The Inmates of Willard 1870 to 1900

The Inmates Of Willard 1870 to 1900 / A Genealogy Resource

The Inmates Of Willard 1870 to 1900 / A Genealogy Resource

1. CLICK HERE TO VIEW THE VIDEO They’re Buried Where? by Seth Voorhees
2. Cemetery Information at the NYS Office of Mental Health
3. New York State Hospitals, Custodial Institutions & Cemetery Projects.
4. S2514-2013 – NY Senate Open Legislation – Relates to patients interred at state mental health hospital cemeteries – New York State Senate
5. NEW HIPAA UPDATE March 2013!

The Inmates of Willard 1870 to 1900, A Genealogy Resource, was written by a genealogy geek with genealogy geeks in mind. It is for those who want to glimpse the past and enjoy reading historical documents with little or no interpretation. I had three objectives for writing the book: to make the names of the Inmates Of The Willard Asylum For The Insane (Willard State Hospital) from the U.S. Federal Censuses available to people who are searching for an ancestor; to share the old documents that I have collected and transcribed; and to make people aware of the thousands of patients who are buried in anonymous, unmarked graves. It is my hope that the names; dates of birth and death; and location of graves, of ALL former patients who lived and died in New York State Hospitals (Insane Asylums) and Custodial Institutions are released to the public so that these forgotten ancestors can be honored and remembered with dignity. Hopefully, this bill, introduced for a second time by Senator Joseph Robach, will become a law: S2514-2013 – NY Senate Open Legislation – Relates to patients interred at state mental health hospital cemeteries – New York State Senate.

The book was never intended to be a commentary on mental illness. Although this book deals with the specifics of Willard and its inmates; the laws, rules, and regulations applied to all county poor houses, city alms houses, and public and private insane asylums in the State of New York during the nineteenth century. It outlines the struggle between the county poor house system of caring for the insane and the eventual takeover by the state hospital system. The history of the treatment of people who were labeled as insane belongs to us all and should not be shrouded in secrecy. The names of the former Inmates of Willard can be found on the internet from such sources as the U.S. Federal Censuses, genealogy websites, historical documents, and books; everywhere except where they should be, on headstones in New York State Hospital cemeteries.

My personal interpretations and transcriptions of the names from U.S. Federal Censuses for the years 1870, 1880, 1900, and 1920, including the Defective, Dependent, and Delinquent Census of 1880, are disseminated onto 199 pages located on this blog under the “Names” tab. Unfortunately, the spreadsheets did not fit into the book. The censuses do not include every person who ever walked through the doors nor do they reveal who died there.

The goal of this blog is to be a genealogy resource for people searching for ancestors who were patients at New York State Hospitals during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Brief histories of these former institutions can be found on the “Interesting Articles & Documents” page. If you have information to share, please share it here!

Willard State Hospital, Main Building, circa 1898.

Willard State Hospital, Main Building, circa 1898.

Willard and many other former New York State Hospitals still have patient medical records and photographs dating back to 1869 but only a select few are allowed to view, study, or learn from them because of the HIPAA and the NYS Mental Hygiene Laws. Was the HIPAA Law written to protect the dead? Privacy ends at death but apparently patient confidentiality lasts forever. No one wants to violate federal law and be slapped with a lawsuit or fine. Legislation that would allow these historical medical records to be released to the public is in order. Let’s hope that one day these issues will be resolved.
Patients At Work In The Sewing Room

Patients At Work In The Sewing Room

How To Receive Information On Your Ancestor
Form OMH 11 is what you need to obtain your ancestor’s medical record. You also need the cooperation of your family physician to fill out the paperwork. Descendants have no right to this information unless their primary care physician needs the health records to diagnose or treat a condition. But this doesn’t mean that you can’t try to obtain your ancestor’s medical record. The response to this inquiry will be sent to your physician’s office, not to your home. Please call the Greater Binghamton Health Center and talk with them directly with your questions. GOOD LUCK! This form is available at:

For Willard State Hospital Inquires Mail or Fax the completed form to: 

Greater Binghamton Health Center
425 Robinson Street
Binghamton,NY 13904-1775
Phone: (607) 724-1391; Fax: (607) 773-4387; TTY: (607) 773-4255

Names of The Inmates of Willard 1870, 1880, 1900 & 1920.
Willard Asylum Cemetery (Veterans Names) Military Section, Seneca County, NY.

