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

Wednesday, December 23, 2020

Finding Your Ancestors in Institutional Records


Watt Street Mental Hospital: The children left behind the walls

Institutional records include the following and many more types of records.

  • Charities
  • Convents
  • Fraternal Organizations
  • Genealogical Societies
  • Historical Societies
  • Hospitals
  • Libraries
  • Mission Societies
  • Orphan Agencies
  • Reunion Registries
  • Seminaries 
Very few of these types of records are classified as "genealogical" but they all contain valuable information. Of course, genealogical and historical societies and libraries will usually have genealogically valuable information but it is surprising how few researchers take advantage of these almost obvious repositories. The main reason for ignoring these records is that they are sometimes extremely difficult to locate and access. Fortunately, by using Google searches, researchers can usually determine both the location and any access restrictions. During the current pandemic, the task of accessing records could be insurmountable. Patience is a virtue that has to be cultivated to do any successful research.

I choose the photo at the beginning of this post at random. But then I thought about the Watt Street Mental Hospital and mentally asked the question about whether or not there were any records and where those possible records might be located. The article comes from the Illawarra Mercury Newspaper, from a region in New South Wales, Australia, and references a study made by Novocastrians. Hmm. That was a new word for me but it turns out to refer to someone from Newcastle, Australia. The building where the Watt Street Mental Hospital is located turns out to be historic. Here is a quote from the Wikipedia article, "Newcastle Government House."
Newcastle Government House is a heritage-listed former military post and official residence and now park and psychiatric hospital at 72 Watt Street, Newcastle, New South Wales, Australia. It is also known as Newcastle Government House and Domain, Newcastle Military Barracks & Hospital, Girls' Industrial School, Reformatory for Girls, Lunatic Asylum for Imbeciles, James Fletcher Hospital and Fletcher Park. It was added to the New South Wales State Heritage Register on 22 March 2011.

A little research turned up the following website. 

The School of Historical and Philosophical Studies, the University of Melbourne. “Watt Street Mental Hospital - Institution - Australian Psychiatric Care.” Document. PUBLISHER. Accessed December 23, 2020.

I am sure, at this point, that further research will provide me with information about the people who were treated in the institution and more about the history. 

How would I know to even begin to look for information from this source? Well, that is the reason I am writing this post. The idea here is to realize that research does not end with the large online genealogical database/family tree websites. Neither does it end with the sources you might find listed in some genealogy articles online. Sometimes, you have to learn about the culture, history, economy, and everything else about the places where your family lived. In this case, two of my direct family lines lived in New South Wales. Now, you can try to find information about all of the other institutions listed and any more you can imagine might exist.   

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