Learning About the Past

Submitted by Kay at Home on April 10, 2020 - 3:27pm

I’ve been taking advantage of time at home to work on family genealogy. Deep dives into the past, scanning records, helps time fly. [An exciting note is: Ancestry Library Edition is now available to us at home during the shelter-in-place order (it is usually only available in-library).]

When exploring genealogy though, I’ve learned to prepare to learn hard truths. One thing I recently discovered is three of my immigrant great-great-grandparents spent their last days in what was referred to in the early 20th-century as institutions for the insane.

Hudson River State Hospital -Hviola / CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)

[Hudson State River Hospital - photo attribution: Hviola / CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)]

I do not know what drove them there but can speculate. All three came to this country while fairly young, English was a second language, and all lost at least one young child. All were members of the working poor. They didn’t have access to modern mental health resources or therapy.

The places they wound up were state of the art at the time, but look to modern eyes like horror houses, and all stressed work was therapy, so no rest for the weary. Mary, who was placed in her “home” on Staten Island by her daughter Josie, was a waitress at the institution’s cafeteria. Anna’s incarceration was remembered vaguely by her namesake, my grandmother, who told me Greystone was aptly named.

What did Frank think about the grounds of the Hudson River State Hospital, designed by Frederick Law Olmstead best known for Central Park in New York City. Did Frank enjoy the views?

What I know is that my world view is enriched by knowing the past. I also read a lot of contemporary immigrant literature, and respect those daring so much to come to a different world, because it isn't, and wasn't, easy. Genealogy reinforces that.

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