January 2013 HIPAA Privacy Regulations: General Rules for Uses and Disclosures of Protected Health Information: Deceased Individuals – § 164.502f

“HHS Regulations as Amended January 2013
General Rules for Uses and Disclosures of Protected Health Information: Deceased Individuals – § 164.502(f)

Standard: deceased individuals. A covered entity must comply with the requirements of this subpart with respect to the protected health information of a deceased individual for a period of 50 years following the death of the individual.

HHS Description and Commentary From the January 2013 Amendments
General Rules for Uses and Disclosures of Protected Health Information: Deceased Individuals.


Section 164.502(f) requires covered entities to protect the privacy of a decedent’s protected health information generally in the same manner and to the same extent that is required for the protected health information of living individuals. Thus, if an authorization is required for a particular use or disclosure of protected health information, a covered entity may use or disclose a decedent’s protected health information in that situation only if the covered entity obtains an authorization from the decedent’s personal representative. The personal representative for a decedent is the executor, administrator, or other person who has authority under applicable law to act on behalf of the decedent or the decedent’s estate. The Department heard a number of concerns since the publication of the Privacy Rule that it can be difficult to locate a personal representative to authorize the use or disclosure of the decedent’s protected health information, particularly after an estate is closed. Furthermore, archivists, biographers, and historians had expressed frustration regarding the lack of access to ancient or old records of historical value held by covered entities, even when there are likely few surviving individuals concerned with the privacy of such information. Archives and libraries may hold medical records, as well as correspondence files, physician diaries and casebooks, and photograph collections containing fragments of identifiable health information, that are centuries old. Currently, to the extent such information is maintained by a covered entity, it is subject to the Privacy Rule. Accordingly, we proposed to amend § 164.502(f) to require a covered entity to comply with the requirements of the Privacy Rule with regard to the protected health information of a deceased individual for a period of 50 years following the date of death.

Proposed Rule

We also proposed to modify the definition of “protected health information” at § 160.103 to make clear that the individually identifiable health information of a person who has been deceased for more than 50 years is not protected health information under the Privacy Rule. We proposed 50 years to balance the privacy interests of living relatives or other affected individuals with a relationship to the decedent, with the difficulty of obtaining authorizations from personal representatives as time passes. A 50-year period of protection had also been suggested at a National Committee for Vital and Health Statistics (the public advisory committee which advises the Secretary on the implementation of the Administrative Simplification provisions of HIPAA, among other issues) meeting, at which committee members heard testimony from archivists regarding the problems associated with applying the Privacy Rule to very old records. See http://ncvhs.hhs.gov/050111mn.htm. We requested public comment on the appropriateness of this time period.”


Bricker & Eckler LLP: HIPAA Privacy Regulations: General Rules for Uses and Disclosures of Protected Health Information: Deceased Individuals – § 164.502f

Washington State – Grave Concerns Association Model of Memorialization

For the past few years I have tried to get the attention of state and federal lawmakers to pass a law in New York State that would provide for the release of patient names; dates of birth and death; and location of graves, of people who were committed to State Hospitals and Custodial Institutions during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries who were buried in unmarked or numbered, anonymous graves, whether they be in formerly state, county, or city owned cemeteries. (See My Story) I also asked for a searchable, digital database, available to the public to be included in the bill. On August 22, 2011, I finally got the opportunity to meet with Kate Munzinger, Senator Joseph Robach’s Chief of Staff. Ms. Munzinger took the time to listen to what I was asking for.

Grave Concerns Association

Grave Concerns Association

The reason why I’m blogging about this issue again is because the bill in New York State has not yet become a law. There are caring people in several states who are pushing to get a similar law passed but state and federal representatives will not give them the time of day or they won’t even consider passing such a law because of the misinterpretation of the federal HIPAA Law. I want to help those people in other states by sharing with them what was shared with me. If not for Laurel Lemke, Chair of Grave Concerns Association, I don’t think I would have received the attention of Senator Robach. In 2004, Ms. Lemke and others, had fought for this cause, and managed to amend law 6678 in the State of Washington that allowed for the release of patient names for the purpose of memorialization. She emailed me the bill which I in turn gave to Kate Munzinger, Chief of Staff; Tim Ragazzo, Director of Operations & Legislation; and Senator Joseph Robach. A bill was drafted and introduced to the New York State Legislature in March 2012. The title of the bill is: “An act to amend the mental hygiene law, in relation to patients interred at state mental health hospital cemeteries.”

Western State Hospital, Pierce County, Washington, has 3,218 patients who are no longer anonymous. Grave Concerns Association has raised funds and replaced 1,200 names since 2004. The forgotten have been remembered with dignity. With community fund raising efforts and countless volunteers, inscribed headstones that identify the patient’s name, date of birth and death, have been placed at the graves; and a searchable, digital database has been uploaded to the internet. In contrast, New York State, with 22 or more former state custodial institutions combined has upwards of 11,000 or more people buried in anonymous graves who through no fault of their own have been erased from history. Willard State Hospital alone has close to 6,000 patients buried in anonymous graves.

Sherry Storms, Stacie Larson and Laurel Lemke, Grave Concerns Association, John Lucas, countless volunteers, and the State of Washington deserve to be recognized for their ground breaking, painstaking work, and above all, their model should be copied in every state in the union. The New York State bill is important and necessary in order to restore the dignity and personhood of the thousands of people who were incarcerated and died at former New York State Insane Asylums (later renamed State Hospitals), and State Custodial Institutions (for Feeble-Minded and Epileptic persons). When the bodies of the inmates were not claimed by family members, they were buried in anonymous, unmarked graves. Many of these unclaimed bodies went to medical colleges and pathology labs for the furtherance of medical science. These people deserve to be remembered, and we need to remember what happened to them so that we do not repeat the mistakes of our ancestors.

It is my hope that the State of New York, and all states, will pass similar legislation and follow the Washington State – Grave Concerns Model. They have done a great service for the community and the nation by naming the forgotten; setting up an exemplary, searchable, digital database; and trying their best to remove the stigma of mental illness.

Grave Concerns Association
Volunteer Carla Wutz, descendent of Michael Wutz, updates the data base on the Grave Concerns website.

