Tuesday, February 3, 2015

The Rhode Island Historical Society Library is finally reopened, only for the Newport Historical Society, another one of the Rhode Island research gems, to be closed for construction. Oh well, you can't have it all, or not all at the same time!

 There are still wonderful resources to explore relating to your RI ancestors. If you have any relatives who were at the Rhode Island House of Corrections, the Hospital for the Insane, or at the RI State Infirmary, also known as the Almshouse, there are some truly wonderful resources available.

While the vast majority of the records the Hospital for the Insane are missing (purportedly in someone's basement), the RIHSL has one of the earliest ledgers, from 1895-1898 (Rhode Island Historical Society Library- Rhode Island State Institutions Records.) If you had an ancestor committed to the asylum, you can do a page by page search for their admission during that time.

If your ancestor spent any time in the state penal system, there are the discharges for the House of Corrections (MSS 231, SG 1, Series 2, Vol. 19). One name jumped out at me as I was scrolling through the pages; Emma Skuce was repeatedly incarcerated in State Prison and County Jail. The record of her death is also found in the book, on 15 Nov 1915. If you received a death certificate from the RI state archives which give the House of Corrections as the location of death, you could check the ledger for the original record and determine the reason for incarceration which could lead you to court records and learning more about the reasons for their stay at the "state farm."

If you have an ancestor who died at the "State Hospital" in "Howard," this is actually a section of Cranston that was designated for a variety of state institutions including the poor house, the state prison and the Hospital for the Insane. Even today, the State Dept. of Health, State Dept of Corrections and a number of other state departments have offices and facilities there. Many of the admissions ledgers are available at the RI State Archives, and can provide fascinating detail about our poor ancestors and the treatment of various illness. Reading through these ledgers, it was fascinating to note that whole families of children would come in to the hospital for "T&A," tonsils and adenoid surgery. Another ledger has "Patient Histories" which records why and how people arrived at the hospital.
Image from 1915 Reports Presented to the General Assembly of the State of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations. Office of the Secretary of State, 1915. E.L. Freeman Co., Providence, RI

With a wealth of resources available for our less than illustrious ancestors, we should take advantage of the records available to add more interest to our family histories.

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