I received the following question this week and thought I’d share what I found here on the blog.
My husband’s grandmother died in Central Islip State Hospital in New York City in 1925. The hospital is now closed and the records apparently have been move to Pilgrim Psychiatric Center. We would like to get more information about her and possibly a picture of her through the records that they have there. What is the best way to retrieve those records? They appear to be very protective of the patients’ information even though my husband is related directly to her.
Does anyone have any suggestions?
Because of privacy restrictions, hospital records can be difficult to access. We’ve tried unsuccessfully to access the records of a family member, so I can understand your frustration. Most of the initial research I did on the Central Islip State Hospital turned up the same references to Pilgrim Psychiatric Center, but I was thinking that since it was a state hospital, you might have luck searching at the New York State Archives.
I searched the online catalog on the New York State Archives website for Central Islip State Hospital. (To access the catalog, (click on the link to “Online Catalog” in the black navigation tabs.) That search brought up five hits, including one for Medical inspectors’ notes of visitation of state hospitals and private institutions, 1915-1939 (with gaps) from the New York (State) Dept. of Mental Hygiene. The catalog entry states that this collection includes,
“Narrative notes include date and time of arrival; professional staff on duty; list of staff vacancies, patient census statistics; notes on new admissions; discharges; deaths; and special interviews with patients about complaints regarding care and treatment, accidents, and injuries. They also provide remarks on food and recent improvements and repairs to buildings and grounds. Notes on patients include lists of patients to be examined by the inspector, ward, name of patient, admission date, age, duration before admission, diagnosis, and memorandum notes.”
These records are also restricted for privacy reasons, but perhaps with proof of your husband’s relationship to the patient, you’ll have better luck with the State Archives than you did with the hospital.
Browsing down to the subject index on that collection, I selected Psychiatric hospital patients New York (State) and there are 48 collections related to psychiatric hospitals in New York.
Steve Luxenberg, author of Annie’s Ghosts, a book about his search for information about his mother’s sister who spent her adult life in Eloise Hospital outside of Detroit. I plugged Eloise Hospital Detroit into a search engine and found this site on Polish Ancestry, that has obtained records from that institution, so for those looking for the records of institutionalized family members, you may have better luck.
You might also want to look into court records. There may have been guardianship or probate records created for your husband’s grandmother. Mr. Luxenberg includes several court records examples on the website for his book.
You may have seen some of these resources that reference the Central Islip State Hospital, but there are some interesting websites about the hospital with images.
Central Islip Psychiatric Center
Photos, history, virtual tours, and maps.
Opacity Abandoned Photography: Central Islip State Hospital
Photos of remaining buildings and historical background.
For those with relatives who were in Ontario, Canada asylums, the Archives of Ontario has an online exhibit on Psychiatric Hospital Records.
About Juliana Smith
Juliana Szucs Smith has been working for Ancestry.com for more than 16 years. She began her family history journey trolling through microfilms with her mother at the age of 11. She has written many articles for online and print genealogical publications and wrote the "Computers and Technology" chapter of The Source: A Guidebook of American Genealogy. Juliana holds a certificate from Boston University's Online Genealogical Research Program, and is currently on the clock working towards certification from the Board for Certification of Genealogists.