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06 January 2015

Poof in a State Hospital?

If you can't find where your relative died, is it possible that she died in a state hospital several counties away? During the late 19th and early 20th century, it was not uncommon to institutionalize family members that relatives could no longer care for. They may have died in a state institution several counties away in a place where you have not thought to look for a death certificate.

And, if the family was of very limited means, the person of interest may have been buried in an unmarked grave on the facility's grounds.


  1. I had an ancestor who was committed to the Illinois State Asylum and Hospital for the Insane in Jacksonville in 1862. The state told me I would need a court order to access her records, which seems crazy, since she and all her immediate family are dead. Do you have any insight on how to get around this?

    1. It's based on Illinois state statute. My great-great-grandfather was there at the turn of the 19th century and I'm in the same boat. It requires a court order to access these records in Illinois during the time period because state statute demands the records of these facilities be permanently closed.

    2. How would one get court order? Is it expensive? I recently learned I had some ancestors in state hospitals too - although not in IL. These were in the 1930s. I haven't looked into it yet but I too may end up as a member of your club :(

  2. I found a family member in the 1920 census two states away in a mental hospital. Birthplace was incorrect - probably on purpose. I knew it had to be the relative. Later I found his death certificate online; he died at the institution and most of the info was correct. His body was sent home and he was buried in the family plot. He had a two-line obit in the local paper. Unusual thing about the family plot -- none of the burials there have any tombstones as of this day.
    Another comment -- don't assume family members died at home. They may have been in a hospital several counties away. Cities that had charity hospitals had lots of out-of-county patients.

  3. An ancestor could have disappeared in prison too, as my 3rd great grandfather did. When I found a second marriage for him in 1845, I thought his first wife had died. You can imagine my shock when I found him in the 1850 census, living in Sing Sing prison in Westchester County, New York. He had raised his family in Rensselaer County, New York and Berkshire County, Massachusetts. When I discovered he was imprisoned for bigamy, I found his first wife, still living with two of their children and several grandchildren. I subsequently found death and burial records for her in 1860. I wish I knew what became of him after 1850.

  4. Frances GrochowskiJanuary 23, 2015 at 6:21 PM

    I'm looking for records from the Faribault Institute for the Feeble Minded I in Faribault, MN. I think it closed in 1957.