Grave Concerns Cemetery Database – Version 1.0 – Western State Hospital Historic PatientCemetery

Washington State Archives – Digital Archives

PUTMAN / PUTNAM – Dutch Roots

Johannes (Jan) Pootman (Putman, Potman, Poutman) landed on the shores of New Netherland in the year 1661. He is the progenitor of my Dutch “Putman” family. I don’t know if he was an orphan upon one of the many ships from Holland to New Netherland bringing poor children to be “bound out” as servants, but he was about the age of sixteen when he arrived as an indentured servant working as an apprentice in “Beverwyck.” He was born in Leiden, Holland, Netherlands in 1645. In 1661, at age 16, he was apprenticed to Phillip Brower of Albany, New York, for a three year period. On September 14, 1661, he signed his own name to these papers after arriving in America. It was common in those days to become an apprentice in exchange for passage to America. In 1662, he moved with Brower and was one of the early settlers in Schenectady, New York. Brower died in 1664 and Jan became a free man. Sometime in the early 1670s, Jan married Cornelia Bratt, a daughter of Arent Andres Bratt, the Vice Governor of Renselaerwyck. Jan was Deacon of the Dutch Church and was a Justice of the Peace under the Leyster Administration. Both were very important positions at the time. He remained in Schenectady all his life. He owned considerable lands in the area. Years later, one of his sons sold some of the land and Union College was founded on that property. On the night of February 8, 1690, the Indians made a surprise attack on the white settlers. Both Jan and his wife were murdered in the Schenectady Massacre. He was forty-five and Cornelia was thirty-five at the time of their deaths. In 1715, the following children of Jan and Cornelia are listed: Arent, Maritje, Victoor, David, Cornelis, and Catalyntje. (SOURCE: Bill Putman at www.billputman.com)

I was shocked and saddened to read the accounts of my seventh great-grandparent’s tragic deaths. This is where reliable, documentary proof is essential to back up the story of your ancestors. Whenever you find relevant information that you want to keep, make sure that you include your sources in your notes, otherwise, your discovery means nothing. Even if you aren’t up on the latest and ever changing source citations, at least copy and paste the internet address into your database as your source. If you can cross reference or find multiple sources, do it. It is also common courtesy to acknowledge the people who have taken the time to document your ancestors’ lives. Give credit where credit is due by listing the person or persons who have done the research. In the case of Johannes Pootman, I was lucky enough to stumble upon the work of Warren T. Putman who had recorded the genealogy of the Putman family with articulate notes and reliable sources. If not for his work and the help of Bill Putman, I never would have found my seventh great-grandfather, nor would I have found another branch of my family tree, the Mudge family. (Warren T. Putman’s work is located at www.billputman.com: “ANCESTORS AND DESCENDANTS OF JOHANNES PUTMAN OF HOLLAND”).

Pootman, Potman, and Poutman became Putman. For some unknown reason, in the early to mid 1800’s, my third great-grandfather, James Putman, decided to change the family name to Putnam, which is an English surname. Some descendants continued with the original spelling of Putman, others went with Putnam, and my grandfather, Jarvis Mudge Putnam / Putman, apparently used both which made the searching of my ancestors very confusing. My grandfather was named after his grandfather. The marriage certificate of my grandparents shows the surname as PUTMAN, while the headstone of Jarvis and Bessie (Griswold) Putnam reflects the surname as PUTNAM. As far as I know, all descendants of my grandparents were given the surname of PUTNAM. I have no idea as to why my grandfather did this. This explanation also shows why I have the spelling of Maggie’s last name as Putnam (Putman) in my book, The Inmates of Willard 1870 to 1900 A Genealogy Resource.

According to the “PennYan Democrat” newspaper dated August 17, 1928: PUTNAM-At the State Hospital in Willard, Monday, August 13, 1928, Mrs. Margaret Putnam, aged 76 years. She is survived by one son, Jarvis Putnam, of PennYan. The funeral was held from the Thayer Funeral Home Wednesday afternoon, Rev. W.A. Hendricks officiating. Burial in LakeView cemetery.” 

The headstone of my great-grandfather, Richard T. Putman, who was buried in the Pine Grove Cemetery, Tribes Hill, Montgomery County, New York, reflects the spelling of Putman; while my great-grandmother, Margaret A. Putnam (Putman), who is buried in an unmarked grave in the Lakeview Cemetery, Penn Yan, Yates County, New York, reflects the spelling of Putnam in the cemetery records. Although they are buried in different towns and in different cemeteries, I have no idea why the spellings of their names are different as they were married for forty-one years.

Richard and Maggie lived their entire married lives in Montgomery County, New York. Richard died and was buried there in 1924. Maggie moved in with my grandparents, who lived in Penn Yan, Yates County, New York, sometime after my great-grandfather’s death. About the year 1925, she was committed to Willard State Hospital and died there in 1928. When I sent Form OMH 11 to the Greater Binghamton Health Center requesting Maggie’s medical records from Willard, I wrote her name as “Margaret Orr-Putnam.” The letter that I received from them clearly stated “that they were unable to locate the requested file” of “Margarett Putman.” It is very clear to me that the New York State Office of Mental Health is no longer allowing the release of medical records of former “mental patients.” It would have been greatly appreciated if they would have told me the truth before I took the time and effort to have my physician fill out and mail in all the required paperwork.

I have shown below some of the sources that I used to document the life and death of Johannes Pootman. His property sat on the north corner of Union and Ferry streets which is now the site of Union College in Schenectady, New York.

POOTMAN (PUTMAN) JOHANNES (Jan), sixteen years of age in 1661, was apprenticed by Jan Hendrickse Van Bael for three years to Philip Hendrickse Brouwer for his food and clothes. He married Cornelia, daughter of Arent Andriese Bratt and Catlyntje De Vos. His home lot, in the village, was on the north corner of Union and Ferry Streets, having 100 ft. frontage on the former street; later he purchased the 100 ft. lot next west, of Jan Roeloffse, son of the celebrated Anneke Janse. On the fatal night of the 8th of February 1690, both Pootman and his neighbor Roeloffse with their wives, were slain by the French and Indians. The following children were living in 1715, when they received their mother’s portion of her father’s estate (101 pounds, 13, 4): Arent; Maritie, married Stephen Bedeut; Victoor; David; Cornelis; Catalyntje, married Cornelis Post.”

Genealogies of the First Settlers of Schenectady – Contributions to the Genealogies of the Descendants of the First Settlers of the Patent and City of Schenectady, from 1662 to 1800 by Jonathan Pearson (1873) is one of the standard works on early Schenectady genealogy, pages 142,143.

“List of ye people kild and destroyed by ye French of Canida and there Indians at Skinnechtady between Sat. and Sun. ye 9th of February, 1689/90. Joh. Pootman kild and his wife kild and her scalp taken off.”
SOURCE: Notes of Warren T. Putman at http://www.billputman.com.  Callaghan, E.B.; Documentary History, State of New York; 1849, Vol 1; p. 305.

“They are both buried under a boulder in the ‘Old’ Cobblestone Church Yard, Rotterdam, Albany County, New York.”
SOURCE: Notes of Warren T. Putman at http://www.billputman.com.  Putman, C.W.; Unpublished manuscript; 1914; p. 1; Schenectady Historical Society.

ROELOFFSEN, JAN (De Goyer), son of the famous Anneke Janse, removed from Albany to Schenectady about 1670, in which year he accidentally killed Gerrit Verbeeck in the former place, for which he was pardoned by the Governor. His lot in Schenectady was on the north side of Union Street 100 Amsterdam ft. west of Ferry, the same lot now owned by Mr. Giles Y. Van der Bogart; this he sold to Jan Pootman, his neighbor on the east, reserving a life interest in the same for himself and wife. On the fatal night, Feb. 8, 1690, both were slain with their wives. Roeloffse left no children.”
SOURCE: http://www.schenectadyhistory.org/families/firstsettlers/r_sh.html

“In 1661 being then a resident of Beverwyck, he was apprenticed by Jan Hendrickse Van Bael for three years to Philip Hendrickse Brouwer. He was then sixteen years of age. (138-1) On Brouwer’s removal to Schenectady in 1662, Pootman became a resident here and shortly after married Cornelia, daughter of Arent Andriese Bratt. His house lot was on the north corner of Union and Ferry streets, having a front of 100 feet on the former street; later he purchased the 100 feet next west, of Jan Roeloffse, son of the well known Anneke Janse. (138-2) On the fatal night of Feb. 8, 1689/90, both Pootman and his neighbor Roeloffse with their wives were slain. Three of his sons, – Arent, Victoor and Cornelis arrived at maturity and had families. On the 6th April, 1709, Arent Pootman, the eldest son, conveyed to his brother Victoor, ‘a certain lot of ground being part of the lot now in my possession and occupation, bounded on the east and south by the common highway (Ferry and Union streets) and on the north and west by the other part of the lot of said Arent Pootman; in length on the east and west sides 217 feet and in breadth on the north and south 69 feet 4 in., wood measure.’ (138-3).

