Some people eat, sleep and chew gum, I do genealogy and write...

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Stepping back into the past – Medical Records

HCCH-medical_records.JPG ‎(640 × 428 pixels, file size: 69 KB, MIME type: image/jpeg)
Public Domain

During my recent extended hospital stay, I spent some time thinking about the kinds of records generated by healthcare, hospitals, and other medically related activities. A check of the records of, searching by keyword "medical" reveals only 59 of the 31,312 that search term. Likewise, a search of the Historical Record Collections shows a similar paucity of responses. Considering the vast amount of paperwork generated by hospital visits, medical facilities of all kinds including the Veterans Administration and other organizations, it is surprising that very few of these records have made it into the genealogical record collections.

This is one area of investigation where the detailed information contained in the records could be invaluable for showing family connections or for establishing paternity, cause of death, or even burial location. So how would we go about finding medical records?

I would suggest, that we begin by assuming that the records exist. It is true, that the vast bulk of these records would be concentrated in the last 100 years or so. But it is not inconceivable, that some of these records may be found for earlier times. Healthcare records are similar to other commercially created records such as insurance records, mortuary records, business licenses, and other such related records. One major difference, is that medical records can contain clearly personal, and at the time, confidential information about individuals and families. For more recent records, in the United States and other developed countries, access to these records can be extremely restricted. In some cases, it may be necessary to obtain court ordered access.

In many cases, you may find that medical records are kept for only a relatively short period of time. Here is an article entitled "Getting Medical Records and Information" that gives a good outline of the methodology for finding medical records. If the medical records were kept by a government agency such as the Veterans Administration or one of the Armed Forces and is very likely that the records still exist.

Even staying in the hospital, can have some benefits by giving an insight into the types of records which may become available after a thorough search.


  1. Glad you are up to "working" from the hospital. I understand you had good news and the Lenexa KS FSL (2) are so grateful for that.

    On topic, my gggrandmother died in a psychiatric hospital and by taking a family group sheet to prove I was who I said I was, I was able to obtain a copy of her records..the entire chart...and her photo was on it. Being a nurse myself I was able to read and see that she most likely had Alzheimer's and back then there was no treatment but to "put them away."

  2. Getting those records may be next to impossible with all the new privacy records outlined with the HIPPA regulations.

  3. I want to second what Claudia stated. HIPAA is a huge barrier to modern medical records being used for gleaning genealogical-salient data. HIPAA is new enough that it's not been a huge issue yet but it's important to get records while people are still alive, if possible and if needed, through invoking health care power of attorney. It likely will be much easier to get records while individuals are alive rather than after they have died.

  4. HIPPA Indeed! My doctor won't even fax _my own_ records to me. Only postal mail, he says, because of HIPPA.

  5. Welcome back. Missed your commentaries!

  6. The hospital where many of my family members, including myself, have been treated (or even born), told me that they destroy medical records after five years. No sources there.

  7. It's good to see you doing well. I ALWAYS enjoy your sites. Thanks for sharing your time and knowledge!