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Hidden Away

Published on Wed, 04/03/2019 - 08:15am
Peoria State Hospital

When researching your family history, have you ever come across someone who seems to disappear? In my case, I was getting annoyed that I couldn’t seem to find any record of my great-great-grandfather after 1910. Eventually, I was able to trace him back to St. Joseph, Missouri, where I found him on the census, which listed him as a patient at State Hospital No. 2.

From the mid-1800s through mid-1900s, thousands of patients ended up at “insane asylums” in Missouri. Common reasons for admission included tuberculosis, epilepsy, or simply old age with no family members who were able to care for them. These institutions were sprawling, self-sufficient complexes. Many included farms, water sources, and power plants. Patients often worked on the premises during their time there, from working the farm to creating goods such as furniture or mattresses. Each of these locations also included a cemetery. Some families may not have been able to afford to bring their loved ones’ bodies back home to be buried, so be sure to check findagrave.com to see if your ancestor is buried at an asylum.

If you are having trouble locating an ancestor, consider looking at institutions throughout the state. MCPL databases such as HeritageQuest Online have census records that include institutions. To learn more background on the institutions and what they were like, MCPL also has books to help you out, including Evolution of a Missouri Asylum: Fulton State Hospital, 1851-2006 or A Home for the "Minds Diseased": History of St. Joseph's State Hospital No. 2, and State Hospital #3, Nevada, Missouri: A History of Change, 1885-2013.

Sarah M.
Midwest Genealogy Center

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I have found an ancestor who died while at the St. Joseph asylum in 1901. Is there a way to access records for that time period?

Hi! The Northwest Missouri Psychiatric Rehabilitation Center in St. Joseph has records dating back to its beginnings in 1886. In order for them to release those records, you'll need to get a court order from the Buchanan County Courthouse, through Judge Bolander. You'll need to send a self-addressed stamped envelope, and once you receive the court order releasing the records, you can send that on to the Northwest Missouri Psychiatric Rehabilitation Center. There is no charge for the court order, but there is a copy charge to receive paper copies of the medical record.

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