Monday, July 22, 2013

Every Family Has One

The first time you find one, it's a bit of a shock. But once I researched the state of mental health treatment in the 1800 and 1900s and realized how many people were institutionalized in hospitals, I surmised I would likely find more than one in my family tree...and I have. This was during the time when doctors basically had three classifications for every type of eccentricity:  idiot, lunatic, and epileptic. The epilepsy category didn't mean the patient, or inmate as they were called at the time, had epilepsy as we think of the disease, but rather they were prone to fits and seizures.

So, with that, let me introduce you to Charles J. Riggin, my first cousin twice removed. Charles was born in 1908 and his parents were Harrison Riggin and Frederica (Kohlenberg) De Ford. Frederica, or Reka as she was called by friends and family, was Harrison's second wife. She had been married before and had two sons by her first husband.  It was also Harrison's second marriage. He had five children already when he and Reka married. His children were parceled out to various relatives. During the 19 years before Harrison's death, he and Reka had four more children, including Charles.

Harrison and his new family lived mainly in Madison County, Illinois, which is across the Mississippi River from St. Louis. Harrison seems to have been a laborer working at odd jobs throughout his adult life.  In 1910 his step-son, Harvey, was already working in the coal mines. When Harrison died in 1922. Reka and Charles went to live her daughter, Harriet, and her husband. I assume Reka died sometime in the 1930s because she did not appear in the 1940 census and that's how I found out Charles must have had something about him that wasn't quite "normal."

It times like these in your research to keep my favorite ancestor's sage advice at the ready.

"If any family tree is shaken hard enough I am sure it will produce stories of heroes and horse thieves. Lives to be proud of, lives to imitate and some to regret. Your family tree, no doubt will be the same, so I think it is wise to remember that we are totally responsible for ourselves and our lives but we owe no debt to the past." -- Edith Mary Madeline (Ternes) Reynolds
The 1940 census indicates Charles was an inmate (yes, they were still called inmates in 1940!) at the Lincoln State School and Colony Farm. The institution first opened in 1865 as the Experimental School for Idiots and Feeble-minded Children.

Cottage I Lincoln State School and Colony Farm
Main Building, Lincoln State School and Colony Farm
The history of the institution is fascinating and I'll tell you about it in a future post.

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