Notes: (138-1) 14 Sept., 1661, “Soo heeft Jan Hendr. Van Bael besteet ende Philip Hendr. Brouwer aen genomen Johannes Pootman, jong gesel out jegenwordich omtrent sestien jaeren, to serve said Brouwer, van drye achtereen volgende jaaren. Jan Pootman signed his name to the indentures in a clear and beautiful hand. Brouwer engaged to pay him 80 gl. a year in lieu of outfit, for his services.”
(138-2) Toll Papers; see also Roeloffse.  (138-3) Old deed.”
SOURCE:http://www.schenectadyhistory.org/resources/patent/pootman.html.  A History of the Schenectady Patent in the Dutch and English Times.  7: Adult Freeholders-Jan Pootman (Putman)  Prof. Jonathan Pearson.  [This information is from pp. 137-138 of “A History of the Schenectady Patent in the Dutch and English Times”; being contributions toward “A History of the Lower Mohawk Valley” by Jonathan Pearson, A. M. and others, edited by J. W. MacMurray, A. M., U. S. A. (Albany, NY: J. Munsell’s Sons, Printers, 1883).

The Dutch Reformed Church in America kept great records. There are a number of websites where volunteers have transcribed these church records dating back to the 1600’s in New Netherland. The Dutch used a system of naming their children called patronymics that used the father’s first name as the child’s middle name and in some cases, eventually, the father’s first name became the family surname. (Matronymics is the use of the mother’s or female ancestor’s name). The use of the beginning of surnames differs from country to country but the Dutch used patronymics in America and in the Netherlands into the 1700’s. Patronymics is a tool to convey one’s lineage. The father’s first name would be accompanied with different endings such as: zoon, sz, se, s and sen, which basically translates into “son of” or “daughter of” as you can see using Jan’s employer-master as an example: Philip Hendrickse Brouwer, means Philip son of Hendrick Brouwer. The problem with Johannes is that he had no patronymic middle name which is very rare considering the Dutch traditions. It is possible that his lineage wasn’t Dutch, maybe he was indeed an orphan and didn’t know his father, or perhaps, he didn’t like his father and wanted to distance himself from him. Attempts to find Jan’s father will be very difficult indeed.

Garret Putman General Store

Garret Putman General Store

Putman’s Lock Grocery

The Erie Canal

New York State Office Of Parks, Recreation & Historic Preservation

Putman General Store Located at Yankee Hill Lock Location: 553 Queen Anne Street, Amsterdam, NY 12010: Garret Putman opened this store in the early 1850’s. Putman’s Store began as a family run business. Garret and his son John were listed as grocers in the 1855 NYS census. By 1860 the Putman’s returned to farming while neighbors ran the canal store for them. In 1892 he was once again a storekeeper. By 1900 (or 1905 at the latest) it was no longer in operation. The store carried dry goods, fresh meat, poultry groceries, liquors and literature.”

Owners of the Putman General Store located on the Erie Canal were my third great-grandparents: GARRET VICTOR PUTMAN: Born September 19, 1793, North Mohawk, Montgomery County, New York. Died February 16, 1875, Yankee Hill, Montgomery County, New York.  At the age of 81 years, 4 months, 28 days; and MARIA DOUWSE HANSEN: Born 1795, New York. Died December 5, 1866, Yankee Hill, Montgomery County, New York.  At the age of 71 years.

Daughter of Garret and Maria Putman was: Deborah A. PUTMAN, born 1826 in Fonda, Montgomery County, New York; died 25 Apr 1898 in Tribes Hill, Montgomery County, New York. Age 72 years. Buried April 1898 in Tribes Hill, Montgomery County, New York, Pine Grove Cemetery. She married on 23 December 1847 in Montgomery County, New York, Jarvis Mudge PUTMAN, born 29 March 1827 in Tribes Hill, Montgomery County, New York; died 16 December 1883 in Amsterdam, Montgomery County, New York. Age 56y/8m/17d. Son of James PUTNAM (PUTMAN) and Catalina (VAN BUREN) PUTNAM.

My second great-grandparents, Jarvis Mudge Putman and Deborah Ann Putman were third cousins.

The line for Jarvis Mudge Putman is: Jarvis Mudge> James (Putnam)> John Arent> Arent Victor> Victoor Janse> Jan Putman (Pootman).

The line for Deborah Ann Putman is: Deborah A.> Garret Victor> Victor Jacob> Jacob Victor> Victoor Janse> Jan Putman (Pootman).

Jarvis Mudge Putman is 34 NY, a shoemaker, living with his wife, Deborah Ann 34 NY, sons; Garrett 9, Richard 6, Charles E. 3, Marcus H. 1.” SOURCE: http://www.billputman.com:  According to the New York State Census of 1860.

Jarvis M. (Mudge) Putman: Amsterdam, Montgomery County, New York. He is a farmer, 44, NY, Debra (also a Putman) 44, NY, Garret H., 19, NY, Richard T., 16, NY, Charles E., 12, NY, Martha F. (Marcus), 11, NY, and Minnie, 7, NY.” SOURCE: http://www.billputman.com:  According to the New York State Census of 1870.

Jarvis Mudge Putman I & Family

Jarvis Mudge Putman I & Family

Seated are Jarvis Mudge and Deborah Ann Putman. Standing are sons: Garret H.; Richard T. married Margaret A. Orr ; Charles E. married Lydia A. Barber and Elizabeth Mosher; and Marcus H. (I do not know who is who). Seated is daugher Minnie Estella who married Francis McCabe.

The only child born to Richard T. and Margaret A. (Orr) Putman was my grandfather, Jarvis Mudge Putman (Putnam). He was born on February 4, 1884 in Amsterdam, Montgomery County, New York and died on January 29, 1965 in Penn Yan, Yates County, New York, at the age of 80.

Jarvis Mudge Putman about 1894

Jarvis Mudge Putman about 1894

Jarvis is standing on the bottom, far left corner of this photograph. He has a flower in his lapel. Montgomery County, New York about 1894.

Wedding Certificate of Jarvis & Bessie Putnam

Wedding Certificate of Jarvis & Bessie Putnam

As you can see on my grandparents wedding certificate, Jarvis’s surname is clearly spelled PUTMAN. My grandparents headstone clearly shows the surname PUTNAM. All of Jarvis and Bessie’s children used the surname PUTNAM. My grandparents have been gone a long time but I still miss them and cherish their memories.

