My grandfather was dropped off at a police station on Christmas Eve of 1922 and never saw his mother again. The story has stuck with me for my entire life. As a kid, I couldn't imagine never seeing my mom again, and as a mom, I cannot imagine parting with my children. The extenuating circumstances must have been extreme, but they're remained a mystery nearly 100 years later. What we do know is that my great grandmother ended up at Central Islip State Hospital, and presumably died there, though no death certificate has been located.
I've been trying to dig and uncover a bit more of the mystery- which sent me looking for her hospital records from Central Islip State Hospital. The hospital was originally opened in 1889 under the name New York City Farm for the Insane, and later became Pilgrim Psychiatric Center, which is still in operation today.
All of Central Islip State Hospital records are located in the New York State Archives, series 20200. But, they are locked and sealed due to the New York State Mental Hygiene Law. In order to be granted access, one must write to a letter requesting disclosure to the Office of Mental Health (OMH) at:
Health Information Management Unit
Pilgrim Psychiatric Center
NYS Office of Mental Health
998 Crooked Hill Rd
West Brentwood, NY 11717-1087
In the letter, I’ll be including the probable admission time, why we believe she was a patient there, and proof that I am indeed her descendant. These types of records are incredibly personal in nature, even 100 years later, so if they are not able to disclose them, I am asking for a copy of a photo (if available) her place of residents, employment information, next of kin, and any visitor information that might be slightly less confidential.
Unfortunately, I had no luck obtaining any medical records. I've heard from hundreds of you who are in the same boat! I've recommended requesting death certificates for those who passed on at Central Islip, as it provides a bit of information and some closure, but my own request for a death certificate was denied because of the Mental Health and Hygiene Laws!
What do you think about the confidentiality and mental health laws as they pertain to genealogical research? Should records be freely available after 100 years? Or kept under lock and key? Tell me your thoughts in the comment section!
*Update: When I wrote this post, I had no idea how many other people were looking for records of their loved ones from Central Islip. If you'd like to be updated about this topic, please leave your email below. There's power in numbers, so perhaps all of us together can petition for a breakthrough!
[don't worry, unless there's big news, you wont hear from me ... I have far too many kids to send out lots of emails!]
is a writer & tired homeschooling mom of five.