Records of State Mental Hospitals at the Illinois State Archives, Part 1 | Newberry

Records of State Mental Hospitals at the Illinois State Archives, Part 1

NOTE: A follow-up to this post was published on Thursday, July 26, 2012, with the title “Help in Accessing Closed Records of Illinois State Mental Hospitals.” It answers many of the questions we have received via comments. To learn more about accessing mental health records, please read this follow-up after reading the post below. To get answers to Individual questions, contact a librarian.

When a genealogist finds an ancestor in the U.S. Census enumerated in a state mental hospital, questions naturally arise.  Why was my ancestor in this institution? How long was he or she there?  What was it like to be there?

The answers to these questions are hard to get because mental health patient records are closed in Illinois.  The patient or his or her guardian must sign a release of information.  After death, the release comes through the executor of the patient’s estate or through a court order issued in an Illinois circuit court.

Patient records are held in one of three places:  the Illinois State Archives (ISA) in Springfield, the hospitals, and more recent records by the Illinois Department of Human Services. The Archives advises that case files were not required to be retained until the early 1980s, so there are likely losses.  Case files from the 1800s at ISA consist of large registers with a few lines of description, not voluminous file folders full of material.

“Basically any record from a mental health and developmental center that mentions a patient name is closed – this includes what would seem like mundane things such as ‘Registers of Visitors’ or ‘Telephone and Telegraph Messages,’” explains ISA archivist John Reinhardt.  It does not matter how old the record is.

The good news is that there are many open records that will give you a context about the institution to which your ancestor was committed.  Examples are photos, floor plans, statistics, funding levels, descriptions of therapeutic programs, and reports on living conditions.

I discuss the open records at the Illinois State Archives in this article.  Future articles will cover the ISA’s closed records and the process of obtaining a court order to access them, as well as additional sources of open and closed material.

Past and Present State Hospitals

  • Alton State Hospital
  • Anna State Hospital
  • Chester State Hospital (treated the criminally insane)
  • Chicago State Hospital
  • Dixon State Hospital (treated epileptics and the developmentally disabled)
  • East Moline State Hospital
  • Elgin State Hospital
  • Galesburg State Research Hospital
  • Jacksonville State Hospital
  • Kankakee State Hospital
  • Manteno State Hospital
  • Neuropsychiatric Institute (Chicago)
  • Peoria State Hospital
  • Tinley Park State Hospital

The Descriptive Inventory of the Archives of the State of Illinois (online at, or in hard copy at many libraries) provides thumbnail histories of many hospitals and their name changes. For example, RG (Record Group) 267.000 notes how Galesburg State Research Hospital became Galesburg Mental Health Center.

You’ll need both the RG number and the record series number to request holdings at the Archives. 

RG numbers consist of three digits followed by a decimal point and three zeros.  267.000 in the previous paragraph is an example of a RG number. 

Record series numbers indicate sub-sections of record groups.  Record series numbers consist of the first three numerals of the RG number followed by a decimal point and three digits of sequentially ordered numbers.  103.228 mentioned later in this article is an example of a record series number.  It identifies “Governors’ subject files (index division)” within records from the Secretary of State’s Office at RG 103.000.

Although mail research requests are permitted, they can only be done for indexed records, and only three of the record series listed below contain indices. “Due to limitations on staff time we are unable to research administrative or correspondence files or any non-indexed records,” clarifies Reinhardt, “but they are available for public use at the Archives.  I highly recommend that, prior to making a mail request, researchers contact us regarding the ability of our staff to research the records of interest and for clarification of any research and copy fees.” 

Illinois residents pay no research fee and receive up to two non-certified photocopies (if found) at no charge when submitting a research request.  The cost of additional photocopies is $0.50/page.

Non-residents prepay a non-refundable $10 fee that includes up to two non-certified photocopies (if found).  The cost of additional photocopies is $0.50/page. See for more information.

The ISA reserves the right to limit the number of additional photocopies provided both to Illinois and non-Illinois residents, based on the amount of material requested, because of the small number of staff.

