Dirk Jans Bode: Requesting Mental Health Records

2014 0905 release of records DJBAs 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. [1] 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:

  1. Jacksonville Asylum (Morgan County) (a patient between the years c. 1872-1875.)
  2.  Northern Illinois Asylum for the Insane (Kane County) (a patient between the years c. 1874-1902.)
  3. Bartonville (Peoria County) Asylum (a patient between the years c. 1902-1905.)
  4. Medical case book (Kane County) held in the State Archives (for the years 1897-1898.)
  5. 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!

Happy Hunting!


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.

[1] 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.”


6 comments on “Dirk Jans Bode: Requesting Mental Health Records

  1. Mary Swenson says:

    As a retired counselor, I find this so fascinating! I look forward to hearing more about this process and the results in future blogs.

    I am well aware of your struggle with ‘waiting’! 🙂

    • Jill Morelli says:

      Thanks so much. While the numbers of people fascinated by Dirks story (and the many others like him, ) may be few, we make up for it with our high level of passion!

      The waiting is almost over.


      Professional genealogist Give the gift of family!


  2. Jan Dean says:

    Interesting post, Jill. If illnesses, such as depression, were viewed as medical problems, which they are, instead of as something to be hidden, we wouldn’t have to go through such a process to gain data. We can easily obtain death certificates listing all kinds of medical conditions, so why not mental conditions? Criteria for insanity have changed enormously in the last 100+ years. I’ll be interested to learn how the judge decides on Dirk Jans Bode.

  3. a gray says:

    Excellent educational post.

  4. Dana says:

    Wonderful post! I have a relative who was in an asylum in the late 1800’s and I’ve been wondering if I’d ever be able to access her records. Thanks for sharing how you’re attempting to see some of these records!

    • Jill Morelli says:

      Dana, every state is different. I understand there are states that just release the records after a certain amount of time. Illinois does not. Was you ancestor in the asylum in 1880? If so he/she might appear in the 1880 non-population schedule of Delinquent, Defective and dependent Schedule. There is a lot of information there. You can access these records through ancestry.


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