My Ancestor was a... Lunatic

By Kathy Chater ...

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Many family historians find gaps in their family tree, someone may suddenly disappear, either for a period of time or permanently. There are many explanations for such disappearances, but one of the more common reasons is mental illness. Then, as now, some people had breakdowns in their health needing a spell in an institution. In the past, little distinction was made between the mentally ill and the mentally handicapped, indeed they were usually lumped together in the same institutions.

This handbook aims to help you to find surviving medical records about your ancestors with a mental illness or a disability. It describes the history of how we approached mental illness, from medieval times to the present day. There are specialized chapters on the criminally insane, suicides, and records in Scotland and Ireland. There is also a chapter providing help on finding your ancestors who cared for and treated people in asylums.

Kathy Chater has been tracing her family tree for forty years and writes and lectures widely on family history.

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