It is a matter of history, that many of our ancestors had to live part of their life in institutions of one form or another. There were different names; an institution, almshouse, poorhouse, asylum, hospital, or infirmary.
Tewksbury, located in Middlesex County, Massachusetts had the Tewksbury Almshouse (19 miles northwest of Boston) first opened in 1854. Soon there were more admittances than the number the institution was built to house. Its patients were from all over Massachusetts.
This institution took and stored handwritten detailed notes taken from a patient’s intake interview, known as ‘inmate biographies,’ many of these are lengthy, detailed narratives that cover the person’s full life history, focusing on family relations, work, and health. It may be sad to learn you had an ancestor at Tewksbury but look now the information available.
Those notes have been made digitized, first for the period of 1854 to 1883, however, there are very few records surviving from before 1854-1860. There are over 41,000 records for this early period. For records of beyond 1883, they are still being prepared in digital format and will go online later.
The Tewksbury Hospital as it was later known, treating the sick, now has become the Public Health Museum and where the records beyond 1883 are stored. Tewksbury Hospital was established in 1852 as a state almshouse to care for the poor, which included a growing number of immigrants. In 1866 the almshouse began accepting the “pauper insane”, becoming the state’s first facility of this kind. In 1900, its name was changed to Tewksbury State Hospital; then Massachusetts State Infirmary in 1908; and, Tewksbury State Hospital and Infirmary in 1938 with many buildings added. The facilities added were for treating tuberculosis, smallpox, typhoid fever, and other infectious diseases. It continued to serve as a “last resort” for patients in need of shelter and supervised care. It is now known as Tewksbury Hospital and houses the Public Health Museum.
Use the online page of Tewksbury Almshouse Intake Records with the search box in the upper right corner to search any family names. Start with a surname then add a given name to narrow the search. Once you find one of interest click on it and review the basic information on the individual to make sure you have the right person. Then click on the scanned digital written page to enlarge it. You can click on it once again to make it even larger to read. There can be more than one person written up on a page, so ready carefully. Over the years, the style of form did change.
A personal note; my father’s younger sister (my aunt), Ethel Kershaw Leschke was from June 1 to July 28, 1935 at the Tewksbury State Hospital being treated by Dr. Louis Stern for Pulmonary Tuberculosis (TB). She died at 4:30 pm on July 28th. Ethel was 26 years, 6 months and 13 days old, married with one daughter, age 2 years old. It was very hard on my cousin, Mildred, to grow up without a mother.
Photos: Tewksbury Almshouse in 1890; the inside sunroom of Tewksbury in 1892; Notes on Elisa Briggs: age 58, female, birthplace New Hampshire – notes done 1863; notes on Emma Briggs in 1877 and recent images of Tewksbury.
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