Parade of Working Patients on Field Day

Parade of Working Patients on Field Day

(Banner photo by Roger Luther at Blog Was Created 7.10.2011)

78 thoughts on “The Inmates of Willard 1870 to 1900

    • Hi George, Thanks for reading my blog. I hope you are doing well. Yes, it was and still is a labor of love. I hope that my book and this blog will help people find their ancestors.

      • I am from Ky. & workd at Eastern State Hospital for 20 years. This is a psychiatric hospital in operation since 1824. Here in Ky. the death certificates come out 52 years. Last year 1960 death certificates & this year the state will release 1961 death certificates. I have listed 1911-1919, 1926, & 1945. I can look at the death years & pull every yeas death certificates & post on the ESH website. I think it would me marvelous to get medical records from ESH after 50 years but not real sure the state will let the medical records. All I can hope for 100 years. The NY physicians said, “Take us to court for deceased patients but not for the medical records”. I think the Ky. physicians will say the same as NY physicians. HIPPA also puts psychiatric or substance abuse treatment, maybe no time limit on the protection of psychotherapy notes.
        In the new HIPPA changes, I picked up any patients with HIV &/or Aids, this is a federal law for HIPPA. Being a retired nurse & one RN worked who has worked with HIV/Aids patients I agree with this statement.
        I see various years from 25, 50, 75,100, 125 years plus 2 generations & personal representative. If HIPPA would release medical records 1824 to 1920 that would 93 years, or 1930 that would be 83 years or 1940 that would 73 years, & 1950 that would be 63 years.

  1. Lin, I loved reading your blog; it was so well written !! Also, good for you fighting to get your relative, and everyone elses relatives medical records released who were admitted and died at Willard. I also printed and signeed you letters to our Senators. Couldn’t be prouder of your work.

  2. Hello…I have read some of your comments on Jon Crispin’s Notebook about the suitcases found at the institute. I noticed you mentioned this blog and waned to check it out. This is a very interesting and fascinating read about the people and the institute itself. What is the name of your book and where can it be purchased? Thanks for sharing and I would like to continue to receive your updates if possible.

    • Hello Barbara, Thanks so much for checking out my site. The name of the book is “The Inmates of Willard 1870 to 1900.” Hopefully it will be available by the end of December on On “The Book” page, I have shared many articles and documents that I could not fit into the book; on the “Names” page, I have shared the names of the patients from the U.S. Federal Censuses. Sadly, the burial ledgers from at least 15 New York State hospitals are not available to the public even though many of the people have been dead for over one hundred years; hopefully we can change state and federal law. Thanks! -Lin

  3. Thanks for your work. My g.g. grandmother was a patient at Willard Asylum intermittently from 1876 until her death in 1893. I believe she is buried there. I would love to find out more about her and what put her there, i.e. get her records! I am going to get the book ASAP and see what I can do. John Proesch, 3-10-12.

    • Lin — TX for your response. My gg grandmother was Honora Rice, born in Ireland in 1827, died 17 October 1893. According to her death certificate (which I had no trouble getting from Vital Statistics in Albany, NY) she died at Willard State Hospital, where she had been resident for 2 yrs., 7 m., 0 days. I did also find her listed in the 1880 US census Supplemental Schedules 1-7, of “Defective, Dependent and Delinquent Classes” of “Insane Inhabitants in town of Varick, Seneca Co., NY. June 1880.” In this she is described as having “mania; duration of attack 4 yrs.; no. of attacks: one; age of attack: 46; not requiring lock-up but requiring restraint by attendant; inmate at Willard Asylum for 12 days in 1876.” According to this, in 1880 there were 2 pages of records, comprising 17 lines. Also, she is listed in the 1880 census as residing with her husband and son in Varick, described as “insane.” According to relatives, she lived there with her daughter’s family until she was “so bad she had to go back.” I get the impression she may have bounced between Varick and Willard. She definitely died at Willard in 1893 after a residence of 2 years, 7 months. The death certificate says she was buried in Fayette, NY. Is that the Willard Cemetery or somewhere else? What do you make of all of this? TX again for your help. John Proesch, 3-10-12

