Inmates, asylums, prisons and hospitals

Postmaster's daughter speaking with an inmate from the institution, Dunwich, North Stradbroke Island, ca. 1920
Postmaster's daughter speaking with an inmate from the institution, Dunwich, North Stradbroke Island, ca. 1920 courtesy of Picture Queensland, State Library of Queensland

Yesterday I had the pleasure of attending yet another fantastic seminar held by QFHS at the Queensland Baptist Centre at Gaythorne.

There were two speakers - Shauna Hicks and Pauleen Cass.  From the promo material we were advised that:

Shauna Hicks is an archivist, librarian, and family historian with over thirty-five years’ experience. She is the author of a number of research books published by Unlock the Past. Shauna is a Fellow of the Queensland Family History Society.
and that:

Pauleen is a dedicated family historian with nearly thirty years’ experience in tracing her families and their lives through the records, both online and offline. She writes a number of blogs including Family History across the seas and East Clare emigrants.

Pauleen's blog has long been an inspiration so I was very excited to meet her in person, at last.  Shauna has spoken on a regular basis at the library service where I work and never fails to disappoints. (Shauna - will you ever forgive me??? - what a goose - I meant to say never disappoints - I blame the anaesthetic from Thursday - thank you Pauleen for giving me the big nudge) Everybody - Shauna never ever disappoints.

Both were enthusiastically introduced to the audience as Genealogy Rockstars as per John D Reid's recent poll.  Both have also recently been announced as official bloggers for AFFHO Congress next year in Canberra, as has the lovely Jill Ball.

courtesy of  State Library of Queensland, Benevolent Institution at Toowoomba ca. 1902
Shauna spoke about family skeletons and looking in asylum records. Of course you could end up in an asylum if you were just old or sick and had no living family.  Tragic really.  You didn't just have to be mentally ill.  Shauna looked at the availability of asylum records in Australia and outlined the type of information you might find. 

Shauna reminded us of the value of the Colonial Secretary's Correspondence

and also to look for an inquest if your ancestor died in an asylum.

She also referred to the value of portals such as Coraweb which I keep forgetting to use. Others recommended were the SA Genealogy Directory and Malcolm Ward's site for Tasmania.

Shauna also highlighted the limitation of access restrictions with regard to certain records - for example with many, you can only access the register if the whole of register is within 100 years, so do look at the whole date range. Thankfully Dunwich is only restricted to 30 years.

Not everything is indexed of course so you will have to be patient (no pun intended) but some things can produce gold e.g. the Penrith District Dispensary Register.

Sometimes the name of a ship will be recorded in your ancestor's asylum records - if that doesn't tempt you, I don't know what will.

Cell Block B at the female division of Boggo Road Gaol, Brisbane, 1903, courtesy of State Library of Queensland

Shauna then spoke about missing ancestors and suggested looking behind bars. Shauna used examples, relating to her families, to highlight some of the details you might find in these records.  

She reminded us to think of the context of the crime and that some crimes then would not be considered crimes now and vice versa.  Embarrassment is not necessary if you discover your ancestors behind bars - after all, as Shauna says, those ancestors are never boring!  

Of course those of us with convicts for ancestors are familiar with the crime of poverty and the crime of poverty adopts many forms, e.g. lack of maintenance payments often resulting in jail sentences for men, as in my husband's family.

Police gazettes were referred to often in this case, accessible through QFHS resources at their library or on Find My Past.  Shauna also recommended Judy Webster's index of watch house records.
Of course if your ancestor was in trouble with the law, they may have used an alias, so don't forget to check all the records again for that alias.  Other recommended sites included Braidwood gaol and the blog Old Prisons of the Deep North for some historical context.

Nurses at Diamantina Hospital ca. 1925, courtesy of  State Library of Queensland

Then it was Pauleen's turn.  She spoke about how hospital records can reveal new and interesting information about your ancestors.  She showed us where we might find the records, what is in them, and how they might help solve research problems, especially for those with mining ancestors.

