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This article originally appeared in "Business, Institution, and Organization Records" by Kay Haviland Freilich, CG, CGL, and Ann Carter Fleming, CG, CGL in The Source: A Guidebook to American Genealogy
Hospital and physicians’ medical records are excellent sources of genealogical information. However, as confidential documents, they are difficult to obtain and are usually available only to the infirmed or the administrator of his or her estate. Like the more traditional businesses, hospitals have opened, closed, merged, been taken over, and changed names. As a result, knowledge of the history of the hospital may be needed to locate available records.
Some hospital records from the nineteenth century have been released and microfilmed by the Genealogical Society of Utah, including the early records of the St. Louis City Hospital, which are fairly representative of the content in most records of this period. The attached image is a page from the St. Louis City Hospital register, 1860.
Normally, early hospital registers will indicate the patient’s name, age, birthplace, date of admission, illness or disease, and date of discharge or death, although some records are less informative. In addition to registers, hospitals maintained early death records such as those compiled by the Almshouse Hospital in Philadelphia in 1893. The information on death records varies from hospital to hospital, but usually you can expect to find the deceased’s name, death date, and cause of death.
The federal government maintains a wide range of hospitals, ranging from those for veterans to those for the insane. Because they are government institutions, records from these hospitals may be more readily available in original, film, or print versions.
The National Home for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers, Northwestern Branch, in Milwaukee, was created to care for the casualties of the Civil War. The buildings are now the oldest continuously inhabited structures in the entire Veterans Administration system. The first admission book was found in a dusty corner; the entries have been abstracted and published. Typical entries include date of application and of military service, military unit, disability, age, marital status, and name of next of kin.59
The Archives of the New York Weill Cornell Medical Center (formerly known as the New York Hospital-Cornell Medical Center) is the repository for the official records of medical institutions in New York City ranging from The Cornell University Medical College and the Society of the Lying-In Hospital of the City of New York to the American Women’s Medical Association and New York Infant Asylum. Records date as early as 1771 (The Society of the New York Hospital) and as late as 1947 for the New York Nursery and Child’s Hospital. Those of the academic units—the medical college, graduate school of medical sciences for example—continue until the present.
The Medical Directory of the City of New York (1899 edition) offered the following description of Nursery and Child’s Hospital, which in 1934 was absorbed into the New York Hospital-Cornell Medical Center:
- (1854). 51st Street and Lexington ave. Maintain and care for destitute children under four years of age, and boards the children of wet nurses. Children are received to board at $10 per month. Women of good character, free from contagious diseases, are also admitted to the lying-in department on the payment of $25 or agreeing to remain three months after confinement to nurse two infants. Has a country branch at Staten Island for older children. Apply daily at the hospital from 11 A.M. to 2 P.M. Applications for confinement are best made in person.
In addition to medical records, the archives holds materials on medical education and treatment, photographs, prints, oral histories, and antique medical instruments. Occupying the entire 25th floor of the Hospital, the archives is open for research by appointment. Hours and details of the collection may be found at the website.
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