What is the process for writing the Dirk Bode article?

Jacksonville LOCI have been steadily working on the Dirk Jans Bode article for publication.  I am fascinated with the research on 19th century confinement of the mentally ill in Illinois.  Dirk was confined continuously in three different insane asylums (the language of the times) in Illinois, including Jacksonville shown on the left, between 1873 and his death in 1905. [1]

But, how does one start writing such an piece?  I am not a skilled writer and so I often have fits and starts and re-starts.  The process I used for this article was very different than the process used in other articles I have written.  I thought you might be interested. I would also be interested in your process and if this article was interesting.


When I am enamored with a topic I cannot stop talking about it– to my husband and friends and others–it just needs to be written.  As a genealogist, the article I have in mind is often related to an event or situation that has affected an ancestor.  I call that event or situation the “context.”  I so enjoy the development of the context that the focus of the article shifts from genealogy to context early in its development.  Luckily, the topics I am most interested have a solid core of context.  It’s a chicken-egg thing — do I pick the ancestor because the context is intriguing or do I pick the context and find an individual who exists in that world?  I have done both.

In this case, I started with Dirk, my great-grand uncle, but I wouldn’t have started with him if he had not had been institutionalized in Illinois asylums for over half his life.


I have the luxury of access to an academic library where I can check out materials on Inter-library Loan for free (to me) and have them delivered to my desk.  These books also usually have 6+ weeks of checkout time.  I also have access to JSTOR, a digital library of scholarly journals.  Both of these are searchable by topic and names.

I will check out everything that looks related, so often I have 6-7 books checked out and 10+ articles on my ipad to read.  I have already returned three books.  Presently, I have three books on my desk:

  • a book on Dorothea Dix crusading for better conditions in the mental institutions in Illinois in the 1840’s [2]
  • 1932 book published in honor of the 65th anniversary for the Northern Illinois (Elgin) Asylum for the Insane with scientific papers [3]
  • a journal (bound like a book) by a sane woman confined in Elgin for 1 year when Dirk was there.  Unfortunately, Kate refers to few and none by name.  I need to determine, if possible, the differences between her experiences/observations of life in an asylum for a woman was similar or radically different from that which Dirk would have experienced. [4]

I also have numerous articles about restraints, level of care by administrators etc. etc. all digitally stored.

I read or seriously skimmed each one and place small post-its on the pages that have something that might be of use in the paper.

While I am doing this, I start formulating the organization of the paper.

I also contact individuals who may be able to help.  The Chair of Psychiatry for the University of Washington gave me a name of a researcher in California of 20th century care. I contacted the historical society in Kane County (IL) who linked me up with a local historian who worked in Elgin and wrote a book on the history (read and returned on ILL).  We will meet in late June.  I have written the Stephenson and Kane County Circuit Court judges requesting release of Dirk’s medical and legal records.

I constructed a timeline of Dirk’s life as I based on the documentation (genealogy) and add context items, e.g. Elgin switched to electric lights in 1885–to get an even better understanding of the sequence of events and where the gaps exist.


For this paper, I decided on a chronology based organizational structure.  It seems the most logical given the idea that I am also tracking the changes in psychiatric care over a 30 year time frame.  It will, however, be a challenge to avoid “…and they they did this, and then they did that”  It should be more logical for the reader.  I then insert Dirk Bode’s events when I known them, into the narrative at appropriate times.


The first pass at the paper cannot be called a draft.

After I have read a book, I rereview it placing postit notes at the points that I think feed into the story.  I then go back to each postit note, identify the “point” turn away from the book, write what I think will advance the story and then use the marked page for facts but not for lanugage., full footnoting as I go.  Only occasionally do I find my self liking the turn of the phrase used by the author and when I do, I use either quotes or set off the larger clip from the rest of the document.   It is also possible that I continue to write the narrative because I have the background and insert a footnote number but not the citation.  Once I find the reference for those facts, I cite it appropriately.  If I do not find the reference, I rewrite the facts out of the manuscript.  (This happens rarely)  Since the paper is being written in chronological order I place the content in the approximate location to support the chrono headings.

With this approach there is often duplication or paragraphs I do not wish to include.  At the end of the document I place a line and add a title called Graveyard.  Here is where I put everything I cut from the document.  In the future I can retrieve either the narrative or the footnote.  Presently the article is 7 pages long with 2 pages of graveyard materials.

