Michigan Insane Asylum Records

I have secured the Northern Michigan Insane Asylum/ Traverse City State Hospital records for the following two individuals:

Benjamin Walker Ellison

Caroline Seegmiller Ellison

These records are under court order to be kept private for the family’s use only. If you are a direct descendant and would like a copy of these records, please leave me a comment or get in touch with me. I will contact you.

Caroline’s records consist of one single sheet of paper, but it does have her diagnosis and family history of illness. She lived there for 28 years and I received one sheet of paper.

Benjamin’s records consist of three half-sheets of paper. There is no diagnosis. He died from erysipelas (this is on his death certificate) in 1913 which he most likely contracted while in the hospital.

Please contact your state legislators and encourage them to open to the public Michigan’s insane asylum records 70 plus years and older. These records are in storage at the Library of Michigan Archives and only the staff of the Department of Community Health can even look at the records. I do not believe I received all of the records on the individuals listed above, only what the DCH managed to find in the box arranged alphabetically. Legislation is currently being discussed so your support in this matter is very important right now. There has been talk of destroying the records since so few people can access them.

80 thoughts on “Michigan Insane Asylum Records

  1. How did you obtain the records? I have a family member that was committed and died 6 months later. I was told that I could only get the records if I was (I think) the conservator of the Estate (from 1866). I think my family member was at the Kalamazoo State Hospital.

    1. It was a very long process. First, you must know which asylum your family was in. I was able to get the guardianship records from the probate court of the county my ancestor lived in at the time and this record told which asylum he was sent to. Also, many of the asylums have printed lists of patients and there is the census and if they died there, check the death record. Then you must write the probate judge of the county of the asylum and ask for an order to get copies of the records. With this order, you must then contact the Department of Community Health and fill out the appropriate forms and send those along with the court order from the probate judge. Let me know how it goes for you. I had to have a telephone court interview with my probate judge and then he consented to giving me the court order. The DCH will then go to the archives and make copies of what they can find on your family and will mail them to you. You may be disappointed with what they send but you may get a diagnosis and other valuable information.

      1. Might it be possible for you to send me the language you used in your request to the probate judge for the court order? You could send it in a private email.Since I’ve not seen a sample of anything like that, I wonder how you wrote it. I am trying to get my aunt’s records from the Newberry State Hospital where she lived and died from 1930-1954. Her husband committed her and told the family that she was dead so no one knew anything about her all that time. I would like to know if she was insane or suffering from post partum depression or what!

      2. My name is Carol Joyce Carlton. I’m trying to recieve my records from Ypsilanti State Hostpital. I was in the adolescent ward in the 60’s. Before I went to the adolescent ward, I was in Yorkwood Center. If you can send me information on it, I would really appreciate it.
        Carol Carlton

      3. You would have to find where these records are stored. You can search online, try using the search “Ypsilanti State Hospital records.” Good luck

    2. My dad’s grandfather, David Martin, died at the Upper Peninsula Insane Asylum (Newberry, Mich.)16 Aug 1908. You’d think since it’s been over 110 years the records could be accessed.

  2. There have been far too many journalistic errors on this in the recent past so hopefully this reminder will help to stop it from continuing:

    The founders of the Northern Michigan Asylum intentionally left out the word “Insane” from the hospital’s name when it officially opened in 1885 as they modeled it after the “Beauty is Therapy” approach to healing those in need. The journalists who have done their homework know this. Those who haven’t need to stand corrected once and for all. Let’s, at the very least, uphold what the founders and the compassionate Dr. Munson worked so very hard for in the first place.

    Please update your documents, links, and keywords accordingly.

    Janese Horton
    former President of the Committee to Preserve Building 50

    1. I will not update my documents or my links, thanks. If Dr. Munson was so compassionate my ancestor wouldn’t have died there from a disease only transmitted through negligent hospital practices. And to remove the word “insane” is just another perpetuation of the taboo and shame people like you put on people like me who are NOT ashamed of my ancestor’s condition. Insane was the word used to denote mental illness and there is no shame in using the word today. I am not a journalist, by the way. I wonder why all these asylums were closed down if they were such healthy and beneficial places for people to be committed to?

      1. Dear journeybooks, I am sorry about how your loved one died, but please note; Insane is NOT the correct word to be used. Many have spent years (decades) trying to take the “insane” stigma out of mental health issues. When “insane” was used, it was because they did not understand mental illness as well as they do today. “Insane” IS NO LONGER USED.If you talk to any mental health provider, they will tell you that it is detrimental to people with a mental health disorder to use that wordage.It ADDS stigma, and I can attest to that. I suffer from severe depression, and anxiety disorder, but I am not insane. I also have a who lived and died at that hospital. He had gone through ancestor so much loss, in such a short time, that he could no longer talk. He felt helpless, and withdrew from the world.I do not know how your person got such a bad disease, but, for the whole, this hospital was far better then most of it’s day (think lobotomy). And as for the reason why it was closed down, you can thank our great Governor John Engler for that. He closed down all of the state mental health facilities to try and make his budget work. It had nothing to do with any of the hospitals… it was pure monetary reasons. And that, my friend, is when and why we ended up with so many homeless in Michigan. Thanks for the time.

