Alice’s Story, Part 3: Final Resting Place

Exeter School Cemetery, Exeter, Rhode Island. October 2012
Exeter School Cemetery, Exeter, Rhode Island. October 2012

In Alice’s Story Part 2, I wrote about the Exeter School, formerly known as the Rhode Island School for the Feeble-Minded, where Alice spent the last twenty years of her life.  In this final installment, I conclude the story which began in Alice’s Story Part 1.

When I think of my great-aunt Alice Tillotson’s story, I feel sad for her. She was abandoned at a state institution and forgotten by her family. But was she? Surely my grandfather, not yet ten years old when she was taken away, must have missed his sister and childhood companion. When Grandpa showed Mom, then only eight years old, the photograph of Alice, it might have been around the time she died in 1933. Perhaps he heard of her death somehow, and was motivated to find the photograph of the two of them together. If that is the case, then I think he never forgot his sister, and her death filled him with sadness and regret. Continue reading Alice’s Story, Part 3: Final Resting Place

Alice’s Story, Part 2: The Exeter School

Exeter School, Superintendent's House and Administration. Rhode Island School for the Feeble-Minded in Exeter. Report. Providence: 1910.
Exeter School, Superintendent’s House and Administration. Rhode Island School for the Feeble-Minded in Exeter. Report. Providence: 1910.

In Part 1 of Alice’s story, I wrote about my great-aunt Alice Tillotson, who was a teenager when she was dropped off at the Oaklawn School for Girls around 1902.  After she turned 21, she was transferred to the State Alms House.  In 1913, she was admitted to the Rhode Island School for the Feeble-Minded in Exeter, Rhode Island.  It was there that she spent the rest of her life. Continue reading Alice’s Story, Part 2: The Exeter School

Alice’s Story, Part 1

Oaklawn School for Girls, ca. 1901. Board of State Charities and Corrections. Annual Report, 1901. Rhode Island State Archives. https://catalog.sos.ri.gov/repositories/2/digital_objects/378 Accessed May 10, 2019.
Oaklawn School for Girls, ca. 1901. Board of State Charities and Corrections. Annual Report, 1901. Rhode Island State Archives. https://catalog.sos.ri.gov/repositories/2/digital_objects/378 Accessed May 10, 2019.

Mom was a young girl of eight or nine when she first heard about her aunt Alice Tillotson. (This would have been about 1933.)  Grandpa was looking at a photograph from his childhood, in which he was six years old and standing next to his sister, Alice, who was about fifteen. Mom asked her father why she had never met his sister, and Grandpa replied that Alice had been put in an institution for the “feeble-minded” many years earlier. In 2012, when I began researching mom’s family tree, I came across my great-aunt Alice and was touched by her sad story. Continue reading Alice’s Story, Part 1

The Allure of Cemeteries: Introduction

St. James Cemetery, Danielson, Connecticut. November 2016
St. James Cemetery, Danielson, Connecticut. November 2016

At first it was dead ancestors that drew me to cemeteries. Once I started researching my family history, I began to feel connected to them through their stories. I was particularly interested in mother’s family, who emigrated from Quebec to New England in the late 19th century. My curiosity was piqued by the high incidence of mental illness and institutionalization among the women in the family. I was even fascinated by the occasional bad behavior of certain relatives. I visited my first ancestral graves not long after I began work on the family history in 2012. Continue reading The Allure of Cemeteries: Introduction

Rosalie Lapointe: My Brick Wall

Rosalie Lapointe Metthe
Rosalie Lapointe Metthe (185? – 1923)

Every genealogist has one; a brick wall in their research through which they are unable to break. Mine is my great-great-grandmother, Rosalie Lapointe. I have come to the conclusion that she did not want people to know where she came from, so she made sure to cover her tracks.
Continue reading Rosalie Lapointe: My Brick Wall

Norwich State Hospital: Book Review

 

Book cover: Norwich State Hospital, by Christine Rockledge. Introduction by Steve DePolito. Arcadia, 2018. Images of America series.
Book cover: Norwich State Hospital, by Christine Rockledge. Introduction by Steve DePolito. Arcadia, 2018. Images of America series.