Pauleen reminded us to step outside our comfort zone and to look in University and reference libraries as well as state libraries and archives and to not forget specialist organisations such as Wellcome Trust, the latter of which I confess I was ignorant.  Academic journals are often a great source of information e.g. the history of hospitals.  She also commended Text Queensland to us - an often forgotten resource.

Pauleen also commended the signpost town guides at Queensland State Archives. And she gave handy tips on searching microfilm where two patients can be on one page - look down as well as across!

Your ancestor's occupation or ethnic origin could determine which hospital they ended up in e.g. Cooktown is good for itinerant workers such as pearl divers or railway workers.  Croydon hospital is good for mining people. Ingham Hospital is good for Italian ancestors but she warned us that the records are difficult to read.  Maryborough is good for Pacific Islander records and has name of employer, ship etc

Don't forget that your ancestors may have worked in hospitals, asylums and gaols.  Or that the names of institutions change. 

I have not done the speakers justice in terms of the wealth of information they were able to impart in just one morning - but then, I don't want to give it all away do I?  You need to come along to get the full benefit.  The seminars have finished for this year at QFHS but there are still events on Fridays at QFHS here.

Next weekend I'm looking forward to checking out a few historic buildings such as the Diamantina Health Care Museum at Brisbane's Open House weekend. You can find out more and draw up your itinerary here.

Last but not least, QFHS Vice-President Sue Reid issued a date claimer for 18 April next year for a seminar on Forensic Genealogy with Colleen Fitzpatrick

Sounds just my cup of tea.


diane b said…
This genealogy is a wide subject. Love the photos. It sure sounded like a great talk if you are into this subject.
Caitie G said…
Another great review Alex! That Forensic Genealogy Seminar...I'm so there!
Alex Daw said…
Thanks Diane. It was a great half day and well attended. Both speakers and the QFHS put so much effort into the day that it's well worth shouting about.
Alex Daw said…
Ha Ha - yes of course you are Caitlin! Put it in your diary now :)
Thanks for the positive review Alex. It was wonderful to meet you in 3D as you observed! I'm looking forward to hearing more about genetic genealogy too.
I picked up the booklet for the Open Buildings for my daughter...will have to add it to my wish list when I return to Qld.
Judy Webster said…
I have used all of these records for a very long time, and I love them! I wish other commitments had not prevented me from going to this seminar. But please note that the restricted period for most Dunwich Benevolent Asylum patient records is now 100 years, not 30yrs. See the Brief Guide to Dunwich Records.
Alex Daw said…
My pleasure Pauleen. Do you know that conversation we were having yesterday about books? Well I've just realised that I did buy Colleen Fitzpatrick's Forensic Genealogy - ooh last year I'm thinking - have I read it yet????? Nooooo...hopeless, I tell you, hopeless.
Alex Daw said…
Yes, the booklet is good isn't it? Where'd you find it? I got mine at Museum of Brisbane. And what a great museum that is. My itinerary looks ridiculous for the weekend. I always think I have more time than I actually do.
Alex Daw said…
Thanks so much Judy for this correction. I really appreciate it. Things change constantly and it's important to be on top of them.
Shauna Hicks said…
Thanks Alex for the great review of Saturday's talk and Judy for letting me know access has changed (again) in Queensland. It was good to finally hear one of Pauleen's talks too, usually we are on at the same time in concurrent streams!
Alex Daw said…
My pleasure Shauna. It's always great to hear your advice in this most fascinating of areas. I was really chuffed to meet Pauleen too after all these years of virtual chats. I look forward to hearing more from both of you in future.
Anonymous said…
Have you ever thought about writing an e-book
or guest authoring on other sites? I have a blog based
upon on the same subjects you discuss and would love to have you share some stories/information.
I know my visitors would enjoy your work. If you're even remotely interested, feel free to shoot me an e mail.

Popular posts from this blog

Q is for QFHS and Question #AtoZChallenge

Genealife in Lockdown - NFHM Blogging Challenge

Accentuate the Positive Geneameme 2021