Wednesday, 21 November 2018

'Insanity and Unsound Mind' Index for Family Historians

A file from one of the 53 record series. The pencil shows how huge it is.
Does your family history have someone who 'vanished'? If you cannot find a death certificate, or if children were raised by someone other than a parent, check mental asylum records. Reasons for admission include epilepsy, head injury, alcoholism, congenital defects, depression (including post-natal depression), etc. Many patients (adults and children) spent only days or weeks in an asylum before being discharged, and descendants would be unaware of that. I've spent many years creating indexes that make the information more accessible.

In response to requests from users of my Web site, I've combined all of my separate 'insanity indexes' for various sources, and I've added thousands more names, to create a huge 'Insanity and Unsound Mind' index. In addition to asylum patients, it includes many people 'of unsound mind' who were *not* in an asylum. The new list (which will continue to grow as indexing progresses) already has 19,000 names extracted from 53 separate series of original records (yes, fifty-three). Those names include some interstate and overseas asylum patients, but most were in Queensland.

The steps involved were:
  1. Finish several 'indexes in progress'.
  2. Index an important source that I'd previously neglected. For about 1,000 people it refers to circumstances prior to their admission to a mental asylum (information that is often difficult to find).
  3. Change the layout (data fields) of each index, to enable merging.
  4. Merge all of the indexes into one.
  5. Check for formatting errors (eg, leading or trailing spaces that cause incorrect sorting).
  6. Check for formatting inconsistencies (eg, how to list names with no surname, such as 'Billy (Aboriginal)'.
  7. Check for obvious duplicate entries.
  8. Check the use of 'see' cross references.
  9. Write the HTML code for the combined list of names.
  10. Write the text and HTML code for the explanation on new Web pages with those names.
  11. Change the HTML code on Web pages that had previously listed some of the names (and make a link to the new combined index).
  12. Change the description on my 'Indexes' Web page.
  13. Decide upon a new fee structure for dealing with requests. (Genealogy is my business, not just a hobby, so I charge fees for my time.)
  14. Create a new request form for my research/copying service.
  15. Re-write my mini-guide Researching Mental Asylum Patients.
The decision to create a huge combined index was not taken lightly. I'm not convinced that it was worth the effort, but because so many people requested it, I finally agreed. The new arrangement has both pros and cons. Obviously it's easier for you to check a single list of names; but the new format cannot show (free of charge) a description of the source in which a particular name appears.

I know there will be a few complaints (there always are), but if you don't like the options available to you (see the link at the bottom of the Web pages with names), you can learn about all of those original records, then attempt to find the information yourself. But be warned... I've spent 35 years learning about the records! If you want to go it alone, you'll find it helpful to read my mini-guide 'Researching Mental Asylum Patients'.

To access the new list, start at the introductory page for Insanity and Unsound Mind.

(This post first appeared on

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