rich in social and historical context. A fine example is Hyman Bogen’s The Luckiest Orphans: A History of the Hebrew Orphan Asylum of New York (Urbana: University of Chicago Press, 1992).
Many infirmaries and poor farms had their own cemeteries. It was an efficient and cost-effective way to take care of the remains of those who died in the institution. However, it can be misleading to find someone in such a cemetery. These cemeteries often became the final resting place of any transient who died in the area or for a pauper living in the county, regardless of whether they were in that institution. A search of death records, admission registers, and even trustee’s minutes often will clarify the relationship of the deceased to the institution
Information in this Wiki page is excerpted from the online course US: Institutional Records offered by The National Institute for Genealogical Studies. To learn more about this course or other courses available from the Institute, see our website. We can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
We welcome updates and additions to this Wiki page.