As some of the regular readers of this blog are aware, I have been writing about my great grand uncle Dirk Jans Bode who spent 27 years in Illinois asylums for the insane in the late 1800s. In August of this year I hired a lawyer to request the mental health records of Dirk. While I will not know for several months whether I will have access to the records, I thought I would describe the process here.
The first thing to know is “what does the law say” for the state where the records of interest are held.  In this case, the state of Illinois laws prevail. They say… in all cases, at any time, no matter how ancient the record is or how long the individual has been dead, you must petition the court for the release of these types of records. With Bill Briska’s recommendation, I hired Michael Kalland, a lawyer in Elgin, Kane County, Illinois, to make the request to the Circuit Court for the following records for Dirk Jans Bode:
- Jacksonville Asylum (Morgan County) (a patient between the years c. 1872-1875.)
- Northern Illinois Asylum for the Insane (Kane County) (a patient between the years c. 1874-1902.)
- Bartonville (Peoria County) Asylum (a patient between the years c. 1902-1905.)
- Medical case book (Kane County) held in the State Archives (for the years 1897-1898.)
- Court commitment records (Stephenson County)
Michael was quick to point out a Circuit Court judge in one county can not order another county to give up their records which eliminated the request for items 1, 3 and 5. Except! The records for Jacksonville and Bartonville have been turned over to the state archives, so the request to the state for the release of the medical case book expanded to include the records for these two asylums. The final request was for the items nos. 1-4 and any other records held by the state or Kane County. Stephenson County holds the only record set (commitment papers) that are not affected by my request to the Kane County Circuit Court. I am still deciding whether I should hire a lawyer to request the commitment papers from Stephenson County.
Michael and I discussed the records, the process and the strategy of the petition. “Tracing your family history” is not a compelling reason for the judge to release the records. The scholarly approach taken with the paper I wrote on Dirk and his confinement at three different insane asylums added “weight” to the argument as it legitimized the request. Since there is a history of depression in my family, the request for Dirk’s medical history was based on the current patterns of this behavior implied by records of some of Dirk’s siblings and some descendants of siblings.
Our status at this point is that Mr. Kalland drafted and presented the petition to the Circuit Court for Kane County. The Judge signed the order (see photo on left above) to review the records in his chambers.(“in camera”). Based on that review, which has not yet happened, the judge will decide whether to release the records to me and under what, if any, stipulations. So, we wait for the records to arrive in his office for review. This generally takes months. But, one step at a time….the good news is that he signed the petition for his own personal review!
So, we now wait–and you all know how good I am with that!
Things I have done since the last posting: presented to SGS on the “Using the Non-population Schedules for Context and Evidence.” I do like this presentation. It was very well received at the 2014 Family History Fair on Saturday. Now that the SGS Bulletin is out, I must put together the SGS newsletter.
 Illinois Compiled Statutes Annotated, Chapter 740. Civil Liabilities; Mental Health and Developmental Disabilities Confidentiality Act, 740 ILCS 110/5. The judge referred to 5(e) in petition. There is no 5(e) but 7(e) reads “Except as otherwise provided in this Act, records and communications shall remain confidential after the death of a recipient and shall not be disclosed unless the recipient’s representative, as defined in the Probate Act of 1975 [755 ILCS 5/1-1 et seq.] and the therapist consent to such disclosure or unless disclosure is authorized by court order after in camera examination and upon good cause shown.”