Monday 18 August 2014

It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World!

My great-grand uncle Horace Melvin Porter was 26 years old, full of life and part of a big loving family, the 6th of 11 children, from Ulverton, Quebec. His parents and some of his siblings moved to the United States 1900 to 1902. Horace took his responsibilities very seriously, and was working as a Motorman for the Montreal Tramway System in 1903 when the employees went on strike against their employer, the Montreal Street Railway Co. Horace didn't know about strikes, he just wanted to do his job and attempted to take his tram out of the barn. There was a rioting crowd throwing stones and bricks, and Horace was hit in the head with a brick.

I didn't find anything in a local newspaper, but the Eau Claire Leader, Wisconsin newspaper wrote an article about the event, saying: "A motorman who attempted to take a car out of the barn was assaulted so badly that in all probability he will die."

Well, Horace did not die for another 45 years, all of which he spent in the Protestant Hospital for the Insane in Verdun, Quebec. My grandmother worked so my mother was looked after during the day by my great grandmother, Mary Jane Porter King.  Mary Jane was Horace's oldest sister, and she would take my mother with her once a week to the hospital to visit Horace.  My mother remembers being made to sit outside on a bench to wait, as she was too young to go in the hospital. Horace died in 1948, and was laid to rest beside his parents in Ulverton.

It seems from what I have read that this was a progressive hospital and they believed in giving the patients work to do to keep them occupied.  They had a farm that was worked by patients, and some patients also did crafts that were sold to get money for the hospital.  I don't know how much Horace was able to do or how aware he was.

Horace was on both the 1911 and 1921 Censuses as an inmate at the Verdun Hospital. If you are missing an ancestor, did you look in the census or registers of the local Insane Asylum?

My step-son's great-grandfather, Dr. William Herbert Wiley was the owner of Blythewood, in Greenwich, CT.

You can do a search at google or Internet Archive keywords "asylum" “insane asylum”, “mental institute”, “lunatic asylum”. Also check censuses and burial grounds of the Insane hospital or asylum.

**Update:  for Scotland search at Scottish Indexes. A search is free, but you have to pay for the record.

Relevant links

Protestant Hospital for the Insane, Verdun (History, read 1885!!)

Records for Deaths at Protestant Hospital for the Insane, $ at Drouin
(Under Quebec / Verdun / (Protestant Hospital) 1891-1941

Verdun Hospital for the Insane - Unclaimed Bodies 

The Institutional care of the insane in the United States and Canada 1916

The St-Jean de Dieu Lunatic Asylum at Longue-Pointe, Quebec 1892

Indiana Genealogy Society - database is members only $, under County Records

The Vermont Asylum for the Insane - it's annals for fifty years

The prisoners' hidden life, or, Insane Asylums unveiled: as demonstrated by the report of the Investigating Committee of the legislature of Illinois, together with Mrs Packard's coadjutor's testimony 1868

Upper Canada (Ontario) Insane Asylum Inmates database (Ontario Genealogy Website)

Blacksheep Ancestors - Insane Asylums, US - Databases for 7 states

US Veterans Hospital Insane Patients, Surnames A-M - 1930 index

US Veterans Hospital Insane Patients, Surnames M-Z - 1930 Index

West Virginia State Hospital for Colored Insane, 1930 index

List of Asylums in UK and Ireland

Inmates of the Willard Asylum for the Insane NY - 1870-1900

Queensland Public Curator Insanity Files

Australia Asylum Records

New Zealand Seacliff Lunatic Asylum

Spencer State Hospital, West Virginia

Find-a-grave for Spencer State Hospital

Report of the Visiting Physician to the Insane Asylum - Salem Oregon 1874

State Institution for the Feebleminded, New York 1920

Causes of Insanity (Protestant Hospital for the Insane)

The Colquitz Archive: An Exhibition of Documents and Images on the Provincial Mental Home, Colquitz, BC 1919-1964 (Look around the site)

How to Trace Ancestors in Lunatic Asylums (WDYTYA Magazine Tutorials) 

Bedlam Burial Ground Register, Liverpool, UK

List of Insane Persons who have received aid from the State during the past year 1845

History of the Association of Medical Superintendents of American Institutions for the Insane, from 1844 to 1884

Friends' Asylum for the Insane, 1813-1913 Philadelphia

Alphabetical list of subscribers names to the Glasgow Lunatic Asylum c1858

The Ticehurst House Hospital (south of England) Papers & Records online

Records of the Glasgow Insane Asylum (Gartnavel Royal Hospital) 1811

The Retreat, York, England

St Luke's Hospital, London

The Manor House Asylum, Chiswick, London

Holloway Sanatorium for the Insane, Surrey, England

Camberwell House Asylum, London

Louisiana - New Orleans City Insane Asylum 1882-1884, 1888

Scottish Indexes $


  1. Interesting to come across this post, this week. I'd found some of your listed sources already and will take a look at some others. I'm working on a post about my 2nd great grand-aunt, who after a series of tragedies regarding her children, ended up first in the Utica (NY) Insane Asylum, and later, after Utica declared her chronically insane & a county sheriff's jury adjudged her "a lunatic", in the St. Lawrence Hospital at Ogdensburg NY (nicer name for insane asylum & nicer overall, applying the newer theories) for 19 years until she died. She had a sad life. My post will be up later this week.

    1. I'd love to read your post when you are done, leave us a link. I think our ancestors were lucky to have been committed at a time when the attitude and the methods in the patients' care were changing for the better, coming out of the dark ages!

    2. Hi Dianne,

      I finally finished my post and put it up last night; here's the link:

    3. I started getting spam so had to activate the moderation. Then I got so into reading your story I almost forgot to publish your post hahaha.

      You write so well and truly brought Rosa to life for me. She sure had her share of tragedy! It seems the more you find out, the more questions you have - isn't that the way? I added your blog to my reading lineup so I can read your other interesting stories. Thank you so much for sharing.

  2. Hi, I have a relative I believe was in the same hospital and died in 1930. I have tried to find a searchable database and had no luck. Can you tell me if you found one for that hospital?
    Thank you!

    1. No I never did. I just have the 1921 census.
      I doubt they would have kept records. Maybe contact the Douglas and see what happened to them?

      This is a good history and some photos of the hospital

  3. Congratulations, Dianne. This is a lovely piece of writing. My great-uncle entered the Verdun Hospital in 1897 after experiencing the second death of an infant girl. He stayed there until his death in 1948. I am researching this for a book I am writing about his sister-in-law, who is my great-grandmother. It will only be a side portion of my story, but it is really helpful to get some picture of the history. Thank you for your work.


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