Understanding the Athens County, Ohio Infirmary / Poorhouse Records

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Transcriptions are shown in the order in which they appeared in the original books. Most are chronological, but a few appear out of that order for some reason.

     Terms Used 

Can you TRUST the records?

  • Basically, yes. Some of the information is an out-and-out lie, but the records show that, and the person usually is dismissed. The most common lie is residency. The reason is simple. Without a qualifying length of residency in the township/county, a person was not eligible for the aid. 

  • Sometimes the potential inmate gave the vital information for the paperwork, and sometimes it's obvious someone else gave the information. The records do not indicate from whom the information was obtained. It could be the inmate himself/herself, Trustees of the township, family members, neighbors, etc. **Do not discount the validity of an entry because of the "neighbor" reference. In the time frame given, one's neighbors would know considerably more about you, your life, and your circumstances than one's neighbors in today's World.

  • See each explanation to determine the possible validity of your particular entry in question.

  • It also seems that some amount of research was done on the inmates of the infirmary. It was discovered that Inmates had 

    • lied about residency; they were sent to appropriate County's Infirmary or returned to the proper County's trustees.

    • ran away from other Infirmaries, they were then returned

    • gave false names, corrected names are given

    • gave false ages; this applies primarily to unwed mothers, and is usually discovered when the inmate returns at a later date.

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How a person came to be at the infirmary / poorhouse - 

  • Admittance papers - Persons sent to the Infirmary usually came with "papers". These papers were apparently drawn up by the Trustees of the Township where the person resided. (There are exceptions, see Residence below). The "admittance papers" all contained the same basic information: Name, date of admittance, Township, Age, Length of residence in Township or County (see Residence below), previous habits, present condition, and dismissal notes, death of date, or in the case of some children: the name of the person the child was bound out to, the date of such event and the location of the adult accepting the bound child.

  • Reasons for admittance or "Present Condition" - First it's important to remember the structure of the family unit during the time frame. If the "breadwinner" was ill or unable to provide, the entire family usually went into the Infirmary with that person. They had no other means of support and had little choice. If the Woman of the house was admitted, her children usually went with her; even if the husband or other adults stayed at the home. With that in mind, here are the basic reasons a person or family was admitted.

    • Destitute - poor, unable to provide & support themselves/family, or unable to be supported by their family: the latter pertains to children and the elderly mostly.

    • Sick - Too ill to care for themselves/family, or too ill to be cared for at home; no one to care for them while ill.

    • Pregnant - this usually applies to unwed mothers

    • Orphan - no family left, able or willing to take the children in

    • Insane - This seems to have a much broader meaning than it would today in 2003. Some were back and forth between the Asylums and the infirmary, other were "cured" and dismissed

    • Fits / Epileptic - I am unsure of what exactly constitutes "fits", but it seems to be interchangeable with epileptics at times. It is also used to term persons who have neurological disorders and also drunken 'fits". I am searching for a more concise definition and will post it here when obtained.

    • Transient - homeless and/or traveling from one place to another.

    • Old age - the infirmary served as a nursing home of sorts to many elderly persons who had no way to support themselves and no family that could or would take them in.

  • Neighbors & or Family members sometimes took matters into their own hands and wrote to the infirmary or trustees asking that a person be admitted to the infirmary. Said person was usually considered by the neighbors to be a threat, a nuisance, insane or in a state of great need of assistance.

  • Self - Sometimes the entries state that the Inmate himself/herself, has requested admittance.  

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Residency is given two ways:

  • Township admitted by - It seems that the Township Trustees were responsible for the paperwork sent with each Infirmary Inmate. By noting what Township's Trustees were directing the admittance, one can determine what Township the Inmate was residing at that time. NOTE: Occasionally one township will admit someone from another township within the County, but the record is usually noted as such.

  • Length of Residence - The length of residence given is typically for the amount of time the inmate has resided in that particular TOWNSHIP. When the length of residence is given for time in the COUNTY, it is noted as such. Some records note the length of residence in the County as well as the township. When no specification is made, the reference of time is for the TOWNSHIP.

  • It is obvious from the records that a certain length of residency was required in order to be admitted into the Infirmary. I do not know that exact amount of time. The length of residency may also have changed over time to allow shorter residencies, or require longer residencies. That information is not yet known to me. For the most part, it seems that two months is not sufficient, yet six months seems to be permitted. Person's not meeting the required residency were either dismissed from aid, or sent to their "proper residence", which was usually another County or County infirmary.

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Birthplace -

  • Self explanatory. Some Birth locations are specific; others are more general. Some are not known.

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Previous Habits -

  • This seems to be more of an opinion based on one or several of the following possibilities:

    • Behavior witnessed during a previous residency at the Infirmary

    • Assessment made based on appearance; clothing, personal hygiene and financial status.

    • Testimony of the Trustees through their knowledge of persons in their respective township.

    • Testimony of others, whoever was giving the information such as family members, neighbors, etc. It is possible that when a person was being considered for admittance to the Infirmary, that the Trustees went in search of the information. 

    • "Not known" seems self explanatory. It's often found but not limited to: persons who have not lived in the Township very long, or those who have lied about their residency.