      2. Hi Melissa- I appreciate your concern for all those that have struggled with mental illness. Unfortunately, “insane” is precisely the word used in the 19th century and so records are categorized specifically under the exact name of the hospital at the time the patient resided there.
        It is only detrimental to the person if they believe there is a “stigma.” The truth is, a word only has power to create shame if we allow it to. Mental illness should have no more shame associated with it than getting cancer or having heart disease. Educated people understand that medical science knows now that mental illness is a combination of physiological activities within the human body. It is a disease that rather than affecting the heart, for example, it affects the brain.
        I would not romanticize the mental hospitals of the past, if I were you. The public ones, generally speaking, were not good places for people to be. But they provided services families needed at the time. You have to remember that in the 19th century, they thought isolating the mentally ill from others was the best approach and of course, they did not really understand mental illness.
        I agree with you that our society does not address the needs of the mentally ill. There should be safe, regulated, up to date with treatment options, facilities for the mentally ill to recover within. Some people need a permanent place to live, such as those with extreme psychosis. There are different kinds of mental illness also, from depression to neurosis to psychopathy. Each person should be treated individually and according to what will give him/her the best quality of life.
        I am going to continue using the word “insane” to speak of the institutions of the past that we called insane asylums. I feel no shame about my heritage or my 3rd great grandfather. He is actually one of my heroes.

      1. I am on a Quest as well, to seek out my Grandmothers records from the Traverse City State Hospital. She was sick enough that she was admitted in the mid 50’s and died in 1993. She NEVER was discharged to the general public. I need answers and my grandfather and father are no longer with us to seek any answers. I appreciate all of the information you are sharing as I am in the beginning stages of this and need all the help that I can get. With Many Thanks, Tamara tlw_07@hotmail.com

      2. Thanks, Jennifer, for posting this online. I have barely started the process, already gotten as far figuring out to go to Luce County Probate Court for the permission for Newberry. I found your post just now when I was googling for more history on Newberry. I’m not clear – have you succeeded with getting a record for Newberry? My great-great-grandmother died there in 1909, and I can find her there on the 1900 census. However, Newberry didn’t open until 1895 from what I had gleaned so far, and after I looked around previously for history, I guessed that perhaps she would be in Traverse City before that (she is definitely gone from Houghton County by 1892, when her husband died). Would that have been where U.P. patients would have gone earlier? I have already thought a medical reason for information would be the high blood pressure that runs straight down that line, and I believe is actually related to mitochondrial DNA. Her children may have lead troubled lives, but none had diagnosed mental illnesses of which I know. Any advice on that?

      3. I got the records for Traverse City State Hospital (named thus at the time). What I would do first is secure her probate file from Luce County. This will have the commitment records and if she left any property, her estate files. The commitment files will tell you if she went somewhere else first and also, most importantly, why they decided to commit her. Also, I recommend the books by Dr William A Decker. He wrote one on the History of the Newberry State Hospital and also Northern Michigan Asylum (Traverse City State Hospital). The book will tell you where she may have been placed and when. They also have fascinating pictures. As long as you are a direct descendant, you have a reason to know her medical history, including mental health issues. Make sure you have her death certificate also and see what is listed as cause of death. SeekingMichigan.org has digitized death records for the 1909 year for free.

      4. Thanks! I would think the original commitment was in Houghton County. (Already sent for index to probate in Houghton on FHL film.) Would probate in Luce County show the commitment as well? I already have requested the books on Interlibrary Loan – they did, indeed, look fascinating.

  3. Hi, my great grandfather was committed here and died a WEEK later, I just now learned this and would like to learn MORE, please, anyone who can help me, my great grandfather’s name is Lewis F. Ensign, mine is Timothy Timm and you can email me at timothyptimm@gmail.com. Here is a source I copied the info from:
    (Midland Sun, 29 Nov 1901, pg.8:)

    “Lewis Ensign, who was taken to the Traverse City insane asylum (Northern MI Asylum for the Insane) two weeks ago last Thursday, died last week and was brought to Hope for interrment; he leaves a wife and two children.”

    in another source they state:
    Lewis Ensign, who was taken to the Traverse City insane asylum two weeks ago last Thursday died last week and was brought to Hope for interment; he leaves a wife and two children. Midland Sun dated 29 Nov 1901

  4. My husband was in one of the hospitals/asylums when he was a child. He had tuberculosis and in 1956 they put you in an asylum for that. however he would like to find some records on his stay in the hospital but we don’t know which hospital or even where to start. please help.