Norwich State Hospital, by Christine Rockledge. Introduction by Steve DePolito. Mt. Pleasant: SC: Arcadia Publishing, 2018. Images of America series.

I was happy to see this book come out because I have spent the last six years researching Norwich State Hospital from a different angle than this author did. Four of my ancestors were patients there. Using their records (which I acquired from the Connecticut State Library) and supplementing them with historical background, I have tried to show what life was like for my family members during the years 1908-1958. Although my research didn’t take me into Norwich State Hospital’s more recent history, I can say that what is in this book about the first fifty years of the hospital is congruent with what I found in my own research. Continue reading Norwich State Hospital: Book Review

New London County Temporary Home

Postcard, ca 1935, New London County Temporary Home, Norwich Connecticut
Postcard, ca 1935, New London County Temporary Home, Norwich Connecticut

In 1935, when my mother was ten years old, she was taken from her parents and placed in what she called “the county home.” Its full name was the New London County Temporary Home, a facility for neglected and uncared for children. The county home was not an orphanage, because the goal was not to put the children up for adoption, but to eventually return them to their own families. In Mom’s case, she had been taken away from her parents because her mother had been admitted to Norwich State Hospital and her father was deemed physically and mentally unfit to raise her on his own. Continue reading New London County Temporary Home

Researching Your Mentally Ill Ancestor

State Lunatic Asylum, Buffalo, Erie County, NY. Historic American Buildings Survey, May 1965. Boucher, Jack E., creator. Library of Congress Reproduction Number: HABS NY,15-BUF,9--2 (researching your mentally ill ancestor)
State Lunatic Asylum, Buffalo, Erie County, NY. Historic American Buildings Survey, May 1965. Boucher, Jack E., creator. Library of Congress Reproduction Number: HABS NY,15-BUF,9–2

Readers of this blog sometimes ask me how they can find a records for their own mentally ill ancestor. I try to answer these questions to the best of my knowledge. I want to share what I know with others, and it seems more efficient to do it in a blog post than in many emails to individuals. Don’t get me wrong; I enjoy hearing from my readers, and will respond as time allows. My goal for this article is to have something useful to point to if a reader has a question about their mentally ill ancestor. Continue reading Researching Your Mentally Ill Ancestor

A Distinct Alien Race: Book Review

The following is a book review of A Distinct Alien Race:  The Untold Story of Franco-Americans:  Industrialization, Immigration, Religious Strife by David Vermette.  Vermette is a researcher, writer, and speaker on French-Canadian and Franco-American identity.  His book was recently published by Baraka Books.

A Distinct Alien Race, by David Vermette. Baraka Books, 2018
A Distinct Alien Race, by David Vermette. Baraka Books, 2018

In writing about the migration of French-Canadians to New England, Vermette has chosen an excellent example of how a feared ethnicity once labeled “Other” became assimilated citizens of the United States. One of the reasons this story is compelling is that it happened so long ago; another is that it is so similar to what is happening now at our southern border. Because it is the story of an underclass, it is has been ignored in American history books and courses which tend to lionize the rich and powerful — that is, men who became rich and powerful on the backs of this underclass. Continue reading A Distinct Alien Race: Book Review

What To Do About the Children?

Ward of Notre Dame de Lourdes, Orphanage, Manchester N.H., ca. 1900. Harvard Art Museums/Fogg Museum, Transfer from the Carpenter Center for the Visual Arts, Social Museum Collection. 3.2002.2537.5
Ward of Notre Dame de Lourdes, Orphanage, Manchester N.H., ca. 1900. Harvard Art Museums/Fogg Museum, Transfer from the Carpenter Center for the Visual Arts, Social Museum Collection. 3.2002.2537.5

In July 1908, my great-grandmother Graziella Metthe was committed to Norwich State Hospital, diagnosed with manic-depressive psychosis. In the months leading up to her commitment, she was living with her family in a shed.  Once she was hospitalized, her four children (including my grandmother Beatrice) were left in the care of her parents, Pierre and Azilda Bonneau. Continue reading What To Do About the Children?