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Article posted: December 12, 1997
Medical Records at the Archives of Ontario
By: Ryan Taylor, Biography and Archived Articles
Medical records can provide an interesting glimpse into our relations' lives. They can also prove - or discredit - family legends.
At the Ontario Genealogical Society's SEMINAR '97 genealogical convention, Carol Heald of the Archives of Ontario discussed medical records in her care there.
Many people look for hospital records at the archives, but they will be disappointed. Hospitals are not government institutions, and have no responsibility for keeping their documents or making them public. Doctors' records can be found there, however. These are often account books, with single pages indicating amounts owed by one family. It is possible to use these records to follow the course of an illness, although the information given is slight. If you are lucky, a more detailed journal may be included.
These records come from all over, and are in the Archives of Ontario by chance. There is a published guide, which is available in the Reading Room. If you do not find a local doctor there, check in the archives which are closer to where the family lived.
Heald told how the true story of the death of Susannah Doner in 1872 was revealed by her doctor's journal. The story was that she had been jilted and died of a broken heart. The doctor's records revealed she had an illegitimate child, which caused her to leave her parent's house. She died of complications from the delivery, and the fate of the child is not known. Heald also mentioned that obstetrical details of the death of children, particularly difficult births, may be found in these records. These will be of great interest to anyone compiling a medical family tree.
Quite substantial records can be found at the Archives for psychiatric hospitals and tuberculosis sanatoria, both of which are run by the provincial government.
Records for the Queen Street hospital in Toronto go back to ts beginnings in
1839. There are nineteenth century records for the institutions in London,
Hamilton, and Kingston and from Penetang from 1904.
These documents are governed by the Freedom of Information Act and the Mental Health Act. if you have a relative who spent time in one of these hospitals, you should begin by looking at these two acts to determine what records might be available to you, and under what circumstances. Copies of all provincial acts can be found in the reference department of most Ontario libraries.
For those who died in the care of the provincial hospitals, there may be estate files, which are listed alphabetically in the finding aid for the hospital records in the reading room at the Archives.
For many years, the developmentally handicapped were classed with the mentally ill, and so they may be found in the records of the facilities at Woodstock, Orillia and Coburg.
The Homewood Sanitarium of Guelph, which was founded as a private business venture in 1883, has deposited its papers at the Archives up to 1941. Researchers looking for Homewood materials should begin their inquiries at the office of the director in Guelph.
In short, there are a great many of these kind of records available at the Archives Ontario, but access may be limited and finding the documents you want is not an easy road. As usual with interesting genealogical materials, perseverance and thoroughness are important.
To enquire about these materials, ask at the Archives of Ontario, 77 Grenville Street, Unit 300, Toronto, M5S 1B3. They have a toll free telephone line at 1-800-668-9933. Two recent pamphlets which introduce the Archives and family history research there are available at no charge. Editor's note:
Books By Ryan Taylor
Across The Waters, Ontario Immigrants Experiences 1820 - 1850 - by Frances Hoffman & Ryan Taylor, 1999. Riveting first-hand accounts of the immigration and settlement experience, taken from the diaries and letters of 150 immigrants.
Routes To Roots, The Best of Ryan Taylor's columns from the Kitchener Waterloo Record, by Ryan Taylor 1997
More Family History Research Resources