    1. Hi- Since he is looking for his own records, he can fill out the form from the Department of Community Health himself. You will have to call the DCH in Lansing and ask for the request form for medical records at an asylum. If your husband knows where he was living at the time of his illness, he can start with finding out what the name of the nearest asylum was, so it may be in the county he was living in and it may be another nearby. He may have to check a couple of asylums. Then search to see if the local genealogical or historical societies have records on the asylum located in that county. Sometimes they have indexes of who was in the asylum and when and sometimes even more information and sometimes they have nothing. You may have to travel to the archives of that county and look through the books yourself. I do not know if the DCH will need the asylum name or not, you will have to ask them. Good luck!

  5. Hi Linda- The commitment records would be in the probate court of the county she lived in at the time of commitment, so I would check both if you are unsure.
    I also once found a newspaper article on a commitment of someone circa late 1800’s.

  6. Hi – I too have an ancestor who was in the Northern Michigan Asylum for the Insane from at least 1910 until 1920, but probably from as early as 1904 until he died in 1926. These records would be important for our family to have. I would be happy to write lawmakers and request that they be made public, but I don’t live in Michigan. Who would I write to? And who is the first agency to contact to get the process started to obtain this relatives records? Thanks.

    1. Hi Georgia- First make sure you have some important dates, such as a birth date and death date and your ancestor’s full name. And then all the steps you need to take I have listed in an article I wrote that was published in Acorn to Oaks magazine and which you can read by clicking on the links in this blog post: https://voicesofmyancestors.wordpress.com/2013/04/12/michigan-insane-asylum-records-article/
      Remember that your ancestor was committed through a court process and so there are court records in the county in which they lived at the time. There are several ways to find these kind of probate records, depending on the county. Always check familysearch.org first to see if they have been digitized and online (this is all free). Second, you can simply call the court (which I did) and they may be kind enough (as happened for me) to copy the file and send it to you for a fee. In the court records, you will learn as to WHY they were committed, with possibly eyewitness testimony and doctor’s evaluations, and you will know exactly when, which will help you securing the asylum records. Best wishes!

      1. In my case, my aunt was committed by her sister and other family members in 1933. The records I received from probate state that she was “insane” and that she went to Ypsilanti State Hospital. However, 21 years later she died in Newberry State Hospital. There is no court record anywhere after those initial committment papers from 1933 so I don’t know when, why or how she got from Ypsilanti to Newberry.

        I’ve contacted the court again and requested that I be granted a court order to gain access to my aunt’s medical files. I was called back by a liaison officer who basically said “You can’t do what you want to do. If you could do it, I couldn’t tell you how to do it. So, don’t even try because you just can’t do it!” (I’m paraphrasing.)

        I called my senator’s office here in Ohio where I live. They said I MUST have a court order to gain access to the medical records and there’s no getting around it. After inquiring I’ve determined it will cost me greater than $300-500 (could be a little more or a lot more) to obtain and file a court order. AND after contacting the medical records area in Lansing, they can’t even tell me if those records still exist! So, in short, I could spend lots of money, lots of time and effort and end up with nothing.

        I’m at the point of calling the court back and begging them to please grant me a court order and praying that the judge takes pity on me.

        I’ve been trying for the better part of 3 years to get to the bottom of what happened to my aunt. After all this time, I’m still no closer to finding out what she suffered from and what the medical implications are/could be for the rest of my family.

      2. I think you can do this without spending money. Call the probate court in the county of the insane asylum that you want the records for. Ypsilanti will Washtenaw County and Newberry will be Luce County. Ask the court the name of the judge who handles orders to look at medical records for relatives. Don’t tell them anything else. Then write those two different judges a letter. In your letter, emphasize that mental illness is known to be hereditary and in order for your family to have a complete family medical history you must know the diagnosis with which your aunt was committed. Tell them you are not using the records for any other purpose, including sharing them with anyone outside the family. They will answer you and we can go from there. Also, make sure you have checked with Luce County Genealogy Society and Washtenaw Genealogy Society that they don’t have any records, you might be surprised and also google both asylums to see if anyone has anything digitized. Some of the records are with historical societies.

      3. Also in your letter specifically state that you are seeking a court order for the Michigan Dept of Community Health to release those records to you.

      4. Also Steve Luxembourg has written an interesting book about getting these kinds of records on his aunt, called “Annie’s Ghosts” and if I remember right, they were transferring patients between hospitals so your aunt may have been transferred to Newberry. Where is your aunt on the 1940 census? Which hospital?

