Today there are so many organizations and medical faculties to help treat and care for individuals with special needs; such as those afflicted with mental disorders, dementia or handicaps. However, that was not the case for most of America’s history. Families generally kept a relative in their home, rarely going outside, keeping them isolated from the community. If a person was too much to care for or there was no family available, the local community, the city government or a local welfare committee placed such a person in the care of hospital or institution. Many times they were never to be seen or heard from again. They lived the rest of their life in that institution and were buried in a cemetery on the grounds.
One of earliest hospitals just for patients with mental disorders was the Fayette Hospital in Lexington, Kentucky in 1817. The name was later changed to the Lunatic Asylum, then the Kentucky Lunatic Asylum, then the Eastern Lunatic Asylum, to the Eastern Kentucky Asylum for the Insane and finally the Eastern State Hospital in 1912.
A group of interested people today have formed the Eastern State Hospital Cemetery Club to search and preserve any records concerning those individuals who lived and died at this hospital. On an Internet site they have a collection of images of the hospital over the years along with a history. Also are links to death certificates relating to those who died at the hospital. Not every year or every person will be listed, but many have been located.
On the death certificates especially covering 1911 to 1915, a scanned copy of the state certificate is available. This provides what was known about the person; their birth, parents, spouse, occupation and cause of death. Some that information was not known by the hospital.
Included is the 1870 U.S. Federal Census listing for 508 patients and the staff at the hospital. Each name is searchable. The site has numerous newspaper listings (obituaries) about individuals who died.
A section titled “links” is provided with a listing of thirteen other mental hospitals in other parts of Kentucky and in other states. Some of those include: Tewksbury State Hospital Cemetery Records in Massachusetts, the State of Ohio Asylum for the Insane Cemetery and the Northern State Hospital in the State of Washington. Such hospital names can also be found using a search engine.
For general information on various asylums, an Internet site titled Welcome to Asylum Projects has a collection of 846 articles, along with some images of many other institutions across the country.
If there is an ancestor on the family tree that you have not been able to locate, checking the various special needs hospitals in a region might be a good starting point.
PHOTO-Eastern Kentucky Asylum (Eastern State Hospital) from the 1890s.