Ancestors in lunatic asylums

This guide was last updated in 2012

While it can be a shock to discover that an ancestor spent time in an asylum, it can be a very rewarding trail for the family researcher, explains Jenny Thomas.

It can come as a terrible shock for genealogists to find an ancestor who spent time in a lunatic asylum. The very words can conjure dark and foreboding images, many of them acquired from novels, films and a general knowledge of the harshness of life at the time. However, an ancestor in a lunatic asylum can also provide an excellent opportunity for research, including the incentive to discover what their life might actually have been like, free of the stereotypes that so readily spring to mind.

Gregg Wallace's great great grandmother, Selina Leythorn, spent the last years of her life in the Devon County Lunatic Asylum at Exminster. The Who Do You Think You Are? researchers were not only able to discover when and why Selina was admitted, but unearthed all kinds of other details about how she might have lived and been treated, and how she would have occupied her time. Gregg visited the building, now converted to residential housing, which still stands today.

Here are some ideas about where you might begin your search for a family member who spent time in a lunatic asylum.

Look at the social history
previous Step
Starting your search
next Step
We use cookies to improve your experience of our website. Cookies perform functions like recognising you each time you visit and delivering advertising messages that are relevant to you. Read more here