Then, the work begins!  I start reading, changing, re-writing the document over and over again.  This is the stage I am at right now. Sometimes it is tedious but it also is fun to see the article get better and better with each pass.

Dirk Jans Bode deserves the best.

And I am keeping a running list of other article worthy topics I could write about.  There are so many!

Happy Hunting!


What I have done since the last posting:  written the circuit courts for release of documents, emailed my request for Dirk’s death certificate, signed up for the OGSA conference, corresponded with the plenary speaker about his contract, completed the SGS Bulletin mailing, am just about done with the presentation on use of tools to find the German village of my great grandmother and decompressing from the NGS conference I also completed my speakers brochure for the GSG booth at NGS, printed more business cards and mini-cheat sheets to pass out and packed.  Whew!  I had better enjoy this week, I have nothing planned–seems like a gift.

[1] Detroit Publishing Company, “Insane Asylum, Jacksonville, Illinois,” between 1890 and 1900, digital image (http://www.loc.gov/pictures/item/det1994004598/PP/ : accessed 12 May 2014), Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.

[2] David L. Lightner, Asylum, Prison, and Poorhouse: The Writings and Reform Work of Dorothea Dix in Illinois (unknown: Southern Illinois University, 1999).

[3] The Elgin State Hospital Collected and Contributed Papers, Together with various notes and comments, published upon the occasion of it’s sixtieth anniversary, December 1932, (Chicago: Paramount Press: 1932).

[4] Kate Lee, pseudonym, A Year at Elgin Insane Asylum (New York: The Irving Company, 1902).



9 comments on “What is the process for writing the Dirk Bode article?

  1. Lynn goucher says:

    wow Jill! I am so impressed! Your focus, hard work and attention to detail is inspiring! I am even more impressed by the compassion you display about your topic. “Dirk Jans Bode deserves the best” brought tears to my eyes. Xo, Lynn

  2. Rachelle says:

    I meant to discuss this with you at NGS. I have a gg-aunt and her two sons at Eloise in the 1920 census…I think for old age and tuberculosis rather than mental illness, but think the issues might be similar for further research. I know what you mean about context and ancestor – chicken or egg? The ancestors with unique stories pull you in….

    • jkmorelli says:

      Absolutely! I have been corresponding with the individual who wrote the book about Elgin’s history. He is giving me great insights into the diagnosis of “chronic mania” and what it means (catch-all diagnosis for all they didn’t have a name for yet.) We can chat about this at some APG meeting. And I agree–the issues will be similar. Elgin took in tubercular patients at the turn of the century to assist with their “bottom-line.”

  3. Barry Janssen says:

    Hi, my name is Barry Janssen I just started working on my family tree in the last week after visiting some relatives in Wellsburg, Iowa about a month ago. As it turns out one of Dirk’s sister Hilke H Bode (1841-1868) was married to Weet O Janssen (1829-1861) who is the great-great grandfather of some of my relatives still living in Wellsburg. They had only one son (John Bode Janssen 1860-1919) and both had tragic deaths. Weet died in a threshing machine accident when John was only two and Hilke was killed when John was eight. Have read two different stories about his mothers death. One was a sledding accident and the other was she jumped from a a buggy when the horses got wild and hit her head. I will be following your work on Dirks.

    • jkmorelli says:

      Barry, nice to hear from a cousin! (Genealogists often call blogs “cousin bait” and it appears to have actually worked for me!) Yes, Hille is Dirk’s sister. The story of the wagon (as opposed to the sledding accident) is the story that is on the back of her tombstone which is now too deteriorated to read. I will let all of you know if it gets published and where.

      Thanks for reaching out.


    • jkmorelli says:

      Barry, FYI: the Jan Janssen Bode cemetery marker exists at the Ridott CRC cemetery but it is broken and leaning against a tree behind some other stones. As a founder of the church it might be nice if the family now living would have Jan’s stone placed at his gravesite and restored. Jill

  4. Barry Janssen says:

    Jill, Sorry for my ignorance but can you help me out with where Jan Janssen Bode fits into my family tree. I know John/Jan Bode Janssen is burried in Wellsburg, IA at the CFC. Also, is Ridott in German Valley, IL. I know a couple of the Bode brothers were ministers at the CRC in Wellsburg.

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