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.
[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→
[This is Part 2 of a series on Norwich State Hospital and its effect on my family. To start at the beginning, go to Part 1.]
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→
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.
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→