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→
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→
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→
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.
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→
I was honored to be interviewed by Lisa Louise Cooke for her podcast, Genealogy Gems. Lisa is well-known and respected in the field of genealogy. She travels widely, speaking and teaching at conferences and genealogy societies. Her free podcast is downloaded an average of 35,000 times per month.
The episode in which I was featured pulled stories from this blog, and wove them into a fascinating story of a part of my family’s history. I was surprised and moved that Lisa chose to devote an entire hour to it. It is not only informative from a genealogical point of view, but Lisa turned it into an entertaining narrative. I hope you will take time to listen to it, or at least read the summary in the show notes. Both are available via the link below.
Here’s another snippet of family history from Mom, one that sent me on an unexpected genealogical journey.
When my mother was a little girl, she lived with her family in a shed behind a relative’s house. Her sister, Pauline, was born there.
When I asked Mom why Grandma’s family was living in a shed, she just shrugged and said, “That’s what I was told.” She didn’t know where the shed was or which relative had owned it. At first, I suspected that this story was another one of those crazy things Grandma had told her a long time ago, and which she simply took at face value. I imagined that my grandmother, who suffered at times from hallucinations and delusions due to schizophrenia, had exaggerated her living conditions. Perhaps it was small, rickety house, I thought, but surely not a shed! At the time, I hadn’t realized how poor Grandma’s family had been. But as I pieced together their story, the impoverished conditions under which they had lived became ever more evident. After a while, the story about Grandma Beatrice living in a shed didn’t seem so preposterous.
In 1939, the Connecticut state legislature discussed the formation of a commission to investigate the care of disabled people in Connecticut. During the debate over the bill, State Senator Joseph B. Downes leveled serious charges against Norwich State Hospital: food and clothing for the patients were inadequate, the doctors were incompetent, and there were not enough nurses or attendants to handle the number of patients in the hospital. Conditions at Norwich State Hospital, in his words, “stink to high heaven.”
I had been a reluctant genealogist most of my life until I realized genealogy’s power to unlock family secrets and make sense of the stories Mom told me about her family. Such was the case with my great-grandfather, Philippe Metthe. (“Metthe,” a French-Canadian surname, is pronounced in English as “Metty”). Mom told me that he had left his wife, Graziella, which caused her to go insane. By looking at her patient record from Norwich State Hospital, I learned that this was not true. Philippe visited Graziella after she was committed, and when he couldn’t, he wrote letters inquiring about her condition. Mom also said that Philippe had gone back to Canada, but beyond that statement, she had no more details. When I finally took up the role of family genealogist in my mid-fifties, I suspected there would be some family myth busting involved. Continue reading Family Myth Busting→
This post was revised and expanded on March 30, 2018.
I have spent the last six years researching and writing about the five women in my family tree who were mentally ill and committed to state hospitals. Along the way, I learned that they were descended from French-Canadians who immigrated to the U.S. in the late nineteenth century. Throughout the preceding fifty-five years of my life, I knew very little about my Quebecois heritage.