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June 12, 2013

Suitcases Left in New York Insane Asylum - Still Full of Belongings website
Photographer Jon Crispin has been documenting the suitcases left behind by patients at the Willard Asylum for the Insane in Upstate New York. 400 suitcases were found in an attic at the asylum in 1995. They date from 1910 to 1960\

The photographs are poignant - beautifully done, fascinating yet sad at the same time.  I wish New York had given the photographer permission to reveal full names of the patients these suitcases belonged to. As a genealogist I immediately wanted to research the person behind the meager belongings.

I wish I could show a photo of one of the suitcases here on Olive Tree Genealogy blog but I don't have permission. So please take a moment and use the link below to read more and view these beautiful photos. They tell a story without words.

Thanks to a reader for telling me about a book which tells the story of the patients these suitcases belonged to. You can buy The Lives They Left Behind: Suitcases from a State Hospital Attic  in Kindle, Paperback or Hardcover from

You can read more at The Willard Suitcase Project and at Jon Crispin's blog

Also read more:


Sara Greenleaf said...

There's a book on the Willard Suitcases called The Lives They Left Behind ( where the authors were able to match several suitcases with the patient records to tell more in depth stories, though names have been changed in the book. But I agree as a genealogist it's hard not to want to learn more about these people's lives.

Jana Iverson Last said...


This is just so sad and fascinating all at the same time.

I want to let you know that your blog post is listed in today's Fab Finds post at

Have a great weekend!

Olive Tree Genealogy said...

Thanks for the shoutout Jana - it is very sad. I wish we could research the people behind those suitcases. It's interesting about the book Sara mentioned in her comment

Olive Tree Genealogy said...

Sara - Thanks for the heads up. I definitely want to read that book!

The Dead Relative Collector said...

How fascinating! I find it especially interesting, since my GGGGrandmother was committed to the Utica, NY insane asylum!

Sure wish I had a suitcase full of her stuff! Well...actually, I'd settle for just a single item. She's always been a family mystery.

T said...

Don't these items belong to next of kin? I would think so. And if I was a descendant, I don't know if I want my ancestor's personal possessions photographed for someone's book. This just seems all wrong to me. Give the stuff back. Ask permission to make money off it. THEN make a book.