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Chapter remembers Grafton, welcomes Komar as speaker

April 20, 2012
By ESTHER McCOY - Staff writer ( , The Herald-Star

The Jefferson County Chapter Ohio Genealogical Society March meeting was held at the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints with a memorial program presented by Flora VerStraten-Merrin, president, to honor Gordon Grafton, who died on Feb. 21.

He was a board trustee and "a faithful genealogy member." His obituary and a letter to the editor were submitted to the chapter scrapbook.

VerStraten-Merrin presented the chapter with a donation from Grafton's estate, the children's register book from the McCullough Children's Home. She will share information on the book to the Survivors and Seekers group at the April meeting. The book will be made accessible to individuals seeking their family history from the children's home.

VerStraten-Merrin presided at the first meeting, with 30 in attendance.

She noted that membership in the organization allows access to the "members only" section of its website at, where access to newsletters and other genealogical and family history materials can be located and researched.

Speaker Gail Komar, chapter treasurer, addressed the topic "How Crazy Were We?," offering a look at the mental health documents of the past in the county.

She shared photos of the four major insane asylums: Cincinnati, Athens, Columbus and the Massillon asylum, which opened in 1898 and was where most cases from Jefferson County were sent.

An epilepsy hospital opened in November 1893 in Gallipolis. Before that, epileptics were sent to insane asylums, it was noted. The information on psychiatric patients is not open to the public but in some counties can be accessed by proof of being the oldest living relative to the patient.

Komar noted that the reasons for this privacy may be due to patient confidentiality or because of the confidentiality of the admitting judge or physician, as inmates were listed in the 1850 census.

More women than men were admitted due to different standards, according to Komar. If a man believed his wife to be disobedient, he could have her admitted for lunacy. A woman, however, could not do the same thing. A father could have his daughter committed because he wanted her inheritance given to a male relative.

Other reasons included a woman admitted due to her intermediate female problems and softening of the brain and an expectant mother of five was admitted due to "derangement of internal organs." A man was admitted due to lack of money and failure to find work and a woman admitted due to depression and melancholy after the birth of her child.

"Many illnesses were legitimate but many are easily seen to be cases needing medical attention or the use of other social services," Komar said.

As of December 2011, the genealogy website added mothers' pension files, delayed and corrected births, criminal records and coroners' reports. These can be accessed by members only, as well as the quarterly newsletters, it was noted.

Judy Schmidt gave a calendar report of upcoming events, announcing the next public meetings at the church are: June 11 at 6:30 p.m., when Schmidt will talk on boat travel and accidents on the Ohio River, and Sept. 10, when VerStraten-Merrin will address the topic of emigration, since the area is a large melting pot.

The chapter welcomed Bill and Beverly Pace from Utah, volunteers in the office, working on digitizing records since December 2011.

Albert and Lynn Mooney were reintroduced. They have been working on preparing probate packets to be digitized for a longer time.

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