      5. I’ve tried contacting the Newbarry historical society. I’ve written and spoken with the clerk/judge in Luce county. None of them have any records.
        My aunt was considered a resident of Wayne county since her husband maintained a residence in Detroit. So, they have all told me to go back to Wayne county and make my requests of the probate judge there.
        Initially, I drafted a document requesting the court order just as you outlined (from MI Comm Health, for family information only, not to be distributed, need to know for medical history, etc.) but thus far, no one has helped. I’m thinking of calling the clerk back again and asking her please to put me through to a judge to see if I can get any sympathy on this. I feel strongly that if I’m persistent but considerate and respectful, someone will help me!
        I’ve not found my aunt anywhere in the 1940 census, not in Detroit and not in Luce County but I’ve not really spent a lot of time looking. I wanted to do that and talk to the judge. I believe that, because her residence was always considered to be (with her husband) in Detroit, it will be the Wayne county judge who will have jurisdiction over the records for her.

      6. Hi Elissa- So, I’m a little confused. You need the court order to view the insane asylum records for Newberry from a Luce County Probate Judge. But, she was initially sent to Ypsilanti. So, the letter asking for the court order (not a telephone call) should be directed to Honorable Judge _________ of Washtenaw County. You will call for this name. All you need to say in your call to the Washtenaw Court is what is the name of the judge you issues medical record court orders. Since anyone needing medical records, no matter what the health issue is, has to ask this judge for a court order there is someone who does this. The Wayne County judge will not have jurisdiction over the medical records of Ypsilanti State Hospital since the hospital did not reside in his district. But, the Wayne County probate has the records of the court order to send her there. So, my ancestor lived in Boyne Falls in Charlevoix County and this court had the probate records of his commitment hearing. And then the Judge in Grand Traverse County had to issue the court order for me to see the Northern Michigan Asylum records. You should not be calling to request. This must be a written request. They have to answer written requests.

      7. Thank you so much for your detailed responses on this thread! This is really helpful. It is so kind of you to be willing to give in this way.

      8. I have one more question. You have a lot of knowledge about this and may know.

        Were people able to voluntarily commit themselves to the Northern Michigan Asylum (Traverse City State Hospital) and/or voluntarily leave?

        That probably sounds like a silly question, but the relative I’m researching had a sister who may have been there at the same time he was (records for her are not so clear but there is someone there who could be her). This sister lived the last year or two of her life with my great-grandmother (her sister). I can’t find any trace of her between the years of 1904 and 1938. If she was in the hospital, could she have been there voluntarily and left voluntarily so that she could end her life with her only living relative? Or would my great-grandmother have had to get her released?

      9. William A Decker’s book “Northern Michigan Asylum” which has lots of photographs and will give you a sense of the place, lists in detail all of the laws and how people were committed and who could voluntarily commit themselves and how these laws changed over time. You could not leave without a doctor’s release, and this is true today. You cannot leave the psych ward of a hospital while you are considered harmful to yourself or others but then can, when you stabilize. I think this changed in 1974 but I’d have to re-read the book. The sister should be on a census record: 1910, 1920, 1930. Familysearch. org has some of these censuses available and I also pay to use ancestry.com. On familysearch.org on the home page you can click search and then put in the sister’s name and whatever you know about her. Remember people spell names wrong on censuses both in the original and in the transcription. I have found people on a census by looking through the area they lived page by page when a search could not find them. So be thorough. Sometimes, though, people simply didn’t end up on the census one decade. I have never seen it three decades in a row.

    2. Thanks for the additional info. When I say I can’t find any trace of the sister for three decades, I mean outside the asylum. In 1910 and 1930 there are two people there with her name, one of whom is the correct age. In 1920, there are two people there with her name, neither of whom is the correct age, but that could be a mistake. Her brother was definitely there. The implications of having two siblings spend so much of their lives in the asylum is troubling, both if they were placed there correctly and if they were not.

      Thanks to your feedback, I now know what I need to do. If I learn anything that might be helpful to others, I’ll pass it on. With everything that is being learned about the genetic markers for mental illness, it’s stunning to me that relatives aren’t able to access this information, especially so many years after the fact. That needs to change.

  7. Really interesting post and comments. My great grandmother died in the Hospital of “chronic nephritis” in 1930 according to the death record. The 1920 census shows her as a “boarder” in the hospital. I will look for probate, although her husband doesn’t die until 1941 in Alma. Aside from diagnosis, is it possible just to get the admitting dates from the State of Michigan? By the way, I just stopped by and asked at the Alma Masonic home and instantly got the 1941 admission records for my great grandfather. Might have been pure luck, but it had ancestral information that was new for me.

