There seems to be a lot of confusion about how to get or ask for hospital records under governance by the Michigan Department of Community Health.
First, you must ask for the court order to view the records from the judge in the county that the Asylum was located. Not the county your family was living in; although, sometimes they are the same county. You call the court and ask for the name of the judge who authorizes medical record releases and then write that Judge, addressing him/her properly, for a court order for the medical records of so and so at the __________ Asylum/State Hospital. Your letter should be respectful and polite and should include your relationship to the patient, when they died, and why you feel that the records would help you (ie. to complete your family medical history). You should have a pretty good idea of when the person was there. If you are denied a court order and are willing to fight over this, then you can call back and argue with them that you will go through the process if need be to gain access to these records.
Second, the person was committed in the county in which they resided at the time and this generated probate court records. So these records fall within the county the person lived in, and this may not be the same county the asylum was in. Some counties have allowed these records to be digitized and available and you should exhaustively search the internet (including familysearch.org) for these records before you call or bother a court. I advise finding these records first as they will tell you when the person was sent to the asylum and why.
Third, if you live in state you can call your state rep or senator to assist you, and you can complain that these records are kept under lock and key but other records with private and personal data are available to anyone- such as the 1940 census. You can emphasize the importance of having these records to complete your family medical history as mental illness has an hereditary component.
Fourth, if you live out of state, you can call the state rep or senator for the district in which the Asylum was located and explain your difficulty in getting your family’s medical records for this asylum. The records are all in the State of Michigan Archives in Lansing and are under threat of destruction.
Good luck. You will need to be persistent and the records may not even tell you much.
I have posted below my Michigan Insane Asylum Records article as published in the Acorns to Oaks, Vol. 32, No. 4 of the Michigan Oakland County Genealogical Society Quarterly. The article goes into detail as to how to secure records.
AsylumRecordsArticleP.1 AsylumRecordsArticleP.2 AsylumRecordsArticleP.3
Here is a copy of the original record of Benjamin W. Ellison’s admission to Harper Hospital USA General Hospital in Detroit, Michigan on July 16th, 1865. He was suffering from malaria.
The record reads:
Benjamin W Ellison Prvt 16 Mich Infantry Company G Admitted from Transfer
This means Private Ellison was in another civil war general hospital and transferred to Detroit.
This record is held at the Burton Historical Collection at the Detroit Public Library. My transcription of some of these records is set to be published in the spring edition of the Detroit Society for Genealogical Research Quarterly.
I sought out this record because Private Ellison’s pension increase requests were denied by the federal government. Their response to him was that there was no proof he’d gotten ill during his service as a soldier or been treated for his illness during the war. Their denial forced his wife to have no alternative but hospitalize him at Traverse City State Hospital, when she wanted to hire a private caretaker so he could live at home with her in Boyne Falls. It broke her heart to send her beloved husband away.
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.