  4. Thank you so much for your dedication and genealogical passion. All of our ancestors are somewhere-and finding out the story of the lives honors them and respects the process. We have so much to learn, and learn from,,,

  5. I don’t have any family that was placed in Willard to my knowledge., but I have a lot of patients that once lived at Willard and with the love of history and desire to better understand where and what my patients lives have been like I find this very interesting.

  6. Your blog and book show such dedication in honoring people who have a disease that is treated like they choose it. I wish our society treated people with a chronic mental illness as kind as they do those that are blind or crippled.

  7. An Outstanding Find ! We opened L.S.Stuhler’s book and discovered it to be a wellspring of information! Lin’s unparalleled research and documentation offers a wide angle view of mental health care in the 1800’s. More than genealogy resource, this book provides an unbiased look into the life of inmates past and the true origins of our mental healthcare system.

  8. Mary Parmentiier is listed as an inmate in 1900-she is an aunt-she was born in France-the records may tell me exactly where-is there any chance of chance of getting this information?
    K Kennedy

    • It looks like Mary was a widow so she may be buried next to her husband in a family plot. If Mary died at Willard and the family didn’t claim her body, then she may have been buried in the Willard State Hospital Cemetery. There is a group that the NYS Office of Mental Health has allowed to give out burial information of former Willard patients to family members. Why this information is not available to the general public and why this group is the only one authorized to give out burial information to “family” members is beyond me. How, exactly, does one prove that they are family members? ALL BURIAL LEDGERS FROM ALL NEW YORK STATE HOSPITALS SHOULD BE AVAILABLE ONLINE TO THE PUBLIC! Here it is:

      • Is there a similar group with info about patients who died at Kings Park??
        My Great Grand Father died and (we believe) was buried at Kings Park in the 30’s. He was first committed to Islip State Hospital in about 1915 and by 1930 I find him in the Fed Census for 1930 John Francis Fleming.
        The State of New York is just the pits to get info from!
        Jacksonville Oregon

        • Hi Kathleen, I’m hoping that this bill: S2514-2013 – NY Senate Open Legislation – Relates to patients interred at state mental health hospital cemeteries – New York State Senate, will be made law so that everyone will be able to have access to the names; dates of birth and death; and location of grave, of their family member. I believe that the records for Kings Park are stored at Pilgrim State Hospital. You could try writing them a letter. Good Luck!!

  9. Thank you for sharing this very important part of personal and community history. My mother was hospitalized at WPC most of my childhood. We met for the first time in the Chapin Bldg., age eight. As an adult Governor Cuomo appointmented me to the Board of Visitors. As President, I sadly had the responsibility of turning of the lights the day of closure. Once again, thank you for this important documentation and remembrance.
    Dr Richard Hamling, LMHC
    Willard Psychiatric Center, Board of Visitors, 1993

  10. I am trying to locate the burial place of an ancestor I am researching. He died on November 7, 1924 in the Willard State Hospital. He was born in 1852 in England. The two newspaper obituaries differ in his burial place. One said Lakeview Cemetery in Penn Yan and the other said Himrod Cemetery in Yates County. I have researched both cemeteries and cannot locate him in either one. I thought if I could find a copy of his death certificate or patient record, it might indicate exactly where his burial was. Any information you could give me would be appreciated. Thank you.

    • Hi Deena, If you call or email the cemeteries they will look up your ancestor and let you know where and when they were buried. I emailed Lake View Cemetery and they did respond. My great-grandmother was buried there in an unmarked grave which means at least the family took her home. The death certificate will also tell you where your loved one is buried. Right now, you would NOT be able to get the medical records because of the HIPAA Law, so I would try contacting the two cemeteries first. Best of Luck to you and keep me posted! -Lin

  11. This is giving me goosebumps. I am so glad to have found you. I have never reblogged somebody, but with your permission I would like. This is just an incredible addition to my review of The Suitcase Project. Thank you & Happy New Year!