    1. Hi Jeffrey- They are not “death” probate records. They are the proceedings to commit someone to an asylum and will be dated when the action was taken and then will reveal when they were committed. The ones I got even told me who escorted him there, his behaviors prior, doctor’s evaluations, etc. You are lucky on the Alma Masonic Home records!!
      Don’t forget, some people voluntarily went to the asylum…

      1. Yes, you’re right, I was confusing this with probate property settlements. So I would go to the Traverse City Probate Court and ask for an index. She went in some time between 1910 and 1920–I suspect 1918 not long after her son died in World War I. (She had lost three children between 1880 and 1890.) Would the index be for entry, or for termination? (I guess I will find out when I go.) I take your point about voluntary commitment–I am really curious whether this is about grief or something else. I also just found the 1930 census taken a month before she dies. There it is clearly identified as “The Traverse City State Hospital for the Insane” and the inmates are very carefully alphabetically presented, all female on her page.
        Final question: the link to your article I used just presents one page. Am I missing how to get to the complete article?

      2. The pages are linked individually. I had to photocopy them from the magazine and then link each scan. If your ancestor lived in Grand Traverse County (the county in which Northern Michigan or Traverse City State Hospital is) you would ask them to look and see if they have the commitment procedure file and would they copy it and send it to you. If you are there, they might let you look yourself for her in the index. You first should check familysearch.org for a digitized copy of the probate records and then google “digitized copies of Grand Traverse County Michigan probate records.” You might find them. I haven’t done any research in this county for probate records. I would also first see what military records you can find on the son- as her address might be listed for the death notification they sent her. It would be helpful to know as much as possible.
        So, if she were living in another county at the time she was committed then same procedure for that county.

  8. p.s. I contacted Steve directly. ALthough I’ve not read his book yet I did email back and forth with him. He was encouraging. I also contacted Dr William Decker, former medical director of TC hospital who’s written 3 books on various hospitals in MI. He has also been very helpful and ecouraging.
    Like I said, I’ve been at this for a couple years. I keep trying and finding blind alleys and then trying something else. Whatever! I’m gonna do this eventually. Thank you for your ideas, thoughts, and encouragement! Every little bit helps.

  9. I am looking for the records for my paternal grandfather, Frank Russel Simmons. He was a patient at Traverse City Asylum according to the census records of 1920and 1930 and 1940. I can find no records on him at all.
    Thanks for any help you can give me.

    1. The records are held at the Archives in Lansing but can be accessed only through the Michigan Department of Community Health. I have outlined all the steps to take in my article that you can read by clicking on the links on this post: https://voicesofmyancestors.wordpress.com/2013/04/12/michigan-insane-asylum-records-article/.
      There are many steps and Traverse City Hospital is particularly difficult to access but if you persevere you will get the records.
      You should also call your state senator and representative and complain about the difficulty in securing these records of your very own flesh and blood ancestors when scientists know now about the genetic aspects of mental illness. They may also be able to help you speed up the process since it is our legislature’s laws that slow it down. Good luck to you. Hang in there!

    2. I’ve discovered that if you contact the clerk of courts from the county of your relative’s residence, you can get a copy of any of the court records pertaining to their commitment.
      For example, my aunt was a resident of Detroit Wayne County when committed. But, she then resided in Newberry hospital up in Luce County for over 20 years. I asked Luce County for records and they had none, and steered me to Wayne County. When I requested records from Wayne County court they sent me copies of everything in her file (I had to pay for copies, but it was not expensive.)
      You need to go to the county of their residence from the time they were first committed. The census should show that information.

      1. Yes as I said the probate records of the county they were living in contain the commitment records and often contain more information than the asylum records. The probate records I obtained had doctor affidavits and witness testimony.

  10. I cant thank you enough for writing this blog containing a wealth of helpful information. I was given this link while contacting Grand Traverse seeking any mental health records they might have, dead end, kinda. Being directed to this sight has been eye opening. I have been on a twisted search for my Great Grandmother, Catherine (Katie) Treib’s records for the time she was committed to Traverse City Asylum, July 1928 until the time of her death there October of 1969. I was able to get her probate records from Saginaw, where see was living at the time, which are interesting as well as heartbreaking. Her death certificate as well, but when I contacted MDCH just last week, I was told they only hold those records for 7 years and then the are destroyed and if I was told otherwise I was misinformed, I do not know if I was intentionally mislead or this person made a mistake. I am really am most interested in what her diagnosis at the time and how she was treated. I am told she only spoke German and eventually went blind while there.
    This mental illness continues to plague my current family as I am the primary caregiver for my mother, her granddaughter, whom has battle Bi-Polar for 20 plus years and has a cousin who committed suicide while depressed. I have two children, growing into adulthood and worry that they two may someday be touched by this strong genetic history.

