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.
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.
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
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
In 2012, at age 87, my mother was moved into assisted living. The unit was too small to accommodate her genealogy research, which was stored in several boxes full of binders and file folders, pedigree charts and census sheets, certificates and photographs, books and magazine articles. So, all of that came to my house. I stored it all in my basement, intending to hang on to it until someone else in my family expressed an interest in genealogy. But the librarian in me couldn’t resist peeking into the boxes and organizing what was there. I didn’t know at the time that I was on a slippery slope from being a reluctant genealogist to a relentless family historian. Continue reading Norwich State Hospital and My Family, Part 2: What I Found
Before I knew anything about my family’s ties to Norwich State Hospital, all I had were the brief stories Mom told me about her family. To understand why I became obsessed with uncovering the family secrets, you have to understand how frustrated I was for most of my life with the lack of details about the family’s past. It starts with where my mother came from. Continue reading Norwich State Hospital and My Family, Part 1: Backstory
I am pleased to have been asked to speak about my research at the Otis Library in Norwich, Connecticut. The talk will take place on Monday, October 28, 2019 at 6:00 p.m. Follow the link below for more details.
I regret that I have not been posting new material on this blog in the past few months. Developing this talk has taken up much of my writing time. In addition, I gave my first talk on my historical research into Aspin Hill Memorial Park, a.k.a Aspin Hill Pet Cemetery earlier this month. You can learn about this project at my other blog, Pet Cemetery Stories.
I hope to get back to blogging after I have delivered my talk at Norwich at the end of this month. Thanks for staying with me, and I hope some of my subscribers will be able to come hear me.
This is just a quick post to let everyone know that I was recently interviewed by Lisa Louise Cooke, of the Genealogy Gems podcast.
It was my second appearance on the Genealogy Gems podcast, the first having occurred last year.
Lisa Louise Cooke is more than just a podcast host. She is an acclaimed expert in genealogy who travels extensively to teach research techniques at conferences, libraries, historical societies, etc. I consider it an honor to be asked to appear on her podcast more than once.
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
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