Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Insane persons at large in the archives

The lead article in the Summer 2010 Ohio Genealogical Society Quarterly is "Elizabeth Scholfield, an Insane Person," by Mari Margaret McLean, winner of the OGS's third annual writing contest. Scholfield's story is told largely through her probate and guardianship files, census records, and family charts from another researcher.

None of these sources shed any light on why Scholfield was adjudged insane (or whether she may have been one of the women who were put away for other reasons). The article makes no mention of records of the Ohio Lunatic Asylum, where she resided from 1849 to 1854, or the records of the Muskingum County Infirmary, where she lived from 1854 to her death in 1871. Such records, even when they survive, are often suppressed for reasons of the alleged privacy rights of long-deceased people -- which makes it all the more important to tell Scholfield's and other insane people's stories with whatever records are still available.

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