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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
The nature of county homes and other infirmaries dictates that there will be, at least on occasion, deaths of those being served there. Depending on the facility, deaths may be recorded in the admission register or in separate volumes. As we have previously seen in this course, it is important to seek out these records even when a civil death record has already been found, as the institutional record may have additional data.
Annual reports may contain almost any type of information, including:
- Roster of those admitted in the report year
- Financial information
- Conditions of the institution (buildings, general health, etc.)
- Changes in administration
- Brief history of the institution
Annual reports sometimes offer a ‘back door’ to information otherwise inaccessible. Occasionally, you will find rosters of inmates at institutions in these reports, yet the actual admission registers and other records are sealed. The rosters in annual reports may not be as detailed as what you would find in an admission register; however, if the register is sealed to the public, the annual report is your next best source.
Annual reports offer tremendous insight into life in the institution. Superintendents reported on the programs and projects in the institution, such as a new building or renovations. Superintendents would also use the annual report as a venue for extolling the virtues of the institution and pleading the case for more money to be allocated. Physicians reported the general health of the populace, including illnesses which spread through the institution (such as measles). On occasion, the physician would give a listing of those who had died the previous year. More often than not, he would give a statistical summary of those events.
The physician’s section of the annual report, especially for mental facilities, often contain statistics about the health and demographic information of the populace. Below shows tables ‘Duration of Insanity of Those Admitted’ and ‘Form of Insanity of Those Admitted’ for the Dayton (Ohio) Asylum for the Insane (1888). The tables do not list any names, but it gives an overall picture of the ‘typical’ patient.
Figure: Asylum for the Insane (Tables) Dayton County, Ohio
It is often said that one of the great things about census records is that they put an ancestor in a specific place at a specific time. Annual reports can also do that in a very precise way. Below is the daily schedule of the Iowa Hospital for Insane at Mount Pleasant in 1863—beginning with rising at 6:00am.
Annual reports of public institutions usually include a table of salaries and wages to employees. At times, people would ‘earn their keep’ at the institution and may appear on the employees list. Fourteen year old William Barbee was enumerated as an inmate of the Ohio Asylum for Idiots in 1870. The 1872 annual report for the Ohio State Asylum for Idiotic and Imbecile Youth lists William Barbee as an attendant earning $10 per month.
Figure: Daily Schedule of the Iowa Hospital for the Insane
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.