Given that distance research is severely limited, and that most of the material is unindexed, in-person visits will be most productive.  You are the best judge of what you want to learn and the level of detail you wish to pursue. You will also make many more contextual connections reviewing a swath of material and forming a big picture. The archivists are there to answer questions that arise. It’s actually a more efficient use of your time to do the research in person.  Just make sure to double-check with the Archives before your visit to confirm access to the items you wish to see.

Contact information: Illinois State Archives, Norton Building, Capitol Complex, Springfield, IL 62756, telephone (217) 782-4866, facsimile (217) 524-3930.  Hours are 8 am – 4:30 pm weekdays, except state holidays.  The Norton Building is located near the northwest corner of Edwards Street and Second Street.  Use the handicapped-accessible entrance.  Like other government archives, you’ll need to go through a metal detector in the lobby and store coats and large items in a locker.  Parking is available at the Visitor’s Center on Edwards Street between College and Pasfield. Daily Amtrak trains also serve Springfield; the station at 100 N. Third Street is about five blocks away.

Open Records of State Hospitals at the Illinois State Archives

These edited listings are taken from the Descriptive Inventory and include the RG number, the name of the department that created the records, the subcategory, the overall date span, the total number of cubic feet of records, and the presence or absence of an index. I have listed them in RG order.  When no particular hospital is noted in the listing, assume that the records apply to all of the hospitals and/or references to all hospitals will be contained therein.

103.228 — Secretary of State

EXECUTIVE SECTION. GOVERNORS’ SUBJECT FILES (INDEX DIVISION). 1824-1960. 24 cu. ft. No index.  Mainly reports on expenditures, buildings and grounds and so forth.

  • Anna State Hospital (1869-1896)
  • Chester State Hospital (1893-1896)
  • East Moline State Hospital (1891-1896)
  • Elgin State Hospital (1870-1895)
  • Jacksonville State Hospital (1865-1871; 1879-1880; 1885-1896)

206.002 – Dept of Public Welfare

ADMINISTRATIVE RECORDS. Ca. 1928-1961. 66.5 cu. ft. No index.

Photographs of buildings, grounds, special facilities, and patient activities at mental institutions; annual reports of the Department of Public Welfare and of divisions, institutions, and programs under its control; reports of investigations of these institutions.

Continued by 218.001 — Dept of Mental Health and Developmental Disabilities

ADMINISTRATIVE RECORDS. 1961-1973. 27 cu. ft. No index.

Per ISA:  “These records do not normally contain patient names and are open with limited restriction – our staff reserves the right to review any material prior to it being copied by a patron in order to insure that no identifying information related to a patient is compromised.”

206.007 – Dept of Public Welfare

GENERAL ORDERS. 1910-1923. 1 vol. Index, 1910-1915, 2 vols.

Orders to department institutions concern patient care, duties of officers of institutions, construction of facilities, employee conduct, appointments, salaries, supplies, holidays, appropriations, job descriptions, workmen’s compensation, unions, safety, name changes of state institutions, and new divisions within the department.

206.009 – Dept of Public Welfare

REPORT ON THE STATE MENTAL HOSPITALS IN ILLINOIS. 1953. 3 vols. No index. Report of the Central Inspection Board of the American Psychiatric Association surveys, evaluates, and provides recommendations in regard to the operational phases of state mental health facilities.  Facilities evaluated include:

  • Alton State Hospital
  • Anna State Hospital
  • Chicago State Hospital
  • East Moline State Hospital
  • Elgin State Hospital
  • Galesburg State Hospital
  • Illinois Security Hospital
  • Jacksonville State Hospital
  • Kankakee State Hospital
  • Manteno State Hospital
  • Peoria State Hospital

218.008 — Dept of Mental Health and Developmental Disabilities

HOSPITAL ACCREDITATION SURVEY FILES. 1971-1974. 6 cu. ft. No index.

Records arranged by facility include correspondence concerning survey preparation, completed survey questionnaires, lists of standards with the facility’s performance noted, and survey results and recommendations. Questionnaires contain information on capacity of facilities, types of care available, construction, hospital bylaws, hospital ownership and management, compliance with laws and regulations, hospital resources, number and type of practitioners, and type and condition of facilities and equipment used. Records are included for:

  • Alton State Hospital
  • East Moline State Hospital
  • Elgin State Hospital
  • Galesburg State Hospital
  • Jacksonville State Hospital
  • Kankakee State Hospital
  • Manteno State Hospital
  • Peoria State Hospital

218.013 — Dept of Mental Health and Developmental Disabilities

FACILITY CLOSING FILES. 1975-1986. 2 cu. ft. No index.