    1. Hi Lisa- Glad I could be of some help. To see if the records still exist you’d need to call Michigan’s state archive repository. When I was working on this project a few years ago I was told by another archivist at a different library that Michigan was seriously considering destroying all of these mental health records. They take up a lot of space and are costly to preserve and no one can really access them anymore. This quite possibly has happened. When you call ask if the Archives still has in their possession the Traverse City State Hospital records. MDCH is non-cooperative in this manner for many reasons. I personally doubt that my ancestor could die there and all that be on record is a small index card and one sheet of paper from when he was transferred between buildings. I did not get a diagnosis on him, but did on the other person I requested records on. You should also call your State Senator or Representative if the archivist informs you the records still exist.


      The Archives of Michigan is responsible for preserving the records of Michigan government and other public institutions. The collections also include documents, maps, photographs and film from private individuals and organizations.

      702 W. Kalamazoo St.
      Lansing, MI 48915

      Best of luck to you.

      1. Hi Jennifer,
        A quick update, I followed your directions on contacting The Archives of Michigan and in doing so was lucky enough to be told, without a court order, that they do indeed house the records I’ve been searching for. They have records dating back to 1919 of Traverse City State Hospital. I need to get the court order to see them but it was great news to know they do indeed exists!! I was put in touch with a Mindy Rice @ MDCH and she emailed me the forms I need to fill out and submit to the Judge in order to secure that elusive court order. I think I’ll need legal help just so I dont check a wrong box and get my request kick out of the system for some ridiculous reason.
        Thank You, Thank You, Thank You,
        Your help and direction is helping myself and others so so much!
        Blessing, Lisa

  11. Hello. My great-great-grandmother was a patient from about 1910 until her death in 1943 at the Kalamazoo State Hospital. Her name was Pauline Lieska (also Lesski/Lieske). She was there, our family said was tuberculosis, but I have my doubts. Do you have any suggestions on who to find out why she was a patient? Any help would be appreciated.

    1. Hi Mary- Read my article that is posted on this blog about all of the steps. It’s been awhile but I think the Kalamazoo State Hospital records are held at the Kalamazoo Public Library. The first thing would be to get her death record and then the probate records for when she was committed to the hospital. The probate records will be in the county she was living in at the time, so check the 1910 census first and see if she’s on there. This will also help you narrow the date a bit, the census was taken on such and such day so it had to have been after that day OR if she’s not on there, then you know she was sent prior to that date. You will need firm dates, such as birth and death dates. Then when you have firm dates on when she was there (her probate records will tell you and may also tell you why she was sent there) you can contact Mindy Rice @ MDCH for the forms to begin the court order process if you want the state hospital records. Good luck, Jennifer

      1. Thanks Jennifer for the help. I know her death certificate is on file in Kalamazoo County, she died at the asylum in 1942. It’s also good to know that probate records will exist in Kent County where she lived. I wasn’t aware that committing someone would require the court system but it makes sense. Thank you again.

  12. To whom it may concern,
    In looking for information on my great grandmother, who was in the traverse city state hospital for over twenty years. Her name was Florence E. Bell. Please contact me with any information on how to acquire these records. It’s very important to my family.

    1. Hi Elisa- All of the information and directions you need to get the records (possibly) are on this blog. Read my article on it, I have links to this article here on the blog. It is a complicated process that requires diligence. Also, there are many helpful comments from others on how they used the information on this blog to get the records they wanted.
      You will have to do the work yourself though.
      Best of luck,

  13. What a great blog. Thanks for sharing so much information. My question is much simpler, I think. My relative died at Traverse City in 1952 and was buried in their cemetery. This is what I was told anyway. How can I find out WHERE this gentleman was buried? Are there records for the hospital’s cemetery? I found the one for the COW!!

    Thanks for your help,

    1. First Evan I would get his death certificate. Death certificates almost always have on them (modern ones such as 1952) where the person was buried in the sense of the name of the cemetery. But if you are looking for his grave in a certain cemetery you need to find who has the sexton records for that cemetery. My guess is Traverse City itself own the cemetery at the asylum. So I would call the city and keep asking until they transfer you to someone who knows or call the local genealogical or historical society and see if they know where the records are. It will be a puzzle for you to put together. Good luck!

  14. Hello,
    I’m interested in obtaining records on my second great uncle Edward J. Stokes. He was born in 1866 Allegan County and died October 15, 1911 at the Traverse City, State Hospital. His death certificate states epilepsy. It also states he was a “resident” for 3 years 8 months 14 days.