Putnam Headstone

Putnam Headstone

Jarvis & Bessie Putnam 4.10.1912

Jarvis & Bessie Putnam 4.10.1912

Jarvis & Bessie 1940s

Jarvis & Bessie 1940s

My Story by L.S. Stuhler – July 23, 2012

I include here my story about trying to obtain my great-grandmother’s medical records and photographs from the Willard State Hospital, along with asking for the release to the public of former patient names; dates of birth and death; and location of graves, in order that these forgotten people, of which there are thousands, may be honored and remembered with dignity. It all began on February 24, 2001, when I found my great-grandmother’s obituary: According to the “PennYan Democrat” newspaper dated August 17, 1928: “PUTNAM, At the State Hospital in Willard, Monday, August 13, 1928, Mrs. Margaret Putnam, aged 76 years. She is survived by one son, Jarvis Putnam, of PennYan. The funeral was held from the Thayer Funeral Home Wednesday afternoon, Rev. W.A. Hendricks officiating. Burial in Lake View cemetery.” 

It took a long time for me to figure out where I should be looking in order to obtain information about my great-grandmother. In 2001, I was unable to find anything on the internet pertaining to this issue which is the main reason I created this blog (July 10, 2011) and wrote the book The Inmates of Willard 1870 to 1900, A Genealogy Resource (December 17, 2011). In 2007, I came across an article about a new book written by Darby Penney, MLS, and Peter Stastney, M.D., entitled The Lives They Left Behind Suitcases From A State Hospital Attic. Wondering if my great-grandmother’s suitcase was among the 400 discovered in an attic of the Willard State Hospital, I contacted Ms. Penney. Unfortunately, it was not among the surviving suitcases. Ms. Penney’s book revealed the practice of burying “mental patients” in anonymous graves. I must admit that I had never heard of this practice before and thought it was extremely cruel. What amazed me most was that no one (that I knew of) had ever tried to rectify this sad, dehumanizing situation. What needs to be acknowledged is none of these well documented facts about the thousands of people buried in anonymous graves at Willard, and all former NYS Hospitals and Custodial Institutions, would ever have come to light without the tireless efforts of Ms. Penney, Dr. Stastney, and Mr. Craig Williams, Curator of History at the New York State Museum at Albany. I also need to thank Laurel Lemke, from the Grave Concerns Association, for sending me the law that she helped to pass in the State of Washington in 2004. Without her help in emailing me the bill, I never would have gotten the attention of Kate Munzinger, Senator Joseph Robach’s Chief of Staff. I met with Ms. Munzinger on August 22, 2011. Senator Robach introduced the bill to the New York State Senate in March 2012.

The following response letters, beginning in early 2008, are from everyone that I have contacted over the years. I have not included emails. Unless a modification is made to the present HIPAA Law and New York State Mental Hygiene Laws (See New HIPAA Update and S2514-2013), I and so many others like me, who want to know why our ancestor was committed to a state hospital, will never know the answer. My first response letter is dated April 16, 2008, in response to the original paperwork that my physician and I had sent in early September of 2007 (seven month wait). On August 13, 2008, I was denied a copy of my great-grandmother’s medical records and photographs from the Greater Binghamton Health Center. This three sentence response letter is the explanation given to me after waiting four months, taking the time and effort to speak with them on the phone, obtaining and filling out their required paper work with the help of my physician, and sending in the forms.

1- GBHC 04.16.2008

1- GBHC 04.16.2008

2 - GBHC 08.13.2008

2 – GBHC 08.13.2008

Besides writing a letter to former New York State Governor Patterson and present Governor Cuomo, both U.S. Senators from New York: Schumer and Gillibrand, State Senators, Congressmen, The Department of Correctional Services, The Commission on Quality of Care and Advocacy for Persons with Disabilities, The Office of Mental Health Counsel, and the State of New York Department of State Committee on Open Government (FOIL), I also wrote a letter to the doctor in charge of the Office of Mental Health Institutional Review Board asking permission to view, record, and publish the burial ledgers – names; dates of birth and death; and location of graves) located and stored at the NYS Archives. After waiting seven months for a response, I was told in an official letter, that my proposed study was not approved due to concerns about violating patient confidentiality. I was also told that I could take the New York State Office of Mental Health to court in order to get the names of former patients and the medical records of my great-grandmother, but seriously, who has the time and the money to go through all of that? Privacy ends at death but apparently patient confidentiality lasts forever.

I went through proper channels to obtain Maggie’s medical records and photographs. I filled out the paperwork, had my doctor and a witness sign the paperwork, and my doctor sent it in. I waited four months for a response and finally my doctor received a letter. I asked for the medical records and any photographs of my great-grandmother. When I received the response from the Greater Binghamton Health Center in August 2008, it stated the staff was unable to locate the requested file. Had I received my great-grandmother’s medical records, I would have been satisfied. Besides being genuinely interested in learning more about Willard, I created this blog for family genealogists like me, frustrated trying to find out if and when their ancestor was a Willard inmate, receiving the runaround obtaining their ancestor’s medical records and photos, and determining whether their ancestor is buried in the Willard Cemetery. The final answer came from the Commissioner of the NYS Office of Mental Health in responding to my inquiry by e-mail on October 25, 2010, which basically stated that publicly identifying former patients may be offensive to some families because of the stigma and repercussions that may follow, for example, in some small towns. I must say that I took offense to his statement because I live in a small town. What exactly was he trying to imply? It appears that we have not moved any further in our tolerance or understanding of people with problems and of people who live in small towns. I must say that my favorite letter is from the Commissioner, dated June 3, 2011, in which he reminds me “that the penalties for violations are very stiff – civil penalties under federal law can carry up to $10,000 per violation.”

Willard’s inmates who in life were incarcerated, forgotten, warehoused, and controlled by the state are once again controlled and intentionally forgotten in death by New York State, the New York State Office of Mental Health, or both. Perhaps they are interpreting the scope of the HIPAA Law incorrectly. The only logical assumption is the protection provided by these laws is not for long dead souls since U.S. Federal Censuses already reveal many of their names; it is for the protection of the descendants.

The responses from the Senators are interesting because they state that there is nothing they can do about the situation at Willard. They mention nothing about modifying the HIPAA Law which was one of the questions that I asked them to respond to. My understanding is that they are the only ones who can change or modify this federal law in order that descendants or anyone for that matter, would be allowed to have a copy of these historical medical records. When you’re dead, you’re dead. Who cares if someone looks at 80 year old medical records? The following letters were received by me from Senator Charles E. Schumer, dated January 9, 2012; and from Senator Kirsten E. Gillibrand, dated February 21, 2012. Perhaps this whole ridiculous situation of trying to uncover the identities and opening medical records of people who have been dead for one hundred years lies with the unique interpretation of the federal HIPAA Law by each individual state office of mental health.