  12. Very interesting stuff & great work. congrats. Not only am I a genealogy buff, I have a number of posts regarding WillowBrook State Hospital, on Staten Island where my brother grew up. i know there are many who cannot find out if their relatives died and were buried there, as those graves too, were unmarked.

    • Hi Marlene, Thank you! If the bill gets passed all former NYS Hospitals and Custodial Institutions would have to release patient names, dates of birth and death, and location of anonymous graves. It will be re-introduced to the legislature sometime in January 2013.

  13. Hi. I just learned that my great, great-grandfather, Henry Greenwald, died on December 22, 1931, at Manhattan State Hospital on Ward’s Island. Are you able to help me find any records of his time there? Thank you. I look forward to your reply. Best wishes. -Adam

    • Hi Adam, I wish I could help you. I would like to get my great-grandmother’s medical records as well. Release of historical Medical Records is not allowed in New York State. Hopefully that will change soon. Thanks for writing! -Lin

      • An elder sister of my great grandfather died in 1889 at New York City Lunatic Asylum on Blackwell’s Island now called Roosevelt Island. We have the death certificate but would be interested in finding out how she came to be sent there. I presume these records if they still exist are not available to the public?

  14. I’m so glad I found your blog and looking forward to reading it. I’m researching my own family history and wrote a post about my 4-times-great-grandfather’s stay in a psychiatric hospital in the late 1890s in Hessia, Germany. If you’re interested to take a look:
    I was able to have a look at his medical file in an archive and could copy it. So that’s the evidence I based my research on. The ‘asylum’s’ history went back to the Middle Ages and it still serves as a mental hospital nowadays. Back then, it was a self-sufficient institution. Though I have lots of records from Hugo’s file, I know little about the conditions he lived in. Only one thing is for sure – he felt left alone and simply wasted away.
    I’m thankful you’re writing about this important topic. Thanks kindly for sharing.

  15. Hello, I’m hoping this is still active. I recently found out that my grandmother’s Uncle, William, was a patient at Central Islip State Hospital. Does anyone know what I can do to find out more about his condition and the circumstances of his death? He passed away in 1919 and is buried in the family plot.

  16. My great-grandmother, Maria Hazel, was transferred to Willard from the Livingston County Home in 1872, and as far as I know she died there. How does one get a death certificate or any other information about one’s relative who was an inmate at Willard at that time?

    • Go to NYS Vital Records page under genealogy, print out the request for a copy of the death certificate, and mail it in with your check. It will take 3 to 6 months to get it. The NYS Office of Mental Health will not release medical records at this time. Thanks for writing and good luck!

  17. This is fascinating. In doing my geneology I found a Charles Beckwith on the NY State census of 1920 that lists him as living at the Utica State Hospital in that year. He did not die there, so I assume that he was released at some point. Are there records available for this as well?

  18. Has there been any progress on New York’s legislation to open up the State Hospital records to interested researchers? How can an out-of-state person like myself help put pressure on this issue?

    I’m keen on learning more about my 2x great aunt and 2x great uncle who were both at the Rochester State Hospital in the early half of the 20th century. To my knowledge, they lived most of their lives there and died at the institution. Apparently the aunt was mentally challenged (died in 1950) and the uncle had a severe heart condition (died in the 1920s), but that’s all I know about them. I think their lives should be known to their family, even if a few generations later. This is a very interesting blog and I appreciate your efforts!

    • Thanks, Stephen! No, there has been no progress in NY. You can contact NY Senator Joseph Robach’s office and tell him your concerns! He sponsored the bill to get patient names released for anonymous cemeteries and graves. Medical records are another story.

      • Linda, I’m curious to know what the arguments against updating New York State law to correspond with the 2013 HIPAA update are, or whether this is just a case of legislative inertia. Are their entities or parties that don’t want this change to occur? I live within Joe Robach’s district in Brighton, NY, so I’d be happy to write to him about this, but I’d just like to understand what’s going on before I do so.

