Out-of-Mind, Out of Sight

By Eilene Lyon

Often the most frustrating people on my family tree to find records for are the mentally ill, developmentally disabled, or physically disabled people. This is true whether they were living in private homes or institutions. Most difficult to find are death records and burials.

I’ve discovered that mental illness does tend to run in my Ransom family line, though the origin may stretch back to a different family in the distant past. Sadly, it seems that the women tended to get put in institutions, while the men were left free to wreak havoc on their families, possibly because they managed to remain employed.

There is a family rumor that my great-great-grandmother, Emma (Jenkins) Ransom, was institutionalized at some point in her life. It wouldn’t be surprising for her to have had a “nervous breakdown” given the difficult circumstances in her life – which I will go into further next week in my 52 Ancestors piece on “Misfortune.”

Considering where she lived and when, I contacted the most likely institutions to find her, but so far have come up empty-handed. It’s possible that the institution story originated from the last year or so of her life, after she had a stroke. I’ve found that verbal history in this family tends to be flawed.

Here are two other instances that have me frustrated and looking for answers (there are more).

Amy Johnson Crow wrote about the 1880 DDD schedule (Defective, Dependent and Delinquent) back in November, but they are difficult to find for many states. I have two people listed in the regular census for that year who fall into the DDD classes, but I can’t find them after that. Of course, the destroyed 1890 census may play into the problem.

Emma had a first cousin, James B. Dearth, listed as insane and disabled in the 1880 census at the age of 40. Working backward, he is listed as “infirm” in 1870 at age 30. But in 1860, at age 20, he is listed as a farm laborer. Thus he was not born in whatever condition plagued him in later years. But I can’t locate him after 1880.

His mother died in 1883 and his father in 1898. Perhaps his father had him placed in an institution after the mother died. Or maybe James’ condition was so bad that he died in the interim. I do not know.

The other case involves Emma’s brother-in-law, Dr. W. C. Ransom. He is one of those men who was probably mentally ill. This isn’t about him, though. In March 1881, Dr. Ransom assumed responsibility for Catherine Licklider, a young orphan girl who had been placed in the Blackford County (Indiana) asylum.

In the 1880 census, Katie Licklider is listed as “Insane” and “Maimed, Crippled, Bedridden, or otherwise Disabled.” Dr. Ransom was to attempt to teach her to read, write, and do numbers. He was also to train her to be a housekeeper. His responsibility for her would end on her 18th birthday, June12, 1886.


I’ve never been able to trace her after she went to live with Dr. Ransom. He moved to South Haven, Michigan, the following year, and presumably Katie/Catherine went with the family. But she just vanishes from the records.

Any ideas where I might find these two?


Feature image: by Stefano Pollio on Unsplash

9 thoughts on “Out-of-Mind, Out of Sight

Add yours

  1. Thank you for that link. I have had trouble finding the death record of my great-grandfather’s sister who was mentally challenged. She lived with her family for most of her life, but later, probably had to go into an institution. Good post!!! Good luck with Katie!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you. I have several other mentally challenged individuals who just disappeared, too. They lived with family, then just “poof”! I’ve had some luck with institutional records on occasion, but sometime it’s just census records. Yesterday I found one in a state hospital for “mental, inebriates, and drug addicts”

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Interesting . . . . Gee, I guess maybe that is where the problem is–that once they disappeared into an institution they basically disappeared. One of my relatives was brain damaged in an accident and put in the “state hospital.” I had such a time finding a record of his death because although he lived there for many decades they couldn’t be bothered to give him the right surname on his death certificate!

        Liked by 1 person

      2. I have no doubt you are right. It breaks my heart to think that someone would be well treated by their family for decades and then have to live in whatever situation the institution offers. I am guessing many times it was inhumane and possibly dangerous.

        Liked by 1 person

      3. Inhumane at the least. When I was studying law enforcement and criminal psychology in the early 80s, we were assigned to read the book, Cold Storage, about the atrocities of asylums in the early part of the 20th century. The characters in the book were composites of real people and the events were all true. One of the most stomach-churning things I have ever read.

        Liked by 1 person

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