Response Letter Senator Schumer 1.9.2012

Response Letter Senator Schumer 1.9.2012

Response Letter Senator Gillibrand 2.21.2012

Response Letter Senator Gillibrand 2.21.2012

14 - OMH 06.03.2011

14 – OMH 06.03.2011

13 - GBHC 09.07.2010

13 – GBHC 09.07.2010

11 - FOIL 06.04.2010-1

11 – FOIL 06.04.2010-1

12 - FOIL 06.04.2010-2

12 – FOIL 06.04.2010-2

10 - Correctional Services 01.15.2010

10 – Correctional Services 01.15.2010

7 - FOIL 12.10.2009-1

7 – FOIL 12.10.2009-1

8 - FOIL 12.10.2009-2

8 – FOIL 12.10.2009-2

9 - FOIL 12.10.2009-3

9 – FOIL 12.10.2009-3

5 - FOIL 09.25.2009-1

5 – FOIL 09.25.2009-1

6 - FOIL 09.25.2009-2

6 – FOIL 09.25.2009-2

4 - OMH Counsel 09.08.2009

4 – OMH Counsel 09.08.2009

3 - Quality Care Advocacy 09.01.2009

3 – Quality Care Advocacy 09.01.2009

My 8th Great-Grandmother – The Witch of Hartford, Connecticut

Since my book is based in genealogy, I couldn’t help but tie my English ancestors into the web of insanity and intolerance that occurred during the witch hunts of seventeenth century New England. This is the story of Rebecca Elson-Mudge-Greensmith, my eighth great-grandmother, who was hanged as a witch in 1662 on Gallows Hill in Hartford, Connecticut; and Edward Griswold, my ninth great-grandfather, who was on the jury that convicted and sentenced her to death. What follows are my own personal opinions, a little background information, and the disturbing story of how insanity took over the lives of villagers in one isolated community.

Witch Hanging

Witch Hanging

Background Information On My English Roots:
Many people are intrigued and fascinated with the Salem Witch Trials that occurred in America between February 1692 and May 1693 but most are not aware of the Connecticut Witch Trials that resulted in the hangings of ten innocent villagers between the years 1647 and 1663. I had no idea about any of this until I started doing genealogy thirteen years ago on the Griswold and Putman families. Jarvis Mudge Putnam (Putman) and Bessie May Griswold were my grandparents, the parents of my mother. With the family name of “Mudge” as Jarvis’s middle name, I knew that my grandfather was connected to this old English family. I was surprised to learn that the progenitor of my Mudge family in America was actually named Jarvis Mudge.

Jarvis Mudge was my eighth great-grandfather who was born in England about the year 1608. He came to America in 1638, landing in Boston, Massachusetts. Jarvis married Rebecca née Unknown at Wethersfield, Connecticut in 1649 and moved to Pequot (New London), Connecticut. Rebecca was married at least three times that we know of: first to Abraham Elsing (Elson, Elsen); second to Jarvis Mudge; and third to Nathaniel Greensmith. Rebecca was the widow of Abraham Elsing and the mother of his three daughters: Sarah, Hannah, and Mariah. Jarvis and Rebecca had two sons: Micah and Moses. Jarvis died in New London, Connecticut, in March of 1653. Rebecca then married Nathaniel Greensmith around 1654. They had no children together. No one is sure of Rebecca’s maiden name but the surname “Steele” has been floated about. She was born in England but the place and date of her birth is unknown. I have estimated that she was in her mid-fifties when she was executed but I certainly could be wrong, she may have been much older. According to Alfred Mudge in his book Memorials, Being A Genealogical, Biographical and Historical Account of the Name of Mudge in America from 1638 to 1868, Rebecca was the mother of Micah Mudge (3), son of Jarvis (my line).

It appears that women who were loud, outspoken, or strong willed, without prominent connections in the community were target victims. Abraham and Jarvis, by all accounts, appeared to have been good, upstanding men, while Nathaniel’s reputation is called into question. Perhaps he was abusive to Rebecca? Perhaps he drove her to insanity? Rebecca may have been suffering from depression, dementia or a number of illnesses. She had lost one child in infancy, maybe more, and she lived through the deaths of two husbands. For whatever reason, she was unjustly accused without counsel, and hanged for a crime that she did not commit.

My grandmother, Bessie, was a direct descendant of Edward Griswold. Edward, my ninth great-grandfather, was born in England about the year 1607. He came to America landing at Boston, Massachusetts, about the year 1639 and moved, just as Jarvis did, to Connecticut.  He was a prominent man in the community.

The interesting irony of the following story, recounted by John Metcalf Taylor in his book: The Witchcraft Delusion in Colonial Connecticut 1647 – 1697, is that 250 years after the death of Rebecca on April 10, 1912, these two families would forever be connected through the marriage of my grandparents, Jarvis and Bessie.

The line for my grandfather Jarvis is: Jarvis Mudge (married Rebecca unknown)> Micah Mudge> Ebenezer Mudge> Jarvis Mudge> Abigail Mudge (married Pieter Van Buren)> Catalina Van Buren (married James Putnam) > Jarvis Mudge Putman> Richard T. Putman> Jarvis Mudge Putman (Putnam).

The line for my grandmother Bessie is: Edward Griswold> Joseph Griswold> Francis Griswold> Francis Griswold> Francis Griswold> Jehiel Griswold> Aaron Griswold> Aaron H. Griswold> Sylvester Thomas Griswold> Bessie May Griswold (married Jarvis Mudge Putman (Putnam). (SOURCE: The Greswold Family 12 Generations in England by Robert L. and Esther G. French, Compiled by Coralee Griswold, 1999)

Jarvis & Bessie Putnam 4.10.1912

Jarvis & Bessie Putnam 4.10.1912

Nathaniel Greensmith
lived in Hartford, south of the little river, in 1661-62, on a lot of about twenty acres, with a house and barn.  He also had other holdings ‘neer Podunk,’ and ‘on ye highway leading to Farmington.’  He was thrifty by divergent and economical methods, since he is credited in the records of the time with stealing a bushel and a half of wheat, of stealing a hoe, and of lying to the court, and of battery.

In one way or another he accumulated quite a property for those days, since the inventory of it filed in the Hartford Probate Office, January 25, 1662, after his execution, carried an appraisal of L137. 14s. 1d. – including ‘2 bibles, a sword, a resthead, and a drachm cup’ – all indicating that Nathaniel judiciously mingled his theology and patriotism, his recreation and refreshment, with his everyday practical affairs and opportunities.

But he made one adventure that was most unprofitable.  In an evil hour he took to wife Rebecca, relict of Abraham Elson, and also relict of Jarvis Mudge, and of whom so good a man as the Rev. John Whiting, minister of the First Church in Hartford – afterward first pastor of the Second Church – said that she was ‘a lewd, ignorant and considerably aged woman.’

This triple combination of personal qualities soon elicited the criticism and animosity of the community, and Nathaniel and Rebecca fell under the most fatal of all suspicions of that day, that of being possessed by the evil one. Gossip and rumor about these unpopular neighbors culminated in a formal complaint, and December 30, 1662, at a court held in Hartford, both the Greensmiths were separately indicted in the same formal charge.

‘Nathaniel Greensmith thou art here indicted by the name of Nathaniel Greensmith for not having the fear of God before thine eyes, thou hast entertained familiarity with Satan, the grand enemy of God and mankind – and by his help hast acted things in a preternatural way beyond human abilities in a natural course for which according to the law of God and the established law of this commonwealth thou deservest to die.’

