Asylum and Insane Hospitals-Lost Ancestors

In your research you may well have come across an ancestor that once was part of a family and in the next census or directory listing they are not there. This especially seems to happen to female ancestors during the 1800s. Did they disappear?? They is no obituary or death notice – what happened?

I found on my father’s British side, two cases in England during the late 1800s, that two female relatives were put away in special hospitals. It took quite awhile to locate them. Some locations have the name of an asylum or lunacy hospital or even the term insanity faculty was used.

insane reasonsThat is not the strange part but rather the reasons a person might be committed to such a place in the 1800s and into the early 1900s. If someone had a mental disorder, that is one thing but when you examine the legal reasons families or the court had someone committed it becomes very unusual.

It was divided into b>Moral Causes such as the death of a spouse, fright, an over-taxed brain, worry, religious excitement or experiencing anxiety. Who hasn’t had one or more of these at one time or another?

Then there was Physical Causes such as injury to head (that happened to one of my English relatives when she fell out of a cart), change of life, sun stroke, scarlet fever, or ‘old age’. There were include real physical problems where a person could not care for themselves, but ‘sun stroke’ – that is strange!

What appears very sad are the living conditions for anyone placed in an asylum. Food was very poor, cleanliness was not stressed and the rooms were often very cold. Diseases were quick to spread among the asylums. For the most part, once committed to an asylum, the family forgot about the person, just as if they had died or never lived. This appeared to be especially true for females.

Some USA census records can provide a clue. In 1850 there was a column to mark if a person were deaf, dumb or insane.

So if it appears an ancestor just ‘disappeared’ it may be that they were ‘sent away’ rarely to come back home.

This link by the U. S. National Library of Medicine provides information on asylums and hospitals over the decades and reasons persons were sent away, starting in the 1750s.

Photos: Matteawan Asylum in New York in 1890s. A list of reasons a person was committed between 1864 and 1889.

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