Just published in Mennonite Family History

The following story appeared in the recent (January 2020) issue of Mennonite Family History.

The Dark Web – A Hidden Past
by Lorraine Frantz Edwards

Not an original title; I appropriated “The Dark Web” from the term I learned from the TV program “48 Hours.” As the title implies, the dark, unpleasant side of the Internet. However, it reminded me of the “dark” side of documenting our family history. Recently, on Ancestry.com, I expanded upon the information of “cousins.” In the late 1980’s and early 1990’s, when I collected information for Frantz Families–Kith & Kin, I did not have the spouse and children. Currently, Ancestry.com provides “hints” and another generation, or two, was added to my database. In Frantz Families–Kith & Kin, very little information about Marietta Frantz (1876->1940?). Here is a quote from Vol. 3, p. 60.

Marietta Frantz. Born, 1875 (?), in Oakley Twp., Macon Co., IL. Note: “Mike’s daughter, Marietta, was unfortunate in experiencing some mental problems. Roy Crist wrote that Marietta was described as ‘a very attractive girl of about eighteen when she suffered such extreme disappointment in a love affair that it left her near a physical and nervous breakdown when she went away for treatment.’ She apparently was taking treatment at Topeka, Kansas the last anyone seems to know.”

The 1900 Federal Census lists her in Kansas State Insane Asylum, Topeka, Kansas. The 1920 and 1930 Federal Census lists her as a “patient.” The 1940 Census lists her as an “inmate.” A Google search of Larned State Hospital says “…largest psychiatric facility in the state serving the western two-thirds of Kansas… and the capacity to treat more than 450 patients daily, 24 hours a day, seven days a week.” 

An unsatisfactory search for information in 1910 Kansas Federal Census.

Additional Google searches (by this researcher) revealed an article titled “Top 10 Horrifying Facts About The Topeka Insane Asylum.” So difficult to read about the treatment of patients/inmates! The Internet brings us the benefits of family history research from the comfort of our home. The Internet brought an article that left me grieving for a little-known, possibly “forgotten,” cousin. My imagination runs rampant as I (figuratively speaking) put myself in her place. Here are a few excerpts from the aforementioned article.

Newspapers from the late 1800s were filled with reports on the abuses happening inside the insane asylum at Topeka State Hospital.

In the spring of 1911, charges were filed against the Topeka State Hospital that were supposed to lead to an investigation. The charges were made by former and current employees about the condition and treatment of the patients trapped inside the hospital.

People who were sent to the Topeka State Hospital were often never seen again by the outside world. It was easy to forget about relatives and unwanted spouses once they were on the inside.

However, visitations to those who were loved were severely restricted. Out of the 29 wards in the hospital, visitors were only allowed in four of them. Parents were not allowed to visit their children inside the hospital. Friends of inmates were also not permitted inside and had zero visitation rights. Dr. Biddle, the hospital’s supervisor, claimed that visits would interfere with the patients’ treatment.

In 1911, it was announced that a claim adjuster was looking into “the financial condition of all the inmates of state hospitals and of relatives bound by law to maintain them.” The Topeka hospital wanted more money than was being given by the state. In fact, the hospital had already begun taking families to court and had won a case the previous year, in which the supreme court ruled they could recover for the care of an inmate “from the time of his admission until the time of his death.”

To say that no one was trying to fight the abuses occurring in the hospital would be a lie. Many lawyers attempted to take on cases or initiated investigations into the claims of abuse, but they were always stonewalled. Mr. Hanson, a lawyer, tried to secure the release of several patients in the Topeka hospital. He was unsuccessful, and his patients were returned to captivity without receiving an examination or a hearing. To add insult to injury, the attorney general filed suit against Hanson for “harassing the state officials in charge of the Topeka state hospital and [to prevent him] from disturbing the patients at the hospital.”

Patient case files from 1872 until the 1960s were filmed and placed in the State Archives at the Historical Society. The originals were destroyed. Only familial relations of deceased patients and living former patients can request information from these records. Kansas Statute 65-5603, paragraph 14, specifies the information that can be released for family history research, including: dates of birth and death, dates at hospital, and names and addresses of family members.  The medical information, including the DIAGNOSIS, is not open. To obtain copies from these records, please fill out and submit our request form to the reference staff along with payment for our reference fee.

This researcher attempted to locate additional information about her first cousin, two-times removed. Numerous Google searches after multiple searches on Ancestry.com. No Kansas death information located. Furthermore, an attempt was launched (and canceled) through a website titled Online Kansas Death Records & Indexes but they wanted to charge my credit card for “free fourteen-day access.”

 

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