While Rebecca was in prison under suspicion, she was interviewed by two ministers, Revs. Haynes and Whiting, as to the charges of Ann Cole – a next door neighbor – which were written down by them, all of which, and more, she confessed to be true before the court. (Note. Increase Mather regarded this confession as convictive a proof of real witchcraft as most single cases he had known.)

She forthwith and freely confessed those things to be true, that she (and other persons named in the discourse) had familiarity with the devil. Being asked whether she had made an express covenant with him, she answered she had not, only as she promised to go with him when he called (which she had accordingly done several times). But that the devil told her that at Christmas they would have a merry meeting, and then the covenant should be drawn and subscribed. Thereupon the fore-mentioned Mr. Stone (being then in court) with much weight and earnestness laid forth the exceeding heinousness and hazard of that dreadful sin; and therewith solemnly took notice (upon the occasion given) of the devil’s loving Christmas.

‘A person at the same time present being desired the next day more particularly to enquire of her about her guilt, it was accordingly done, to whom she acknowledged that though when Mr. Haynes began to read she could have torn him in pieces, and was so much resolved as might be to deny her guilt (as she had done before) yet after he had read awhile, she was as if her flesh had been pulled from her bones, (such was her expression,) and so could not deny any longer. She also declared that the devil first appeared to her in the form of a deer or fawn, skipping about her, wherewith she was not much affrighted but by degrees he contrived talk with her; and that their meetings were frequently at such a place, (near her own house;) that some of the company came in one shape and some in another, and one in particular in the shape of a crow came flying to them. Amongst other things she owned that the devil had frequent use of her body.’

Had Rebecca been content with purging her own conscience, she alone would have met the fate she had invoked, and probably deserved; but out of ‘love to her husband’s soul’ she made an accusation against him, which of itself secured his conviction of the same offense, with the same dire penalty.

Rebecca Greensmith testifieth in Court Janry 8. 62.

1. ‘That my husband on Friday night last when I came to prison told me that now thou hast confest against thyself let me alone and say nothing of me and I wil be good unto thy children.

2. I doe now testifie that formerly when my husband hathe told me of his great travaile and labour I wondered as it how he did it this he did before I was married and when I was married I asked him how he did it and he answered me he had help yt I knew not of.

3. About three years agoe as I think it; my husband and I were in ye wood several miles from home and were looking for a sow yt we lost and I saw a creature a red creature following my husband and when I came to him I asked him what it was that was with him and he told me it was a fox.

4. Another time when he and I drove or hogs into ye woods beyond ye pound yt was to keep yong cattle severall miles of I went before ye hogs to call them and looking back I saw two creatures like dogs one a little blacker than ye other, they came after my husband pretty close to him and one did seem to me to touch him I asked him wt they were he told me he thought foxes I was stil afraid when I saw anything because I heard soe much of him before I married him.

5. I have seen logs that my husband hath brought home in his cart that I wondered at it that he could get them into ye cart being a man of little body and weake to my apprhension and ye logs were such that I thought two men such as he could not have done it.  I speak all this out of love to my husbands soule and it is much against my will that I am now necessitate to speake agaynst my husband, I desire that ye Lord would open his heart to owne and speak ye trueth.

I also testify that I being in ye wood at a meeting there was with me Goody Seager, Goodwife Sanford and Goodwife Ayres; and at another time there was a meeting under a tree in ye green by or house and there was there James Walkely, Peter Grants wife, Goodwife Aires, and Henry Palmers wife of Wethersfield, and Goody Seager, and there we danced, and had a bottle of sack: it was in ye night and something like a catt cald me out to ye meeting, and I was in Mr. Varlett’s orcherd with Mrs. Judith Varlett and shee tould me that shee was much troubled wth ye Marshall Jonath: Gilbert and cried, and shee sayd if it lay in her power shee would doe him a mischief, or what hurt shee could.’

The Greensmiths were convicted and sentenced to suffer death. In January, 1662, they were hung on ‘Gallows Hill,’ on the bluff a little north of where Trinity College now stands – ‘a logical location’ one most learned in the traditions and history of Hartford calls it – ‘as it afforded an excellent view of the execution to a large crowd on the meadows to the west, a hanging being then a popular spectacle and entertainment.”  (8:96-100)

“Connecticut can lose nothing in name or fame or honor, if, more than two centuries after the last witch was executed within her borders, the facts as to her share in the strange superstition be certified from the current records of the events.

How may this story best be told? Clearly, so far as may be, in the very words of the actors in those tragic scenes, in the words of the minister and magistrate, the justice and the juryman, the accuser and the accused, and the searcher. Into this court of inquiry come all these personalities to witness the sorrowful march of the victims to the scaffold or to exile, or to acquittal and deliverance with the after life of suspicion and social ostracism.

The spectres of terror did not sit alone at the firesides of the poor and lowly: they stalked in high places, and were known of men and women of the first rank in education and the social virtues, and of greatest influence in church and state. Of this fact there is complete demonstration in a glance at the dignitaries who presided at one of the earliest witchcraft trials–men of notable ancestry, of learning, of achievements, leaders in colonial affairs, whose memories are honored to this day.

These were the magistrates at a session entitled ‘A particular courte in Hartford upon the tryall of John Carrington and his wife 20th Feb., 1662.’  (See Rec. P. C., 2:17): Edw. Hopkins Esqr., Gournor John Haynes Esqr. Deputy, Mr. Wells, Mr. Woolcott, Mr. Webster, Mr. Cullick, Mr. Clarke.

This court had jurisdiction over misdemeanors, and was ‘aided by a jury,’ as a close student of colonial history, the late Sherman W. Adams, quaintly says in one of his historical papers.  These were the jurymen:

Mr. Phelps       John White      John More

Mr. Tailecoat   Will Leawis      Edw. Griswold

Mr. Hollister    Sam Smith       Steph Harte

Daniel Milton John Pratt        Theo Judd

Before this tribunal – representative of the others doing like service later – made up of the foremost citizens, and of men in the ordinary walks of life, endowed with hard common sense and presumably inspired with a spirit of justice and fair play, came John Carrington and his wife Joan of Wethersfield, against whom the jury brought in a verdict of guilty.

It must be clearly borne in mind that all these men, in this as in all the other witchcraft trials in Connecticut, illustrious or commonplace – as are many of their descendants whose names are written on the rolls of the patriotic societies in these days of ancestral discovery and exploitation – were absolute believers in the powers of Satan and his machinations through witchcraft and the evidence then adduced to prove them, and trained to such credulity by their education and experience, by their theological doctrines, and by the law of the land in Old England, but still clothed upon with that righteousness which as it proved in the end made them skeptical as to certain alleged evidences of guilt, and swift to respond to the calls of reason and of mercy when the appeals were made to their calm judgment and second thought as to the sins of their fellow men.

