Monday, March 13, 2017

Old Massachusetts Hospital Records and Patient Files

Old hospital medical records or patient files are a common request we receive at the State Library, usually from patrons who are researching their family history.  Questions such as these get even trickier when a particular hospital no longer exists—where did the records end up?  While the Library does not collect or house these types of records, over the years we’ve made note of the Massachusetts libraries and archives that do.  An important note before beginning your research: many patient records and other files have restricted public access due to medical privacy laws.  Some archived collections are restricted at the discretion of the librarian or archivist, and access may have to be determined on a case-by-case basis.  Make sure to contact the holding institution about record accessibility before your visit.

Danvers State Hospital circa 1880. The hospital permanently closed its doors in
1992. Many of its records are located at the Massachusetts State Archives

Massachusetts State Archives:  The Archives mainly collects materials produced by state agencies, and these include records from state hospitals and sanatoriums, mental health facilities, almshouses, and reform schools.  Here’s the best way to search their collections:  Visit ArchiveGrid and in the search bar type “contributor:33” (this is the number assigned to the State Archives) and then a search term (name of the hospital, “patient records,” “case files,” etc.)

Example of search results using ArchiveGrid

Contact info:
Secretary of the Commonwealth
Massachusetts Archives
220 Morrissey Blvd.
Boston, MA 02125
Phone:  617-727-2816

Harvard’s Countway Library of Medicine:  Use Harvard Library System’s HOLLIS+ catalog to search the types of records Countway has in their archives and manuscripts collection.  For example: type in a general or specific search term (ex. “patient records,” “hospital,” name of the institution, etc.) and hit Enter. Next, on the left side, you can narrow down your results by clicking “Archives/Manuscripts” under Resource Type, and then click “Countway Medicine” under Location.

Contact info:
Francis A. Countway Library of Medicine
10 Shattuck St.
Boston, MA 02115
Email:  Ask-A-Librarian online form
Reference Phone: 617-432-2134

City of Boston Archives:  The city’s Archives also have record collections for Boston-area hospitals, including those for Long Island Hospital and the Boston Lunatic Hospital.  Users can keyword search their online catalog for other related record collections, too.

Contact info:
City of Boston Archives and Records Management
201 Rivermoor St.
West Roxbury, MA 02132
Phone:  617-635-1195

ArchiveGrid:  As mentioned earlier, ArchiveGrid is a great tool to use for searching collections at the State Archives.  However, it can also be used for searching other repositories in Massachusetts and across the United States.  If you’re still having trouble finding the location of certain records, try searches that cast a wider net to see if there are any not-so-obvious collections out there that may be helpful with your research.

Kaitlin Connolly
Reference Department