At the time of this writing in the State of Michigan many patient records from the various mental institutions across the State are housed at the Michigan Archives in Lansing, Michigan.
Unfortunately… you can’t view them. Patient records are closed to the public.
In accordance with current Michigan Law (Mental Health Code Act 258 – Section 748) all mental records are to be kept strictly confidential irregardless whether or not the patient is deceased. The archivists at the State Archives can’t even view the files.
In order to access the files you need to enter probate and request of the judge permission to view them. This is time consuming and can be costly. And the judge can deny your request and place restrictions on what you can do with the file(s) once received. Not very genealogist friendly.
I talked with an archivist who suggested that he could neither confirm nor deny whether there was any information contained in a particular patient’s file. The patient was a family member who had been institutionalized for at least 8 years at the Pontiac Mental Asylum in the early 1900s.
In other words I could pay the court fees to enter probate only to be denied access or to find out that there is no pertinent information to be found. Quite the hassle.
Because of this I contacted my State Senator and my State Representative to request that legislation be created to allow genealogists and family historians access to these “closed” files if the patient is now deceased and the file is over 70 years of age.
What harm could this do?
I propose the following legislation…
UNSEAL ASYLUM PATIENT RECORDS OVER 70 YEARS OLD
Whereas Federal census reports are unsealed for public viewing after 70 years, we the undersigned genealogists and family historians request that Michigan release patient records from the various Michigan-based mental institutions if and when over 70 years old, an ample amount of time to protect the confidential nature of the files.
As genealogists and family historians we have a basic right to view files pertaining to our respective families. Already in Michigan we have access to numerous death records archived and digitally made accessible through seekingmichigan.org.
We do hereby request that the aforementioned patient files be made accessible for viewing at the State Archives and/or digitally made accessible for viewing via seekingmichigan.org.
These patient files help genealogists and family historians to understand the nature of their “committed” family member so as to understand 1) why they were committed and 2) what treatment(s) the family member patient underwent and 3) what mental illness(es) may be genetic.
What can you presently do if you have a Michigan ancestor who was placed in a Mental Asylum?
You can still access the guardianship file from the probate court within the county wherein your ancestor lived. You will need to find the probate court and request the file. Many of these files will be on microfiche and you may need to visit the county to view these yourself. Or you will be dependent on a probate employee who may or may not access the record, may not conduct a thorough enough search, or flat out refuse to look.