My Ancestor Was A Lunatic
Mental illness in the past (and to a certain extent today) was regarded as something to be concealed. For this reason family historians may encounter puzzling silences and absences in their family tree. This useful guide will help you to fill in those gaps.
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This book by Kathy Chater is one of the popular series My ancestor was a .., published by the Society of Genealogists. Kathy Chater is the author of several books, notably in the Tracing your .. series and also writes articles for family history magazines and lectures to family history societies.
The book traces the history of mental illness and insanity, in a simplified version, from medieval times to the present day. The introduction to the book gives a general definition of the term insanity at that time in history, and which medical issues such as senile dementia or mental retardation were applicable. The first four chapters of the book cover the medieval period from circa 1324 to the present day. Each chapter is divided into short easy to read sub-headed paragraphs and include a wide-range of topics: treatment, causes of mental illness and where to find historical records. Each chapter contains a bibliography for further reading.
The remaining seven chapters are subject specific: special interest asylums, the criminally insane, suicide, mentally disabled, treatment and care, and lunatics in Scotland and Ireland. Each chapter is again divided into sub-titled paragraphs.
Kathy has produced a very readable book on what is a very complex subject and it is extremely useful as background reading for those historians wishing to further their knowledge of lunacy. She has drawn on a wide-range of resources and websites for her information, which is enhanced by the comprehensive reading list. The book is well written and informative in easy to understand language and serves its purpose.
Friends of The National Archives.