In no way can the truth be so clearly set forth, the real character of the evidence be so justly appreciated upon which the convictions were had, as from the depositions and the oral testimony of the witnesses themselves. They are lasting memorials to the credulity and superstition, and the religious insanity which clouded the senses of the wisest men for a time, and to the malevolence and satanic ingenuity of the people who, possessed of the devil accused their friends and neighbors of a crime punishable by death.”  (5:37-39)

“A Record of the Men and Women Who Came Under Suspicion or Accusation of Witchcraft in Connecticut, and What Befell Them.
Herein are written the names of all persons in anywise involved in the witchcraft delusion in Connecticut, with the consequences to them in indictments, trials, convictions, execution, or in banishment, exile, warnings, reprieves, or acquittals, so far as made known in any tradition, document, public or private record, to this time.”  (11:143)

“1662-63 was a notable year in the history of witchcraft in Connecticut. It marked the last execution for the crime within the commonwealth and thirty years before the outbreak at Salem.”  (11:150)

“ROLL OF NAMES (Names in Bold Print are those who were hanged).

  1. Alse Young 1647
  2. Mary Johnson 1648
  3. John Carrington 1650-51
  4. Joan Carrington 1650-51
  5. Goody Bassett 1651
  6. Goodwife Knapp 1653
  7. Lydia Gilbert 1654
  8. Elizabeth Godman 1655
  9. Nicholas Bayly 1655
  10. Goodwife Bayly 1655
  11. Goodwife Bayly 1655
  12. William Meaker 1657
  13. Elizabeth Garlick 1658
  14. Nicholas Jennings 1661
  15. Margaret Jennings 1661
  16. Nathaniel Greensmith 1662
  17. Rebecca Greensmith 1662
  18. Mary Sanford 1662
  19. Andrew Sanford 1662
  20. Goody Ayres 1662
  21. Katherine Palmer 1662
  22. Judith Varlett 1662
  23. James Walkley 1662
  24. Mary Barnes 1662-63
  25. Elizabeth Seager 1666
  26. Katherine Harrison 1669
  27. Nicholas Disborough 1683
  28. Mary Staplies 1692
  29. Mercy Disborough 1692
  30. Elizabeth Clawson 1692
  31. Mary Harvey 1692
  32. Hannah Harvey 1692
  33. Goody Miller 1692
  34. Hugh Crotia 1693
  35. Winifred Benham Senr. 1697
  36. Winifred Benham Junh. 1697
  37. Sarah Spencer 1724
  38. Unknown Norton 1768

What of those men and women to whom justice in their time was meted out, in this age of reason, of religious enlightenment, liberty, and catholicity, when witchcraft has lost its mystery and power, when intelligence reigns, and the Devil works his will in other devious ways and in a more attractive guise?

They were the victims of delusion, not of dishonor, of a perverted theology fed by moral aberrations, of a fanaticism which never stopped to reason, and halted at no sacrifice to do God’s service; and they were all done to death, or harried into exile, disgrace, or social ostracism, through a mistaken sense of religious duty: but they stand innocent of deep offense and only guilty in the eye of the law written in the Word of God, as interpreted and enforced by the forefathers who wrought their condemnation, and whose religion made witchcraft a heinous sin, and whose law made it a heinous crime.” (2)  (11:156-158)

(1) Salem Village Witchcraft Victims’ Memorial At Danvers 

(2) Reprinted from The Witchcraft Delusion in Colonial Connecticut 1647 – 1697, John Metcalf Taylor, The Grafton Press Publishers, New York, 1908. (Records Particular Court (2:182); Memorial History Hartford County 1:274); Connecticut Magazine (November 1899, pp. 557-561).

(3) Mudge, Alfred, Memorials: Being A Genealogical, Biographical and Historical Account Of The Name Of MUDGE In America, From 1638 to 1868, Boston, Printed By Alfred Mudge & Son, For The Family, 1868, Pages 27-33.

Connecticut Witch Trials and Posthumous Pardons.

Witches and Witchcraft, The First Person Executed in the Colonies.

On May 9, 1992, the Town of Danvers, Massachusetts, acknowledged and took responsibility for the mistakes of their ancestors by presenting a beautiful granite memorial to the people of the state and the country in honor of the twenty villagers unjustly executed at The Salem Witch Trials which took place between February 1692 and May 1693. “The Memorial serves as a reminder that each generation must confront intolerance and ‘witch hunts’ with integrity, clear vision and courage.” (1) Forty-five years earlier between 1647 and 1663, the settlement at Hartford, Connecticut, also held witch trials that resulted in the hangings of at least ten innocent villagers, one of whom was my eighth great-grandmother, Rebecca Greensmith née Unknown. The Connecticut Witch Trials are dreadful examples of our country’s dark past that shows us how a secluded community made up of a particular group of people, persecuted, labeled, and punished other members of society simply because they didn’t like or understand them. Rev. John Whiting, minister of the First Church in Hartford stated that Rebecca was “a lewd, ignorant and considerably aged woman.” In another place, in another time, would Rebecca, who was unjustly accused without counsel, have been labeled insane? Would she have been a candidate for an insane asylum in 1880 or a nursing home in 2012? Were she and her friends simply dancing and enjoying a bottle of sack? Was it the isolation and strict rules of conformity that drove this community to insanity? I don’t think I would be out of line in suggesting that all the players in this tragic story of indifference were suffering from religious excitement which was listed as a cause of insanity at the Willard State Hospital as late as 1900.

I have read that the state of Connecticut will not grant posthumous pardons or exonerate the people unjustly accused of witchcraft, nor will they officially acknowledge the mistakes of their ancestors. Will New York State lead by example and end the disgrace of anonymous, unmarked graves by releasing the names and burial locations of our ancestors in a unified, digital database available to the public on the internet? Will they allow descendents to obtain the medical records and photographs of their loved one? Will New York remain as blind and indifferent as the state of Connecticut? The Salem and Hartford executions are grim reminders of the fear, ignorance, and intolerance that permeated America’s past, not dissimilar from what happened at long-closed insane asylums. Innocent people were unjustly singled out in shame because they were feared and misunderstood for being different. In both cases, these people were ultimately removed from society and erased from history.

S6805-2011 – S2514-2013 – NY Senate Open Legislation – Relates to patients interred at state mental health hospital cemeteries – New York State Senate

NEW! UPDATED BILL: S2514-2013 – NY Senate Open Legislation – Relates to patients interred at state mental health hospital cemeteries – New York State Senate.

S6805-2011 – NY Senate Open Legislation – Relates to patients interred at state mental health hospital cemeteries – New York State Senate.

A10636-2011 – NY Assembly Open Legislation – Relates to patients interred at state mental health hospital cemeteries – New York State Assembly.

Imagine not being remembered in death because in life you were diagnosed with diabetes, heart disease or cancer. Most people would find this kind of treatment cruel and inhumane but it exists to this day for people who were diagnosed with a mental illness or developmental disability during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. This bill is important and necessary in order to restore the dignity and personhood of the thousands of people who were incarcerated and died at former New York State Insane Asylums and Custodial Institutions. When the bodies of the inmates were not claimed by family members, they were buried in anonymous, unmarked graves. They deserve to have their names remembered and available to the public in a searchable database.