        • In my opinion, there are a few reasons why nothing happens with bill S2514-2013 which only relates to allowing the NAMES, DATES OF DEATH (and birth if they have it), and THE LOCATION OF THE GRAVE. This bill doesn’t even touch the HIPAA update of March 2013 which allows the disclosure of MEDICAL RECORDS of former patients who have been deceased for 50 years. Reason 1: The New York State Office of Mental Health WILL NOT cooperate. 2: I have heard that Gov. Cuomo doesn’t want the bill to become law because many of these former state institutions are now prisons. I have NO idea what this has to do with abandoned cemeteries. 3: Apparently, what the people of New York State want, simply doesn’t matter. The OMH doesn’t want the people of NYS to know that they have lost track of burial ledgers; that they left piles of medical documents in these abandoned buildings; that dry plate negatives of patients were found at Binghamton in a pile of dust and pigeon poop; that one of the Kings Park Cemeteries is being used as a youth baseball field; that some names are already on the internet (Names & Census Info page); that one hand doesn’t know what the other is doing. They have screwed up big time. They are elitists! They don’t care about these lost souls or their families! They keep saying that “NYS needs to change the law,” but what don’t say is that bill S2514-2013 has been before them since March 2011. I better stop now. Thanks for writing and caring! Be my guest and call Senator Robach. He’s a good man! -Lin

  19. I have replied in another section of the website but noticed the blogs here look more current and the “inmate” section seems to be a better place for my comments so here are my comments again!.I was very interested on reading the comments of people trying to locate information about their relatives in Willard. My husband’s great-grandmother was a patient first at Matteawan, then in Rochester, and finally Willard. She died there in 1944. I sent a letter requesting a death certificate to the town clerk in Romulus. Even without a death year, she was able to locate the certificate for me. After being admitted in 1898, her son (my husband’s grandfather) became an orphan. The only facts he knew about himself were that he lived in New York City and was fostered out to Delaware. Through research we found this to be the Orphan Train. After his death, my mother-in-law and I started digging and found out lots of surprising information! Through the records found at the Children’s Aid Society, Five Points House of Industry and subsequently, the mental institutions, we found out that she was from Russia and was Jewish! What a surprise! The only known information we have about her are the few facts on the censuses from 1900-1940. Has anyone had success with getting medical records from Willard through the route of a living relative? I have the doctor’s form but have never followed up on it since I thought it would be a lost cause. My mother-in-law is thankful (she’s 93) that perhaps someday her grandmother will have her name attached to her burial number. We believe she is buried in the Willard Cemetery since she didn’t have any known at that time living relatives. Her death certificate says Willard for the burial. Is the cemetery’s burial name for an inmate something that is readily available?
    Please keep up the good work! I have just ordered your new book; I have read The Suitcases Left Behind and am eager to read your book too.

  20. This is a remarkable journey of exploration. I am fascinated by this work. I happened upon your site while exploring my family’s genealogy. My great grandfather was Dr. William Mabon, who was the superintendent at Willard State Hospital for close to two years from 1895 to 1896. He was then transferred to Ogdensburg as superintendent of the St. Lawrence State Hospital. He spent 7 years there before becoming President of the State Commission in Lunacy for close to three years during 1904 to 1906. He then became the Superintendent and Medical Director of the Manhattan State Hospital for 12 years before a heart attack in February of 1917 ended his life at age 57. I have read most of his writings and would surmise that he would be happy with any work that could demystify mental illness. He championed removing the terms defective and lunacy and was instrumental in changing the psychiatric wards and institutions throughout the state to be renamed “hospitals”. His daughter (my grandmother) took copious photographs of their time at both Willard and Ogdensburg and I will pour over them to see if there is anything of interest for your endeavor.
    Thank you for this great work.
    Susan Mabon Davis

  21. Hi……are they still going to do any work at Craig Colony Cemetery??? I want to help in anyway i can whenever there is a project. I have Epilepsy and feel a close bond with those who lived and died there. The cemetery blew me away when i found it. So glad there are names on the stones. Sadly the one’s in the old cemetery only have numbers. This is so sad. I took all the pics for the cemetery that are on findagrave. Let me know if i can ever help. Donna Ruhland Bonning

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