Tuesday 5 July 2016

Yorkshire Family History Fair

I was pleased to have been able to help out on the Wakefield and District Family History Society stand at the annual Yorkshire Family History Fair held in the Knavesmire Exhibition Centre at York Racecourse on Saturday 2nd July. This was also an opportunity to promote my book Proper People which sold well confirming my belief that many family historians also have a wider interest in social history.

Richard and David, with Amanda behind the camera.
Our stand was ably manned by Richard Bailey, myself and my fiancĂ©e Amanda Crossley who did a sterling job at what was her first family history fair.

From the many conversations I had on Saturday it is clear that family historians are beginning to realise that asylum records may provide the answers to some of their brick walls or missing people.

Ancestry have recently published the records of the Commissioners in Lunacy which should show all  patient admissions across all asylums in the UK after January 1846 so one might expect to find a lunatic ancestor within that database. Have a look at my Early Asylum Life blog post Searching for Early Asylum Ancestors for comments on my experience of searching for patients using Ancestry which was actually much better than I had expected.

1841 Census for West Riding Pauper Lunatic Asylum. Courtesy Ancestry.

Consider the census which is one of the key resources used by family historians. The 1841 census return for the West Riding Pauper Lunatic Asylum is much as one would expect for any other institution. It records all the staff, some living with their families, and all the patients are named in full.

1851 Census for West Riding Pauper Lunatic Asylum. Courtesy Ancestry.

Thereafter, from 1851 to 1901, while staff and their families are named, the patients are only identified by their initials. This might look like an early form of data protection but I suspect it had more to do with reducing the clerical effort. Not all asylums adopted the practice of using just the patients' initials.

In 1911 full names of patients are again recorded leaving a gap of 60 years during which a Yorkshire  ancestor may well have disappeared into the West Riding Pauper Lunatic Asylum. More about how to search for your ancestors another day.