TIP # 856 - EARLY LUNATIC ASYLUMS - PART 2
Whether the census taker had directions on how to define the mental
health of an individual is unknown; or whether he just used the term
familiar with him. The County Courts likely attempted to correctly
define the status of the individual. Following are some of the earliest
Lunacy: Etymology: Middle English lunatik, from Anglo-French or Late
Latin; Anglo-French lunatic, from Late Latin lunaticus, from Latin luna;
the belief that lunacy fluctuated with the phases of the moon. Date:
14th century 1 a : affected with lunacy : insane b : designed
for the care of insane persons <lunatic asylum>
Idiocy: Inflected Form(s): plural id·i·o·cies
Date: circa 1529
1usually offensive : extreme mental retardation
2 : something notably stupid or foolish
Insanity: Date: 1590
1 : a deranged state of the mind usually
occurring as a specific disorder (as schizophrenia)
2 : such unsoundness of mind or lack of
understanding as prevents one from having the
mental capacity required by law to enter into a
particular relationship, status, or transaction
or as removes one from criminal or civil responsibility.
Acts of the General Assembly of Kentucky
Chapter DCXXVII. AN ACT to amend the law in relation to idiots. (p.51)
Approved December 2, 1831.
"Be it enacted by the General Assembly of the
Commonwealth of Kentucky, That, in any case, where a write of de idiota
inquirenda has been or shall hereafter be found, and the idiot has been
or shall be hereafter provided for out of the public treasury, and said
idiot removes within the jurisdiction of any other circuit, it shall be
lawful for the committee of said idiot to apply to the clerk of
the circuit court where the original writ may have been found, for a
transcript of the record of the finding of the jury, and the order of
court made thereon, which shall be certified to the clerk of the circuit
wherein such idiot may be settled, which shall be entered upon the
records of such circuit court at the next succeeding term after the same
shall be made out; and thereafter all jurisdiction of the court
wherein such finding was originally made, shall cease, and the necessary
proof shall be made in the circuit court within whose jurisdiction such
idiot may have been removed; and the said court shall certify the same
to the auditor of the state, who shall pay the same as in other cases.
But to prevent impositions upon the treasury, it shall be the duty of
the circuit court within whose jurisdiction said idiot shall be removed,
to state in the order fixing the compensation for the support of said
idiot, that he or she has been transferred from another county, and from
what county transferred; and that no application hath been made to the
circuit court in which the inquest was found, and that none will be.
Sadly, all records are sealed at Western, Eastern and Central
institutions. Many have tried to access the records of family members of
past to no effect. I'm not saying it cannot be done, but the odds are
stacked against you - even with a lawyer representing you. The same
arises when trying to find out who is buried in the old institutional
cemeteries. If one will search the web, groups of concerned individuals
(primarily genealogists and historians) have been, for several years,
attempting to record many burials there based on obituaries, death
records, etc. I made a post on this many years ago and can be found in
the archives of this list.
Is it possible to find who all were lodged in the institutions? Yes and
no. Some sources are shown below:
1 - Newspapers. I have found many reports in the older newspapers. It
appears that every time an individual was brought before the court in a
lunacy hearing, it was reported in the next edition of the local paper.
Information reported varied but could include name, age, marital status,
symptoms and where taken.
2 - Lunacy books at the County Clerk's office. These are often called
"Lunacy Inquests". Whether the county of your interest kept records is
known. Barren County, where I live, did keep separate records. Often the
Circuit Court was involved too in matters of lands owned, appeals,
etc. Some counties maintain these old records but make them unavailable
to researchers so as not to "shame the family."
3 - Death certificates. If your family member died 1911 or later, and
were a resident or "inmate" at an asylum at their death, the death
certificate will show this. The place of residence at time of death will
be shown as "Western Asylum (of various names), Central State
Hospital (Lakeland, Anchorage) and, accordingly, Eastern State Hospital.
The vital statistics which were kept prior to 1911 (hit and miss as
I've covered before), did not show this information. It might just show
that they died at Hopkinsville, Louisville, etc.
4 - Census records. This is a snapshot of the census year only so we
don't know who was there between the census records. But each county
would show the inmates.
5 - Funeral home records. If the individual died after the establishment
of "regular" funeral homes (rather than a neighborhood undertaker who
likely didn't keep records or the records have been lost), a search of
their records would show the deaths of individuals who died in an asylum
but were brought back home for burial. Many of these will be found in
the pauper burials as many didn't have finances or family left. Some of
course, were buried in a family cemetery or a city cemetery. Many pauper
cemeteries have long been abandoned and I have seen the stones
(normally a funeral home marker or a handmade cross) have been plowed
under or destroyed over the years.
Below are links to the 1860 and 1870 census for Western State Hospital
where all the inmates are shown - no county of residence is shown but
you might find this very helpful:
Western State Hospital
Death Certificates and Obituaries of residents:
Patient Data Base:
Known burials at the Western State Hospital Cemetery:
Eastern State Hospital:
No names but an interesting study of the cemetery there:
Names of known inmates from newspaper articles:
Central State Hospital:
Ghost Hunters at the CSH Hospital:
(underscore before word Master)
Known burials at CSH Cemetery:
Allen County Lunatic Register 1904-1921:
Oldham Co records show they have lunatic books, indexed (not on line)
Webster County Obituaries:
Many more records are likely available on line.
One suggestion is to search the census records not cited here.
Next week: This Won't Hurt A Bit! ... a look at
the 1800 era medical instruments and treatments.
© Copyright1 Oct 2009, Sandra K. Gorin