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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 ($).
Finding The Records
Determining the Correct Institution
There are times when you will have an indication of institutionalization, but you do not know which one. You might find an ancestor noted in the census as being deaf, blind, or insane. Perhaps family stories say that great-great grandpa served some time ‘in prison’. ‘Crazy ol’ Granny’ was in the ‘state hospital’. Great-uncle Robert went to school ‘in the city’.
These are good clues, but additional research needs to be done to determine which prison, state hospital, or school these individuals were associated with. Barring finding a record naming the institution, you will need to determine which institutions were in existence at the time of the ancestor’s time there.
City and County Directories
City and county directories of the time are good sources for local schools and institutions. These lists are usually separate from the names in the directory. When using a directory, look through the table of contents for headings such as ‘Benevolent Societies’, ‘Schools’, and ‘Institutions’. Schools and Institutions are sometimes listed under subheadings in the business section.
The image below shows a portion of the school listing in the 1876-77 Muscatine County, Iowa directory. Notice that the schools are listed with the block they are located (e.g., Iowa Avenue between 5th and 6th). This information can help you find the schools in your ancestor’s neighborhood.
Figure: School Listing in the 1876-77 Muscatine County, Iowa Directory
City and county directories are filled with advertisements, including some for schools. The Figure below shows an ad for Boston Commercial College from the 1892 Boston city directory.
Figure: Ad for Boston Commercial College 1892
State schools and institutions can be found in state manuals, sometimes called ‘blue books’. These annual or biennial publications can be found in state libraries, state archives, and in larger public libraries. The listing for each institution often includes the location and criteria for admission.
Some editions give histories for the institutions, which give context and can give additional clues for research. For example, if a prison facility had merged with another one, you might need to examine the records of the other prison.
County histories are another source of the names of schools and institutions. It likely will take some reading in the chapters about the county’s general history to find these references, as they are usually not included in the index.
Local Societies and Libraries
Local genealogical and historical societies are excellent resources of the names and locations of schools and institutions in the area. Public libraries often have this information as well.
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 email@example.com
We welcome updates and additions to this Wiki page.