Thursday, September 1, 2011

The tale of two Fannies

There was no way around the fact that the records were sealed. In perpetuity. Like forever. Without a court order, there was absolutely no way to get to them. The Probate Court clerks would not even provide a date range so we could figure out if the records were even related to, Frances (Fannie) Dixon, the Great, Great, Great, Great Grandmother in question. There was only one whispered hint. They were usually sealed for reasons of adoption or insanity. Well, we knew it wasn't adoption. She arrived from Virginia as a married woman.

I sat at the dining room table drumming my fingers and pondering the options. Fannie died in 1863 at 63 years old. She was in the census in 1860. It didn't make sense that she would have been committed because she died just 3 years later, safely in her bed.

I went back to the drawing board, frustrated. Well, OK, let's then revisit the last census she was in. For the first time, I noticed that they had a girl, named Fannie, living with them who was 22. That would have made her mother over 40 when she had her. Not all that unusual. But, what if the girl had Down's Syndrome, Cerebral Palsy or some birth defect. In the 1870 census, Grandma Fannie's husband John is living with their son, John Jr., no daughter Fannie to be found.

Working under the assumption that the girl had some sort of issues and lived at home until the mother died, then the father and brother could not or would not handle her, I took a chance, and checked the 1870 census to see if she might have been a resident at the local Infirmary. Bingo. There she was. She was also there in 1880.

Since my sister has a copy of the Infirmary records, I called her; and sure enough Fannie Dixon was placed in the Infirmary in 1867. So, her family did try to manage her for four years. BUT also in those records, was her being transferred to the State Hospital in 1888 at the age of 50. The State Hospital was the Insane Asylum.

While I do not know what Fannie's diagnosis was, I now believe that the sealed records at the Probate Court are where her family had her committed. Perhaps her condition deteriorated or she grew violent as she aged. There is no 1890 census to look at and I am not even sure if the residents of the State Hospital were enumerated in any census.

Have you found sealed records in your search? Were you able to work around them?

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