Tracing Your Ancestors in Lunatic Asylums (A guide for Family Historians) by Michelle Higgs.

Published by Pen & Sword, 2019

In this book, Michelle Higgs provides information that will suit all levels of genealogical competence, whether you are just starting out or have a wealth of experience.

The book covers England, Wales, Scotland and Ireland. Michelle takes the reader through the various types of mental health issues, describing the causes, diagnoses and treatment of the same. Her use of case studies highlights how those afflicted were treated by the various authorities. She explores what may have been the cause of their illness, deftly investigating their social demographic and determining what influences this may have induced on their family circumstances.

With the touch of the detective, Michelle probes the various institutions where people were held. Leaving no stone unturned she includes not just Asylums, but Prisons and Workhouses, and examines the environment in which they were kept.

Chapter 10 is a comprehensive account of sources available to help with your research. The author includes clear descriptions of the sources, how they may be useful and where they can be accessed. These include specific archives, such as for Bethlem Hospital as well as a guide to what can be found within Chancery records.

Michelle then backs this up by providing a guide to terminology that can be found in asylum records, such as Dipsomania, a temporary from of insanity caused by drunkenness and Fatuous, meaning to be in a state of idiocy of imbecility. She has also provided a section of useful websites and of places to visit, such as the Mental Health Museum in Wakefield.

I found the book full of helpful information and guidance, but as a very pleasing bonus, also a fascinating read.

Grace Tabern ADLH Oxf. AGRA Member

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