Recently, I was fortunate enough to locate patient records, digitized and freely accessible online, for my 4X great grandfather, William Tarbox, who died on 22 May 1860 at what was then called the Maine Insane Hospital.
I’ve seen many queries from others wanting to know how to find patient and/or hospital records for a particular person or place, so I thought I’d share some of the free resources I’ve found.
First, a bit of background preparation is needed. It is very possible that due to state privacy laws that it might be IMPOSSIBLE to access surviving patient records, regardless of how long ago the person lived, without a COURT ORDER. That’s just the way it is, so if the patient record is that important, a lawyer will have to be hired to go to court and try to have a court order issued.
Next, hospital and asylum records aren’t generally housed in any one location IF they have even survived. Records may be found at state libraries or archives, county court records or at current hospitals, if they still exist, or in the records of a company that merged with the original hospital or asylum. In rare cases, records might even be held by a local library or historical society.
Note, too, that some hospitals and asylums were state-run institutions, while others were privately owned and operated.
Finally, where records are extant, the time periods for which patient records can be viewed may vary dramatically, again due to state privacy laws.
Therefore, it might take a lot of digging just to figure out where extant records might be housed today.
Where to Begin Your Search
1. Google is your friend. Try googling the name of the institution to see what results come up. For example, in the case of my William Tarbox, I searched “Maine Insane Hospital patient records” and hit the jackpot on Digital Maine Repository and Patient Records, 1840-1910.
2. Use the FamilySearch catalog and search for hospitals, asylums and medical records, both at the state AND county AND town levels. By skipping the county level search, you might miss the collection you are seeking. For example, a search of Missouri includes medical records:
However, if I am searching for medical records for a great grandparent in Callaway County and I end my search at the state level, I will have missed:
Similarly, in Massachusetts, a state-level search in FamilySearch brings 4 results:
Adding Middlesex County to Massachusetts brought no hits. However, when I added ‘Tewksbury’ for the asylum there, look what popped up:
We find the Asylum for the Chronic Insane patient records, 1866-1907.
The lesson here is not to take short cuts in your searches!
3. Black Sheep Ancestors has a page of links to hospitals for the insane and their records.
4. One of the categories on Cyndi’s List is Hospitals, Asylums & Sanatoriums under the Medical/Medicine list, which has an extensive list of links.
5. Historic Asylums on Rootsweb
6. Old Soldiers Home Records on FamilySearch Wiki
To close, a search for patient medical records, regardless of how long ago a person lived, might or might not be successful and extant records might or might not be accessible to genealogists. However, a thorough search is time well spent as those medical records will be a treasure trove of information.