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January 12, 2010

12 Months of Finding Ancestors: Medical Records (Part 1 of a 12 Part Series)

Welcome to Part 1 of a 12 month series about finding and using less obvious genealogy records to find ancestors.

An excellent set of records to find out more detail about an ancestor are medical records. Often you will find information about family members - parents and siblings or other relatives.

Medical records will be found in various repositories, depending on the town, province, state, county or country you are looking in. It also depends on the year of your interest (privacy laws differ in every country) and the type of medical record you want.

For example you might want asylum records or hospital records or medical records from a prison or institution.

The first step I suggest is to search the Family History Library Catalog. This will allow you to see what records, if any, have been microfilmed by the Family History Library in Salt Lake City Utah. I did a quick search by title for MEDICAL and found over 300 sets of records including the following examples:

* Danvers (Mass.) medical records, 1878-1917 Massachusetts State Hospital (Danvers, Massachusetts)
* City of Halifax and Town of Dartmouth medical examiners' reports, 1895-Jan. 1931 Halifax and Dartmouth (Nova Scotia). Medical Examiner
* Applications for medical licenses, 1788-1848 Lower Canada. Provincial Secretary (while not medical records of patients, this would be an excellent resource for anyone seeking an ancestor who was a doctor)
* Kentucky medical history, WPA research project records, 1801-1940 Redmon, Sherrill
* Medical account books of Thomas Henry Dunn in Middlesex County [Virginia] 1852- 1853 Dunn, Thomas Henry
* Medical bills, 1826 Dunsfold (Surrey)
* Medical or physicians registers, 1886-1982 Prince Edward County (Virginia). Clerk of County Court

Next, look at what medical records are held state-wide or province-wide or county-wide. Find out what has survived, where it is stored and what you are allowed to access

Then look at what medical records are held locally (by city, town, township, parish, etc) Find out what has survived, where it is stored and what you are allowed to access

When I wanted to find out what happened to my husband's great grandfather's sister Ada, all I had to go on were whispers that Ada had died in the insane asylum in London Ontario in the early 1900s.

My first step was to find out if that asylum was still in existence. I discovered it was, but under a different name.

Next step was to phone the current hospital that used to be the insane asylum and ask about their records from 1900-1920. They informed me those were deposited in the Ontario Archives based in Toronto

Next I visited the Ontario Archives website, looked for what they had in medical records. There they were:

RG 10-279 London Psychiatric Hospital patients' clinical casebooks 1867-1906
RG 10-280 London Psychiatric Hospital patients' clinical case files 1906-1974
RG 10-281 London Psychiatric Hospital patient registers 1870-1957
RG 10-282 Records of the Medical Superintendent of the London Psychiatric Hospital 1878-1970
RG 10-283 Records of the Bursar of the London Psychiatric Hospital 1865-1923

Next I emailed the Archives to inquire about obtaining Ada's medical files. They conducted a search and emailed back to inform me that Ada's records were there (100 plus pages!) and that they were available if I submitted a Freedom of Information request. This of course is specific to Ontario and that is why you must search your own area's privacy laws and regulations once you find the medical records you need.

A little tip - if submitting a request for information in Ontario under the FOI (Freedom of Information), you have two choices. You can use an FOI request form which requires payment.

To avoid payment, you can simply write a letter stating your name, what information you are requesting, and that you are requesting this under the Freedom of Information, and send that letter to the instutition or repository that holds the records you want.

After submitting my FOI request via letter to the Ontario Archives, they copied Ada's file, censored it (but not too much was blacked out) and mailed the copies to me. This file contained a wealth of detail about poor Ada and what happened to her, when she died and the official cause of death, but the files also contained information on Ada's parents, including copies of letters sent by her brother and mother to the hospital.

All in all it was a lengthy task to find those medical records but well worth the effort.


Kathleen Brandt, Professional Genealogist said...

Thanks. I recently wrote a piece on mental hospitals/institutions. I love to read about others who are interested.

Anonymous said...

This was really helpful!