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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
Because so many institutions of this type had common purposes and served similar groups of people, their records tend to be similar in nature. It must be stressed, however, that not all records exist for all institutions.
Access to the records may be restricted by the institution, the repository holding the records, or by statute. This is especially true of records of mental health facilities and 20th century hospitals.
Do not forget that in addition to governments, private entities such as churches, community groups, and fraternal organizations also sponsored almshouses, infirmaries, and old age homes. Records of these institutions may be found in archives of the organization (such as a diocesan archives) or historical societies.
The most common type of records for institutions for the poor and sick are admission registers. Fortunately for genealogists, they also provide on average the most biographical information.
| John Riggleman a pauper from Troy Township was received into the Infirmary October 19 1871. Age 75 years. Birth place Virginia. Length of Residence 16 years. Previous habits industrious. Present condition Insane. [Margin note] Died April 19, 1872. Entered in grave No 9 Range No 2. |
Consider the amount of information in that short paragraph. We have his residence at the time he was admitted (Troy Township) and the length of time he had been a resident of that place (16 years). He was born in Virginia circa 1796 (age 75 in 1871). He was reported as having been industrious, but is now insane. If he had been ‘industrious’ before, might we find him in land records? It is certainly something to examine. He died 19 April 1872. We might find his death record in the Athens County death records, as Ohio began keeping civil death records in 1867. Such a death record should give the cause of death. Even if we had found his civil death record first, the infirmary record gives information not to be found on the civil death record—place of burial.
Sometimes family members went to the county home together. It is important to look at all people with the ancestor’s surname, and not just for one specific person. The Figure below shows another entry from the Athens County, Ohio County Home Admission Register. In this entry, we see Susan Dutcher admitted with her son Peter.
Admission records may be kept in paragraph, narrative style. However, most are kept in ledgers with defined columns for various pieces of information. It is not unusual to see an infirmary begin operations with a narrative register then change to a ledger format a few years later (perhaps due to increased reporting requirements of the county or state.)
Figure: County Home Admission Register, Athens County, Ohio
The Figure below shows a ledger-style register from the Parke County, Indiana Asylum Register. Besides the name, the register had columns for:
- Eye [color]
- Hair [color]
- Nativity—town/county and state/country
- Married or single
- When Admitted
- By What Authority
- When Discharged
- By What Authority
The first entry on this page is for William Soper, age 22. He was reportedly born in Montgomery County, Indiana (a valuable clue), but at the time of his admission his residence was “unsettled.” Under the remarks column is noted, “Frozen feet and no means of support.”
It would be easy to pass over by whose authority he was admitted, in this case ‘Wilson O.P. Reserve T.P.’ This refers to Wilson, Overseer of the Poor of Reserve Township. A search for records of that office would be warranted.
The next entry, that of William Murphy, contains the remarks ‘Shell wound in leg in battle of Gettysburg’. Certainly a search of military records for him would be a wise course of action.
Not all ledgers recorded the same type of information. Below shows a page from the Inmate Register of the Allen County (Indiana) Poor Asylum. Unlike the Parke County, Indiana example, it does not ask for a specific town or county (or even state) of birth, nor does it ask for a physical description. Conversely, it asks for information which Parke County did not—occupation, health and fitness to labor, and mortality and date of decease.
As we have discussed earlier in this lesson, these county homes and asylums served not only as poor houses, but also as hospitals. The register of the Allen County Asylum lists as some of the causes of admission pregnant, sick, paralysis, and sore feet.
Sophia Imbody was admitted to the Allen County Asylum 14 April 1882, aged 22 and pregnant. Her newborn son’s entry states ‘Male child born June 8 1882 taken to raise by George Huber July 17 1882’. County court records could be examined for adoption, guardianship, or indenture records between George Huber and the infant.
Figure: Asylum Register, Parke County, Indiana
Figure: Right Side
Figure: Poor Asylum Register, Allen County, Indiana
Keep in mind that many county homes served as orphanages before a separate childrens’ home was created. The admission records may give information about placement of children. Below shows the admission record for Elizabeth Hallett and her children into the Athens County Home in 1857. The note in the margin reads:
| Margarett Ann Hallett Recorded first day of Aug. 1857 in Clerk’s Book of York Township. The indenture of Jacob F. Hallett Recorded in Rome Township Novr 10, 1857. Austin Hallet bound to Noah Tedrow of Rome T.P. Nov 25th 1858. E. Hallett Left On her Own Accord Aug 9th 1859, Being Legally Discharged by the Directors. |
Figure 19: Admission Record, Athens County Home, 1857
- ↑ Athens County, Ohio County Home Admission Register, volume 1, p. 167.
- ↑ Allen County, Indiana Poor Asylum, Register of Inmates, volume 1, "I" surnames, Allen County microfilm 81, Allen County Public Library, Fort Wayne.
- ↑ Ibid.
- ↑ Athens County Infirmary Admission Record, volume 1.
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