The list of these former New York State Hospitals includes but is not limited to: BinghamtonBuffaloCentral IslipCreedmoorDannemoraEdgewoodGowandaHudson RiverKings ParkLong IslandManhattanMatteawanMiddletownMohansicPilgrimRochesterSt. LawrenceSyracuseUtica, and Willard

The Feeble-Minded (Intellectual Disabilities) and Epileptic Custodial Institutions of New York includes but is not limited to: Craig Colony for EpilepticsLetchworth Village for Epileptics & Intellectually DisabledNewark State School for Intellectually Disabled WomenRome State School for Intellectually Disabled Adults & Children, and Syracuse State School for Intellectually Disabled Children. There may be more.

There is no good reason why these long deceased souls need to be punished and stigmatized in death for an illness or disability that they lived with in life. The great majority of these former state hospitals closed in favor of smaller group home settings or changed their names to Psychiatric Centers about 1974. The cemeteries that belonged to these institutions are inactive. I do not understand why anyone would need to have their name withheld from any list until 50 years had passed after their death. This requirement in the bill only serves to feed the stigma. Let’s hope that even with this flaw, it becomes law.

Photo by Roger Luther at www.nysAsylum.com

Photo by Roger Luther at http://www.nysAsylum.com

The Willard Cemetery - Veterans

Veteran’s Graves 5.14.2011

Willard Cemetery 1 - 5.14.2011

Willard Cemetery 5.14.2011

Anonymous Graves In New York

It is indeed unfortunate that thousands of poor “sane” men, women, and children who lived and died in the county poor houses and other charitable institutions of our country were buried in unmarked, anonymous graves, but their final resting places can be marked with an engraved headstone. The same rule does not apply for those who were labeled “insane.” It is frustrating for family researchers who are interested in obtaining information about their ancestors who were incarcerated at one of these long closed insane asylums because of the federal HIPAA Law which states, The Office for Civil Rights enforces the HIPAA Privacy Rule, which protects the privacy of individually identifiable health information; the HIPAA Security Rule, which sets national standards for the security of electronic protected health information; and the confidentiality provisions of the Patient Safety Rule, which protect identifiable information being used to analyze patient safety events and improve patient safety.” Everyone has been forced to sign HIPAA documents at their doctor’s office. Most people interpret this law as one that applies to living individuals, not to people who have been dead for over one hundred years. What is even more confusing is that a few states have interpreted the law differently than New York State. NEW HIPAA Update 2013.

The Inmates of Willard, as well as all former inmates of New York State Hospitals, deserve a cemetery that is clearly marked with a dignified, cemetery appropriate sign. It should be well maintained and treated with respect like any other cemetery as a place where descendants and friends gather to pay respects, lay flowers, or meditate in silence. Some states have released the names of former patients buried in anonymous graves at these long-closed, state owned mental institutions, and they have allowed engraved headstones to be placed on the graves. In some cases, these states have provided funding for the headstones. It is my hope that the names of the patients buried in anonymous graves in cemeteries owned or formerly owned by the State of New York will be made available to the public in a unified, searchable, digital database. If these current laws are not modified, these people will forever remain forgotten and anonymous. After 143 years, the time has come to accept the mistakes of the past and turn a wrong into a right by releasing the names of the people buried at the Willard State Hospital Cemetery and all people buried anonymously in state mental institution cemeteries across America. They have waited long enough.

Thousands of people were incarcerated in state insane asylums during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Anonymous burials are common for state mental institutions across New York State and the country. People genuinely do care and are interested in the way their ancestors were treated, how they died, and where they were buried.

Hopefully bill S2514-2013 will soon become a law and will include provisions for a searchable database available to the public. Interested people need to contact their New York State Senators and Assembly Persons to let them know that this bill needs to become a law so that these forgotten, anonymous souls will finally be remembered. 

The list of these former New York State Hospitals includes but is not limited to: BinghamtonBuffaloCentral IslipCreedmoorDannemoraEdgewoodGowandaHudson RiverKings ParkLong IslandManhattanMatteawanMiddletownMohansicPilgrimRochesterSt. LawrenceSyracuseUtica, and Willard

The Feeble-Minded (Intellectual Disabilities) and Epileptic Custodial Institutions of New York includes but is not limited to: Craig Colony for EpilepticsLetchworth Village for Epileptics & Intellectually DisabledNewark State School for Intellectually Disabled WomenRome State School for Intellectually Disabled Adults & Children, and Syracuse State School for Intellectually Disabled Children. There may be more.

What’s In A Name?

I am not a certified genealogist, but I can share with you a basic understanding of what’s in a name from years of experience in searching for my ancestors. Genealogy is the study of family ancestries and history. If all you needed was your ancestor’s name in order to connect them to your family tree; genealogy would be easy. To understand how it works, I will use my grandfather, who was NOT a patient at a state hospital, as an example. CARL SCHULZ was born on January 29, 1878 in Ötisheim, Württemberg, Germany, and died on January 16, 1970, in Rochester, Monroe County, New York. If you enter his name on Google, over 22 million hits will pop up. I entered the name “Carl Schulz” on an ancestry website and narrowed the search to Rochester, New York,  District 10; over 167,000 hits appeared. To make matters worse, the surname Schulz, is also spelled: Schultz, Schulze, Schultze, and Shultz, to name a few. While searching for my grandfather on the U.S. Federal Census, his given or first name has been listed as: Carl, Karl, Charles and Kurt. Keep in mind that the enumerators were human and made mistakes in the spelling of names, recorded ages incorrectly, and some had illegible cursive handwriting. If you don’t enjoy solving a mystery, then you won’t enjoy searching for your ancestors.

Carl Gottlieb Schulz 1940s

Carl Gottlieb Schulz 1940s

It all begins with a name; but a name means nothing if you don’t have the basic background information such as: date of birth; city, county, state and country of birth; date and place of death; names of parents and siblings, etc. Twelve years ago, when I began investigating my grandfather, all I knew was his name and that he was born in Württemberg, Germany. Our ancestors didn’t have much of an imagination when naming their children. I never realized how common my grandfather’s name was until I began my search. It took me years to uncover the names of his parents, siblings, and the town in which he was born.

According to The Lives They Left Behind by Darby Penney and Peter Stastny: 8,000 people entered Willard between 1869 and 1900, 1,500 were released as recovered; 54,000 people were admitted during the 126 years of operation. (1) There is no way of knowing who remained, who was released, and who was buried on asylum property without the burial ledger, and even then, names mean nothing to the general public unless they are attached to a particular individual. An inscribed headstone would not identify a specific individual unless it stated what city, county, state, country of origin, parents, etc. And even then, you would have to claim that person as your ancestor and notify the media that he or she was diagnosed with a mental illness in order to be “stigmatized.” This is why the NYS Office of Mental Health’s classification of New York State Hospital burial ledgers as a medical records is ridiculous. Privacy ends at death but Confidentiality Of Medical Records apparently lasts forever.

If you believe that your ancestor may have been an patient at the Willard State Hospital, then you have come to the right place. The U.S. Federal Census is a great place to start your search, but you need so much more than a name in order to confirm that the individual listed on the census is indeed your ancestor. Good Luck!

(1. Penney, Darby & Stastny, Peter, The Lives They Left Behind, Suitcases From A State Hospital Attic, Photographs by Lisa Rinzler, Bellevue Literary Press, New York, 2008, Page 36)