    1. Hi- You’d have to go through all the proper steps to obtain the records. The steps are outlined on my blog, and in the article on this blog about Michigan Insane Asylum Records.
      Good luck to you.

  15. Good evening
    Not sure if you can help me but my grandfather passed away in the traverse city state hospital. His name was Simon Michael Jakubczak and he was in there for a stroke from bay city MI – admitted on 15 Jul 1960 and passed on 22 Jul 1960

    If you have any information or someone I could contact I would appreciate it.

    Thank you in advance

  16. Can I access my own records from Traverse city state hospital? If so how? I was committed there in 1969 for about a year, I was 11 years old. I don’t know why I was there, I don’t know if I was considered to be mentally ill, If I was not, then why was I kept there for an entire year? I would really like to know what the diagnosis was, if any. Do I have a right to know what the hell happened back then. Also I was forced to take some kind of drug, I would like to know what the drug was. I plan to go to Traverse city state hospital before the end of summer to see if the place can jog some memories.

    1. Yes, you can. You must file a request with the Michigan Department of Community Health. I would call them and ask about the current procedure as I accessed records a number of years ago now. You have the right to see and get a copy of your medical records! It should be relatively easy for you to get them. Best of luck.

      1. I would think that if those medical records are yours, your own doctor should be able to request them for you! You have a right to see ALL of your medical files, no matter where they are!

        On Wed, Aug 17, 2016 at 12:51 PM, Voices of My Ancestors wrote:

        > Journeybooks commented: “Yes, you can. You must file a request with the > Michigan Department of Community Health. I would call them and ask about > the current procedure as I accessed records a number of years ago now. You > have the right to see and get a copy of your medical records” >

      2. I would think that if those medical records are yours, your own doctor should be able to request them for you! You have a right to see ALL of your medical files, no matter where they are!

    2. Best of luck on your efforts. I visited it this summer and the entire complex is in the process of being re-purposed. There’s a very nice Italian restaurant in one of the buildings and other kinds of shops. There’s a fellow who gives a very good walking tour of the grounds which are being restored. The local book shops have four or five history/picture books for sale about the Hospital.
      My ancestor died there in 1930, but I found her probate record in Manistee, which had signed statements from the three doctors who had her committed. Very sad story, but I may push on and see if I can get the medical records of her treatment if they still exist.

    3. Charles, I was in the Traverse City State Hospital for 9 months in 1969. I was 15 and housed in the girls cottage but went to school in the building you were most likely housed in. If you find out how to get your records, I’d love to get my own. I’m sure they won’t be accurate because a lot of things that happened there were not documented or they would have been shut down a LOT sooner. I remember one 5 year old girl who was put there because she’d spent her entire life locked in a closet and didn’t speak or show any emotion. Some nurses would hit her to try to get her to cry or get angry. Kids were sent there for many reasons. My parents admitted me for a 3 month observation period because I had run away and was a wild child. They couldn’t handle me and didn’t know what to do. After 3 months the doctor said I could go home and could find no reason to keep me. My parents told the doctor they didn’t want me back so the hospital kept me 6 more months “because there were no foster homes available”. Finally my parents did allow me to come home but it was short lived. I’ll never forget after the 3 months and being told my parents wouldn’t let me come home, I ran away. When I returned a few weeks later my punishment was 2 weeks in seclusion with a bath mat on the floor to sleep on and no furniture or blanket or pillow. The walls, floors and ceiling were made up of 1 inch square tiles. After 2 weeks at a time in that room I had counted every tile in that room and knew the exact number for years.

      Some kids were there because they’d been abused or molested at home. Some for drugs. Some because they were depressed. Some due to lack of foster homes. Some for crimes or running away. One girl’s dad was a psychiatrist and used her as a guinea pig for new medicines and really messed her up. She had hair on most of her body, would talk in a language of her own but was a genius on the piano. One 12 year old would flap her arms and tweet like a bird running up and down the halls but never talk.

  17. I am looking for the medical records for Louise Herm who was a patient at the Traverse City State Hosptal in the 1930’s or 40’s. She was originally from Saginaw, Michigan. She was deceased in 1954 in Portland, Oregon. I am curious what she was diagnosed with at the time. Any help would be appreciated.

    1. Get the probate records for her commitment hearing. Would have happened in the county she lived in at the time. They are great sources of information.

