Beyond the Internet: Week 17 Hospital records

This is Week 17 in my Beyond the Internet series in which I explore the sources of information beyond our computer screens. This week the topic is Hospital admissions and records, which can be surprisingly useful.

I’d love it if you wanted to join in and tell us about your successes with these records, or share your experience, especially if you live overseas and use different set of records. If possible please provide a link to your post on this page.

Hospital notices

In the early days of settlement some hospital boards published their statistics annually and included the names of patients who had died. This can be useful where death indexes prove difficult.

As an example: Francis (Franz Ignaz) Zöller died on 28 April 1862 from phlebitis suppuratoria in Toowoomba Hospital as reported in the Darling Downs Gazette (DDG).[1] The death index is for Tiller.

Similarly, depending on the “chattiness” of the newspaper, you may get ambulance reports of family members being taken to hospital for injuries large and small.

These examples highlight a couple of things: (1) even though the DDG is on Trove, the name doesn’t come up. Would you look nearly a year after his death for information? (2) the value of indexes provided by the local family history society.

Hospital Admission Books: Where to find them

If you are researching in Queensland, you are in luck. Judy Webster’s excellent site provides indexes to some of the hospital admission records held by the Queensland State Archives. QSA also has some indexes available. Judy also has some useful background information about the costs to patients’ families. If you have Queensland family history, do have a thorough browse of Judy’s site as it’s full of information, and she also has a great book you can buy, which I’ve found very useful.

How do you do check the records if you want to do this yourself? Well go to your state archives catalogue (usually online these days) and search by the name of the hospital. Be careful that the name of the hospital you know it by today, may not always have been its name eg I initially searched for “Royal Brisbane Hospital” but using “Brisbane Hospital admissions” is what gives results.

Also keep in mind that you may be wise to search the mental asylum records as people were admitted for a variety of conditions from post-natal depression to full psychosis. Once again, Judy Webster also has indexes for Qld while the Public Records Office of Victoria has some of their records available online to download and browse. Use this link for mental asylum records at State Records of NSW.

Hospital records: What might you find

Reasonably obviously this is likely to change over time, however some early admission records provide wonderful information about the person’s immigration, place of residence, next of kin and the like. A few years ago I browsed these records looking for details on anyone from East Clare or for any clues to my Germans, and there is a wealth of information in them.

An example: Thanks to Judy’s index, I easily found the admission record for Carl Diflo to Brisbane Hospital. Carl Diflo was admitted to the Brisbane Hospital on 17 November 1856 and discharged on 29 November 1856.[2] I believe this is the man I research among my Dorfprozelten immigrants. The age stated is not correct, but he is a German Catholic and the surname is very unusual. Carl was suffering from rheumatism and severe pains in his feet. He had been living on salt meat for more than a year in the bush. This lets me deduce a fair bit about his early life in Moreton Bay after arrival in 1855.

For various reasons the Diflo family had a terrible time in Australia and his daughter Phoebe Nevison was also admitted to the Rockhampton asylum with what seems to be post-natal depression. Her file includes details of the cost of her care, and a letter from her husband explaining his difficulty in paying as well as providing information about his work and their children.

Military Hospitals

Following on from the various Anzac Day posts, it’s worth considering where our relatives were sent to recuperate from war injuries, and how they were treated.

This post from Helen Smith is an excellent example of how different sources of information can be used to reveal more of their experience in the military hospital.

Next week: Benevolent Asylums


[1] Deaths in Australia, Volume 2, extracted from The Darling Downs Gazette August 1860-Dec 1865, Toowoomba and Darling Downs Family History Society Inc, Toowoomba, 2002, page 31 (Ziller). Darling Downs Gazette 5 March 1863, annual report, page 3. Qld Death certificate 1862/C000089 indexed as Tiller: Francis Tiller, son of Peter Tiller and Magdalene Villers, consistent with the names of Franz Ignaz’s parents.

[2] Queensland State Archives Item ID2903, Case book,  Microfilm Z1626, page 509.

Comments on Shauna Hicks’s talk on Asylum Records

On Saturday Shauna Hicks gave two very informative and enjoyable family history presentations in Darwin. Shauna apologised for her laryngitis and croaky voice but it didn’t affect the pleasure of listening to someone with such wide experience.

Shauna’s talk on asylum records highlighted how these records could help people to find missing ancestors and the diverse information one could gain from the records. She also rightly warned people that it can be distressing reading these records even if they are not for members of your own family, and more so when they are your ancestors. In the past many (if not most) people were placed in asylums for illnesses (eg post natal depression, post traumatic stress) which are much better understood today. Another reason was that there was no alternative institution in which to place them eg orphanages, old age homes. These records can be found through the online catalogue of most Australian state archives.

Shauna’s talks can be found on her web site at http://www.shaunahicks.com.au/resources/

In the past I’ve used the array of  Dunwich Benevolent Asylum records to learn more about family members or others I’m researching and they have been helpful in rounding out what I know about the person, confirming hunches, and  revealing marital and family separations. BTW Dunwich Benevolent Asylum was on Stradbroke Island off Brisbane.

I’ll give you some examples of what I’ve learned from the records.

  1. Stephen Gavin #1, with his wife Honora, applied to be admitted to Dunwich Benevolent Asylum on 2 February 1889 when he became too frail to work and Honora was suffering from blindness. They had been living in western Queensland with a daughter and son-in-law who were no longer able to look after them. The couple died on Dunwich and were buried in an unmarked grave. Some 100 years laters a descendant and friend of mine, Carmel, erected gravestones in their memory. Stephen and Honora had survived the Great Potato Famine in Ireland and the drowning of their son early in their Queensland life.
  2. The Dunwich records helped me to confirm that an illegitimate child, registered as Stephen Telford, was indeed the son of Stephen Gavin junior (#2 and son of Mark Gavin) . The admission record also confirmed the children of Stephen Gavin and his wife/de facto Johanna even though their marriage is not registered in the civil indexes and provided information on their residences.
  3. It helped to confirm that Stephen’s (#2) father, Mark, was known as both Mark and Matthew -presumably to disguise Mark’s convict past.

Early hospital records in Queensland can also provide biographical data as well as providing clues to the early lives of pioneers in the colony eg I found a record for Carl Diflo, an immigrant from Bavaria during the time of his tenured service in Moreton Bay. Other records can be more frank than the death notice eg alcoholism may be more truthfully documented in the hospital records. All of these sources are worth a try if you can find a family name among them.

Judy Webster’s site on Queensland genealogical records can be a fantastic tool to locating people in these records as she has indexed a diverse array of sources. http://www.judywebster.gil.com.au/index.html

Judy’s publication: Tips for Queensland Research (2008 edition) is also a fabulous resource for family historians with Queensland heritage. She is also available to undertake paid research for people who are unable to get to the archives themselves. (No this is not a sponsored advertisement -just a genuine recommendation).

So if you get the chance take Shauna’s advice and follow up asylum records in your state of origin.