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Terms Used

  • Indolent - (from Merriam-Webster Dictionary) 1.a: averse to activity, effort, or movement : habitually lazy b : conducing to or encouraging laziness  c : exhibiting indolence 

  • Intemperate - (from Merriam-Webster Dictionary) not temperate <intemperate criticism; especially : given to excessive use of intoxicating liquors 

  • Destitute - (from Merriam-Webster Dictionary) 1 : lacking something needed or desirable <a lake destitute of fish. 2 : lacking possessions and resources; especially : suffering extreme poverty

  • Infirm - (from Merriam-Webster Dictionary) 1 : of poor or deteriorated vitality; especially : feeble from age 2 : weak of mind, will, or character : IRRESOLUTE, VACILLATING 
    3 : not solid or stable : INSECURE ; synonym see WEAK

  • Transient - Persons in transit from one place to another. OR Homeless, or with out a settlement of their own.

  • Pauper (from Merriam-Webster Dictionary) 1 : a person destitute of means except such as are derived from charity; specifically : one who receives aid from funds designated for the poor 2 : a very poor person 

  • Temperate - (from Merriam-Webster Dictionary) 1 : marked by moderation: as a : keeping or held within limits : not extreme or excessive : MILD b : moderate in indulgence of appetite or desire c : moderate in the use of intoxicating liquors d : marked by an absence or avoidance of extravagance, violence, or extreme partisanship.

  • Bound Out -  Indentured, or similar to indentured. Also similar to present day foster care. There were legal term set on the conditions of the "bound" person as well as the person accepting them. Terms might include such things as length of time to be "bound", payment to the person accepting the "bound" individual, "Items that may be 'paid' to the "bound person upon completion of their term, etc.  (from Merriam-Webster Dictionary) 1 : placed under legal or moral restraint or obligation.

Illnesses & Medical terms found in the transcription

  • Ague - This was an all-encompassing term for symptoms of fever, chills, aches and pains, nosebleeds, and a cough.  What people actually had was Malaria.  Malaria was spread by mosquitoes, and caused severe fevers, chills, and weakness.  Victims suffered outbreaks of the condition throughout their lives, and were vulnerable to numerous other potentially deadly diseases.

  • Apoplexy - A sudden diminution or loss of consciousness, sensation, and voluntary motion, usually caused by extravasations of blood or serum into the brain or spinal cord. 2. The condition of any organ or tissue marked by an effusion of blood into its substance as in of the lung. Cerebral: disturbance of brain circulation as by hemorrhage, embolism of thrombosis.

  • Catarrh  - An inflammatory affection of any mucous membrane, in which there are congestion, swelling, and an alteration in the quantity and quality of mucous secreted. In America, especially, a chronic inflammation of, and hyper secretion from the membranes of nose or air passages. in England, an acute influenza, resulting from a cold and attended with cough, thirst, lassitude and watery eyes; also, the cold itself. Catarrh Pneumonia is an inflammation of the lung tissue associated with catarrh and with marked evidences of inflammation of the bronchial membranes - often chronic.

  • Clap - Gonorrhea

  • Cholera - an acute, infectious epidemic.  There were different types of cholera, but all were highly contagious, and all had severe symptoms of nausea, vomiting, spasms, chills, and thirst.  Cholera was caused by bacillus, often which had contaminated water supplies.  In the early 1800s, doctors tried to treat cholera by bleeding, blistering, or cupping, or they suggested that feeding milk to patients would cure the disease.

  • Consumption - Merriam-Webster defines as: a progressive wasting away of the body especially from pulmonary tuberculosis.

  • Dropsy - An unnatural accumulation of serous fluid in any serous cavity of the body, or in the subcutaneous cellular tissue. The various forms of dropsy affecting different parts of the body are designated by specific names. Often associated with the heart.

  • Fits - A sudden violent attack of a disorder; a stroke of disease, especially epilepsy or apoplexy, which produces convulsions or unconsciousness. Fits were also sometimes caused by excessive alcohol or detoxification from alcohol use.

  • Grip - a spasm of pain. Also see GRIPPE, in case of recorder's misspelling.

  • Grippe - The influenza or epidemic catarrh. (see Catarrh above)

  • Infirm - Infirmed is not a medical term meaning not firm or sound physically; it means weak; frail...especially as a result of age.

  • Insanity - Insanity takes so many forms that a satisfactory rigid or narrow definition can not be made. It may be congenital, as idiocy, or acquired. It does not include certain states of transitory mental disorder, such as trances, epilepsy, hysteria, delusions, etc. insanity may be due to defective development, acquired disease or natural decay. The term "Insane" was used to describe permanent AND temporary conditions. The Transcriptions shows that people termed "Insane" were dismissed after being "cured". It is also used to define depression and melancholy.

  • Rheumatism - A constitutional disease, which may be acute, sub acute or chronic manifesting itself in a variety of morbid states and characterized by pain of various types. Objective symptoms may be fever, local redness, and swelling when acute,...great deformity may result. The disease attacks joints, muscles, or serous structures.

  • Syphilis - a venereal disease that often was the cause of "insanity" since it tended to affect the nervous system of the body and brain. 

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