Sunday, May 31, 2009

Black Sheep Sunday: Find Your Psychiatric Black Sheep in the Florida Archive

Last Sunday, I discussed finding records pertaining to incarcerated felons in the Florida State Archive. Here are some record groups to search when you are looking for those who spent time in Florida’s public mental hospitals.

Florida Hospital for the Insane administrative files, 1885-1914 can be found in Record Group 145, Series S. 40. These records consist in correspondence sent by and received by the Board of Commissioners of State Institutions on the subject of care of the indigent insane in the state’s mental institution. The state hospital has changed names over the decades: it has been known as the Florida Asylum for the Indigent Insane, the Asylum for Indigent Lunatics, the Florida Asylum for the Insane, and the Florida Hospital for the Insane. It was finally known as the Florida State Hospital.

There may be little about any particular individuals in this series, though part of the papers do concern the patients. Other subject covered in this series are administration, building construction and improvement, supplies and purchasing, and transportation. There could be some useful background information in these records. Of more interest in this series could be the Daybook which covers the years 1885 through 1888, and which lists receipts and disbursements for the hospital’s paying patients.

Record Group 841, Series S 1062 could be of more use. These are the commitment records from 1893 to 1973. These are arranged alphabetical by the patients’ last name, then chronologically by the date of commitment, for the earlier records. Later records are arranged numerically by their case numbers.

Coverage of these records, to quote from the State Archive catalog, is “commitment records which document the procedure by which persons were committed to the Florida State Hospital and its predecessor, the Florida Hospital for the Insane.” Passage of the “Baker Act” in 1973 eliminated the need for a separate commitment record. The “Baker Act” provides for the involuntary commitment of any individual deemed an immediate hazard to him or herself, or to others. During the time covered by these records, the commitment papers became part of the patient’s medical record (see Series S 1065, below).

One may find in the earlier records in this series a copy of the official court order of commitment, with information including the name of the patient, the cause of the illness, the patient’s condition as a result of the illness, and any correspondence generated by the commitment. Later records usually contain routine court records, but in some cases, additional correspondence may also be included.

In this same Record Group 841 is series S 1065, Medical records, 1914-1983. These are divided into two groups: records covering from 1914 to 1938, and those after 1938. The first group is further subdivided by sex and race. Access to these records requires the express written consent of the patient or of his or her guardian or advocate. Records of deceased patients require the written permission of the patient’s personal representative or immediate heir. The medical records contain charts, admission notes, furlough and discharge papers, progress notes, death certificates and other information on the patient’s hospitalization.

Record Group 841, series S 1066, Death books, 1953-1971 documents deaths at the state hospital for the years indicated. In these books can be found the name of the patient, the date and time of death, costs incurred, and final disposition of the body.

Record Group 841, Series S 1074, Indigent Patient Account Books, 1900-1921, contains account books for the indicated years for indigent patients. They are arranged by gender, then chronologically by admission date. Books containing entries for male patients date from 1900 to 1921; those for female patients date from 1915 to 1921. Besides the name of the patient, these books provide information on the date of admission, patient’s account balance on admission, and a list of personal effects, with a record of how the patient’s money was received and spent. This is information that could paint a very personal picture of an ancestor.

Record Group 841, Series S 1075, Pay Account Book, 1901-1917 is arranged chronologically by admission date, and contains the accounts of the paying patients at the institution for the indicated years. If a patient’s family could afford to pay for the care and maintenance of the patient, they sent quarterly payments to the State Treasurer’s Office. If payments lapsed, the patient could be discharged. Each entry lists the patient’s name and the date of each payment, as well as the amount and balance.

Record Group 841, Series S 1078, Furloughs, 1894-1922 lists those patients who were considered sufficiently recovered to go home on a trial basis. These were for one year, and could be renewed. The furlough paper was signed by a family member or custodian willing to take responsibility for the patient’s care. The person taking custody of the patient agreed to provide medical care, food, shelter, and clothing, and to pay transportation costs for the patient’s return to the hospital, if necessary. The years 1895, 1897, and 1900 are missing from this series.

Record Group 841, Series S 1079, Discharges, 1901-1922, shows the patient’s name, along with the reason for the discharge (which could be transfer to another institution, recovery, being sent home on furlough, or other reasons), the patient’s race, county of residence, dates of hospital stay, and condition upon discharge (not always notated).


Steven said...

Dear Karen,
Thanks for the good info! I have a relative that went to the Fla. State Hospital from right here in Jacksonville,Fla. I plan on using the info you provided to find out more about him as he went from about 1913 to his death there in 1945.Thanks,Steven in Jax.Fla.

Karen Packard Rhodes said...

I hope you get some solid results in your searching at the State Archive, and I'm glad to be of service! The staff at the Archive are great folks! Enjoy the trip.