Dinorah Metthe, Grandma’s sister, was one of five women on my mother’s side of the family who were mentally ill and had been committed to a state hospital. Mom had a letter (which I presume she found among Grandpa’s papers) from Kings Park State Hospital in New York. Dated October 11, 1954, it was addressed to Beatrice, with a memo line that read: “RE: Dinorah Metthe: deceased.” The hospital acknowledged the receipt of Dinorah’s divorce papers and some personal correspondence that Beatrice had sent them. How I wish Grandma hadn’t done this! These documents, which were subsequently filed in her patient record, would have revealed Dinorah’s state of mind, and perhaps provided additional details to the family story.
An article I’ve written, a micro-memoir, appears in Severance Magazine, which features stories and essays about people who are on a similar journey as mine. The story I tell is of my family history journey, which includes the history of mental illness in my family. It is also about finding out that my grandfather wasn’t Mom’s biological father, finding out who was, and pondering whether Mom knew. Severance Magazine is the perfect place for my story. I hope you will read the article I wrote and then explore the other content.
Genealogists sometimes come across cousins they didn’t know they had. The person maybe helpful and friendly or maybe they won’t. In my case, by finding my cousin, Rita Hoadley, I hit the cousin jackpot. She had photographs, stories, and even knew some of the family secrets. And to top it off, she was a delightful person, beloved by her entire family. Here’s the story of how we met and what she meant to me. Continue reading Cousin Jackpot!
In 1935, at the age of ten, Mom was sent to live the New London County Temporary Home. Grandma had been committed to Norwich State Hospital and Grandpa was not considered suitable for raising Mom on her own. When writing my family story, I couldn’t find much about this institution which she always referred to as “the county home.”
Fortunately, there is now a resource for genealogists who want to know more about their ancestors who were residents of the New London County Temporary Home. Cheryl and Chris Klemmer have compiled their research about the county home in the form of a reference book available at the Connecticut State Library in Hartford and the Otis Library in Norwich. New London County Temporary Home: History, Residents and References contains a history of home and the names of residents that were found in records. While they are not selling their book, Cheryl and Chris are willing to provide guidance about searching for former county home residents if you contact them at CTCountyHomes@gmail.com.
On May 9th, I gave a virtual talk for the Enoch Pratt Free Library called, “Family Myth Busting.” In it, I traced the steps I took to resolve the discrepancies in the stories my mother had always told me about her family. I share my strategies, in which I used maps, newspapers, and patient records from Norwich State Hospital to stitch together a narrative of my family story which was more connected than the one my mother told. I also share my thoughts on the benefits of knowing one’s family history and how it has the potential to empower and to heal old wounds.
A recording of the talk is available through the Crowdcast platform at https://www.crowdcast.io/e/virtual-genealogy-circle, or on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/theprattlibrary/videos/286558142501891.
[This is Part 7, the last of a series on Norwich State Hospital and its effect on my family. To start at the beginning, go to Part 1.]
In 1931, the delicatessen failed. Mom always said that it had failed due to the Great Depression, but Beatrice’s patient record from Norwich State Hospital told a different story.
Beatrice told the hospital social workers that while she was living with her aunt’s family, her uncle by marriage forced her into a sexual relationship. She claimed, “He said it was nothing as we were relations and I felt it was the only way out.” Continue reading Norwich State Hospital and My Family, Part 7: Family Secrets
[This is Part 6 of a series on Norwich State Hospital and its effect on my family. To start at the beginning, go to Part 1.]
Until I pieced together the family history through genealogy and patient records from Norwich State Hospital, I never knew how unsettled my grandmother Beatrice’s childhood had been. She spent her early years in poverty, with a mentally ill mother. She was seven years old when Graziella, was committed to Norwich State Hospital. Her father, Philippe, vanished after her mother died at the hospital in December of 1910. Beatrice was then raised by her grandparents, Azilda and Pierre Bonneau. But the losses kept coming.
[This is Part 5 of a series on Norwich State Hospital and its effect on my family. To start at the beginning, go to Part 1.]
After the incident in which she threw her dentures down the toilet, Graziella’s condition steadily declined. The notations in her record appeared less frequently after that, sometimes months apart. It seemed that the hospital staff had given up on her. In March of 1910, she was transferred to a ward for disturbed patients, in a building called North D which was later renamed Dix.
[This is Part 4 of a series on Norwich State Hospital and its effect on my family. To start at the beginning, go to Part 1.]
After her admission to Norwich State Hospital, my great-grandmother, Graziella, was sent to North B. The patient population around the time she was admitted was 434, which may not seem like much now, but the existing buildings were only designed to hold 400. Over the years, although more wards were built, Norwich State Hospital was always said to be overcrowded. They just couldn’t keep up with the growing number of mentally ill patients. Continue reading Norwich State Hospital and My Family, Part 4: Graziella’s Teeth
[This is Part 3 of a series on Norwich State Hospital and its effect on my family. To start at the beginning, go to Part 1.]
My great-great-grandparents, Pierre and Azilda Bonneau, were French-Canadians who left Quebec in the late 19th century and settled in Danielson, Connecticut. Their daughter, Graziella Bonneau, married Philippe Metthe in 1899.
According to the 1900 U. S. census, Philippe and Graziella were mill workers, probably at the Quinebaug Mill. They had their first child in 1901 — my grandmother, Beatrice. For the next several years, Graziella gave birth every 18 months. She stayed home with the children while Philippe continued to work in the mill. Philippe & Graziella were so poor that by 1906, they were living in a shed behind her parents’ house — just like Mom had told me. Continue reading Norwich State Hospital and My Family, Part 3: Madness Unfolding