Finding an ancestor in the mental health records

Graham and Emma Maxwell have started looking at mental health records of Scots admitted to various asylums (National Records of Scotland records MC2 and MC7), with a view to indexing these by name of patient, thus opening them up more to family history researchers. They knew of my Cavers one-name study, so when they stumbled across a Cavers reference they kindly sent me the images. And it turns out to be a relative of mine.

William Cavers (1798-1873) was my distant g..uncle, son of Francis Cavers and Euphemia Hogg, and younger brother of my 4xg-grandfather Thomas Cavers. Like most of the men in his immediate family William worked as a shepherd, moving about various parts of the Borders and other parts of southern Scotland. By 1859 he was at Ancrum, living with his wife Mary and some of their children.

At this time, before Dingleton Hospital opened at Melrose in 1873, people suspected of being lunatics in the Borders were typically sent to Musselburgh, near Edinburgh, to be assessed, and admitted to the asylum there if need be. So that was where William was sent. The records reveal he was certified insane, and admitted to Millholme House there. It is definitely “my” William, because the details recorded include his age, marital status, ocupation, place of abode, the parish or union to which he was chargeable i.e. his place of birth (Kirkton in Roxburghshire), and details of his next of kin (son Francis Cavers).

And of course the records include details of his mental state. When assessed in late May 1859 he was noted as having been insane for three and a half years, with the first attack occurring on 1st January 1856. In May 1859 a physician and surgeon gave evidence that he had examined William Cavers at “The Lockup House” at Selkirk, and found him to be exhibiting great excitement of manner and boasting of things he has no prospect of. Most telling is the evidence from William’s wife and daughter, of his restlessness at night, his refusing to rest, and his berating them. Various neighbours also gave evidence of this.

I don’t know what treatment if any William received. But he was released from Millholme House, only to be readmitted again, this time to Campie Lane also at Musselburgh, soon after. Though this second time the doctor examining him could not find anything particularly wrong with him mentally, apart from a tendancy to mental excitement. He also noted that the man’s physical health and condition was good.

William was discharged from Campie Lane on 30th August 1859. As far as I know he wasn’t readmitted to any asylum, though I hadn’t known about this case before and it is possible he did go in again. He appears in later census returns, in 1861 at Ashkirk and in 1871 at Makerston, recorded with his wife and family. And he died at St Boswells in 1873.

I know of other ancestors who ended up in asylums. John Cairncross uncle-in-law of my gg-grandfather Thomas Cavers Hall died in an asylum. And two siblings of my great-grandfather John Dodds died at Dingleton Hospital in Melrose. But there may be more still to find, which emerge as Graham and Emma’s indexes go online. Keep an eye on these indexes as they evolve over time. They can be searched easily at Scottish Indexes. Emma has also written a useful blog post, explaining these records in more detail.

About vivdunstan

Academic historian, genealogist, former computer scientist, and Doctor Who fan.
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4 Responses to Finding an ancestor in the mental health records

  1. vivdunstan says:

    Reblogged this on Cavers One-Name Study Blog and commented:

    Reblogging the story of my g..uncle William Cavers, as revealed by mental health records.

  2. Alison Hall says:

    This is fascinating. We came across Millholme previously when we thought a relative had been there but after further research realised that the woman there wasn’t our one. Can you let me know the dates covered by the records? Thanks

    • vivdunstan says:

      As far as I know the records that Graham and Emma have started to index run from 1858 onwards. There may be other more local records for a given asylum, for example I know Dingleton has its own records, held, I think, at Edinburgh University archives. And there may also be references to asylum cases in parochial board records for individual parishes who were responsible for poor relief etc. But this central asylum register, which covers the whole of Scotland, seems to run from 1858 onwards.

  3. Pingback: Finding another Cavers, this time a young married woman, in the mental health records | Cavers One-Name Study Blog

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