Files include departmental surveys, proposals, studies, reports, and related correspondence which concern the closing and consolidation of mental health facilities. Subjects include statewide changes in client populations, the disposition of residents at facilities scheduled for closing, employee layoffs and transfers, displaced employee re-education programs, conversion and reuse of facilities, physical plant shutdowns, and the disposition of equipment. Also included are maps of facility grounds, structure floor plans, press releases, and newspaper clippings. Facilities addressed in these files include:

  • East Moline Mental Health Center
  • Galesburg Mental Health Center
  • Manteno Mental Health Center

243.012 — Dept of Corrections

DISCHARGE RECORD. 1878-1918; 1922-1970. 7 vols. Partial index, 1878-1918.

Record shows the inmate’s name, registration number, and type of discharge. For 1878-1918 record gives detailed information on escapes, deaths, pardons, and transfers to the insane asylum.

Per ISA:  Because these are prison records, they are open 75 years to the day after their creation. For example, a discharge record created February 3, 1937 would be open February 3, 2012.

 252.017 — Jacksonville Mental Health and Development Center

BIENNIAL REPORTS. 1847-1862. 1 vol. No index.

Biennial reports of the trustees, superintendent, and treasurer to the General Assembly include narratives on the construction and renovation of facility structures and sanitation systems; funding and expenditures; patient admissions, treatments, recoveries, and deaths; farm and garment shop production; legislation affecting the mentally ill; and personnel matters. Attached to narratives are listings of institution officers; copies of the institution’s articles of incorporation, bylaws, and general rules; and statistics concerning admissions, recoveries, discharges, funding, expenditures, and farm and garment shop production.

258.002 — Kankakee Mental Health Center

PATHOLOGICAL REPORTS. May 1, 1893-July 1, 1895. 1 vol. Index.

Autopsy reports on 192 patients are arranged by the type of diagnosed mental condition (e.g., senile dementia, chronic mania, organic brain disease). Reports include the patient’s admission number, age, and sex, cause of death, and comments regarding the conditions of vital organs. Occasionally provided are the duration of the mental condition, the length of institutionalization, and comments on the patient’s behavior. Also included are summaries of autopsy observations, photographs and drawings of the brain and other vital organs, and closing remarks of the staff pathologist concerning overall observations.

 Per ISA:  “These records are open to public inspection without restriction since no patient names are given.”

262.011 — East Moline Mental Health Center

PHOTOGRAPH FILES. 1898-1962. 0.25 cu. ft. No index.

Files include twelve photographs of former superintendents of the facility and six photographs of the grounds prior to the construction of the East Moline Mental Health Center building.

262.012 — East Moline Mental Health Center

SCRAPBOOK. 1953-1964. 1 cu. ft. No index.

Scrapbook of newspaper clippings concerns staff appointments, visitation days, mental illness panel discussions, volunteer programs, therapy projects, legal cases, facility improvements, operations of the hospital farm, recognition of personnel, Mental Health Week activities, hospital conditions, and fund drives.

 306.001 — Board of Mental Health Commissioners

ADMINISTRATIVE RECORDS. 1929-1971. 30 cu. ft. No index.

General file contains a wide range of material including reports, surveys, and investigations of state mental institutions, including material from the board’s 1962 investigation of Anna State Hospital; promotional material and publications of the Departments of Public Welfare and Mental Health; and photographs of inmates and employees of Jacksonville State Hospital taken during a 1963 legislative tour.

 351.003 — Board of Administration

REPORTS OF OFFICIAL VISITS. 1910-1915. 1 vol. No index.

Reports were made by the board’s alienist*, fiscal supervisor, physician, and various committees after visiting state institutions. Reports primarily deal with the treatment and care of inmates, living conditions, and maintenance of institutional property.

* A physician who is an expert witness on mental competence.

by Grace Dumelle, Genealogy and Local History Assistant