  18. I’ve been trying for the past 5 years to get the records for my grandfather, Frank Russel Simmons. I know he was there from the 30s and 40s census reports. I want to know more but no one will help me.
    Lynda Simmons Schaffer
    Reynoldsburg, Ohio

  19. My great-grandmother, Emma J. (Peckham) Ellis was a patient at the mental hospital sometime around 1900. We’re not sure how long she was there. We also believe my great-uncle, last name Ellis, was there during or after the time my great-grandmother was there. My mother, Genevieve (Ellis) Gross is 95 years old and would love to know about grandma’s stay at the hospital. She’s written two genealogy books on my grandma and grandpa’s families, and never was able to find out about her grandma Ellis. Thank you for any help you can provide!! My phone is .

    1. Check to see if you can find her on the census records. They listed mental patients at the hospital. This may help you narrow down years she, he, was there.
      Then if you can figure out where she lived when committed you can get the probate records for the court hearing to commit her.
      You may have to check several counties, if you’re not sure where she/he lived.

  20. Great information. I recently found an ancestor who was at the Traverse City Hospital for over 40 years (as confirmed by Census records), 1900-1941 (his death). I’ll take a swing at getting the records. Funny, I was JUST there in August, having a beer, and had no idea I had a relation there for 40 years.

  21. I am seeking information on Almyra Nicholson who died while a patient at Michigan State Hospital in Newberry in 1920. She was my great grandmother who apparently was divorced from my great grandfather and was registered under her maiden name Nicholson.
    She was married in 1878 in Port Huron to John Gillies, and William John Gillies was their son born in 1877. I am William’s granddaughter. By 1881, John Gillies had remarried & there is is no further information on Almyra until her death certificate issued at the hospital.
    Any help would be greatly appreciated. Terry Gillies Fear, Illinois

    1. Look for probate records in the county she lived in prior to going to the hospital. The probate records will contain the commitment to the hospital and should have good information.
      You may have to check several counties. Have you traced her through the census as to where she was living?

  22. I am hoping you can help me. I have been trying really hard to get information on my Grandfather. I see that he was at the Industrial School for Boys in Lansing, Michigan in 1910 and is listed as “inmate”. I cannot find any information as to what type of institution this was. Could you help me?

  23. I am seeking my. own records from the late 1960s. I have called every place I can think of in Grand Traverse County—-Co. Bldg., etc. and no one can tell my where I can obtain my own records. I was not committed but when the Hospital was closed down I did not think of obtaining records. I do have a copy of a paper from the State of MI telling me I am “sane” from early 1970s. I am curious as I have still had difficulties over the years and am wondering what they were contributing my issues to at that time. Oh – before that I did have two first cousins, olde than me, who had both been in the same hospital. An one of my cousins was there until the doors closed. Good thing she had family support as she was afraid of leaving. It certainly was not “bad” when I was there. Was treated with respect, for the most part —-except one psychiatric aide —– the rest were fine. Where do I go or how do I try to obtain records. I myself worked in the medical field for many years in Medical Records where I live – went to college for it so am aware of HIPAA regs. etc.


    1. A lot of medical psychiatric records are stored at the Library of Michigan Archives in Lansing, Michigan. You would have to check with them on what records they are still storing and how to get access to them now. Since they are your own records, it should be much simpler. You do need to know the name of the hospital at the time you were there. Good luck.

  24. Hello
    I HHave an aunt who was in Newberry for over 30 years, now deceased. I contacted the probate court where she lived prior to going to Newberry and there are no records. Where should I look next? Any help is greatly appreciated .

    1. From what I’ve discovered the only place you’ll find information is in her medical records. But, because of HiPPA laws you’ll need to file a court action in order to be allowed to get hold of those records. I’m in the process of working with my cousin, my friend who is an attorney in the right court jurisdiction and we’re still having trouble figuring out what forms to fill out, what documents to draft, etc. Sadly, you may have to hire an attorney to figure this all out.
      Also, in theory, they still have the records but it’s possible that after all the work you go through there may not be any records in the files for your relative. AND THEY WILL NOT TELL YOU ANYTHING until you go through all the crap you have to go through. From what I understand, though, most of the time there are records. Good luck!

      1. I did not have to hire an attorney. And the judge spoke with me on the phone to grant my access. But I cannot publicly reveal the records. It is a lot of work, but not impossible.

  25. I was a patient at the Traverse City State Hospital between 1967 and 1969. I have tried to obtain a few copies of my own records and made numerous calls but no-one can tell me anything. I have the letter in my files of a “release form” from TCSH back in the early 1970s basically stating that I was being released and the hospital had no responsibility for me at this point, etc. Still have that letter. How do I obtain my own records from the State of MI. I have also worked in hospitals for the last 44 years in the medical records dept. and very well remember when HIPPA came into being.

    1. The last time I checked the Library of Michigan Archives holds the Traverse City State Hospital records. So the first thing I would do is call the Archives section of the Library of Michigan in Lansing and see if they have the records and for the years you are looking for. They have the forms to fill out to request copies of the records.

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