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.

Nancy said...

Hey Karen I ordered your book of non-federal censuses---very informative--I hope it will help me find all my lost ancestors in FL! On the FL Hosp.Insane---I've located a man W.R. Stansell buried in Cem.#3 of one of the five cemeteries. (who I think is my G-grandfather) I need just a little more information to be sure but a lady at the hospital told me I must prove heirship and if it is him they cannot show me the grave. A nice FL archives lady found a record of a mortician's ledger from the hospital for W.R. Stansell--died & buried April 16, 1916. When I asked the lady to search Record Group 841, Series S 1074 (from your article) she found a list of his possessions when he was admitted on Aug.17, 1915. I still need to know the names of his contacts to determine if he is my ancestor. He's been dead for 99 years---is proven heirship really necessary for me to receive this information? I don't have to have all of his medical records. I would appreciate any more ideas you have. sincerely. nancy

Karen Packard Rhodes said...

Hello, Nancy, and I'm sorry it has taken me half a year to respond! I have neglected my blogs while in graduate school, but hope to get them back up and running soon.

I'm afraid that the state does require heirship proof, but I don't know if there is a time limit after which the information is more widely available. 99 years seems like a long time -- maybe 100 is the magic number. Can you approach this through the birth records of the appropriate parent and grandparent? Have you been able to trace them? What you need is to show that you are your parents' child, that the relevant parent is the child of his or her parents, and that your relevant grandparent was W. R. Stansell's child. Birth records, church records, newspaper records could all be possibilities here, and census records and wills (if any -- all my ancestors seem to have died intestate!) could also help here. Property records, if the family had any property, might show such property being transferred from W. R. to an heir. Also, sometimes, if a person was under age and getting married, parental permission would have been necessary. These are just off the top of my head. If I can be of further help, let me know.

Karen Packard Rhodes said...

Oh, Nancy, one more thing: You might also look at court records in the country from which W. R. was committed. There may be some sort of case, or an order of commitment. Again, good luck, and let me know if I can help further.