Thursday, 27 February 2014

Set sail for adventure

Okay, my kids will groan and tell me this is pathetic (at least, the teenager will, the younger one will just look at me like I have finally lost my mind), but I am off on an adventure.
Airship Pirates RPG cover. Image owned by Abney Park
No, not that kind (although I wish it was. I hope that one day soon it will be, although there may not be airships involved - sigh) - a genealogical research adventure.

I wrote last year about my great great uncle William O'Toole, the hairdresser and tobacconist who ended up in Callan Park Mental Hospital and then died in Parramatta Mental Hospital. Well, I have applied to look at his files. Gosh, that sounds simple, but it was an exercise in itself. You see, there are strict rules governing mental health records in NSW, as there should be. For starters, the files are closed for 110 years. That's okay for the first part of William's institutionalisation (he was admitted in 1895) but not for the last part (he died in Parramatta in 1919). So, if I wanted to look at the whole record set I had to ask for permission.

A phone call to State Archives at Kingswood set the ball in motion. The very helpful gentleman I spoke to told me who to contact at Western Sydney Local Health District, which holds the records for Parramatta Mental Hospital. He also told me that William was likely to have been transferred to Parramatta soon after killing Bartolomeo Vuscovitch as Parramatta housed the criminally insane. He also told me that when I got written permission, I would need to give the Archive five days' notice so they could extract the records for William while ensuring I would not see anyone else's.

So I rang Western Sydney Local Health District and spoke to a lovely lady named Margot Gover. Now it started to get complicated. Requesting permission was not enough. I had to prove my relationship to the patient and supply a copy of his death certificate. Fortunately I already had that. The question arises of what proves my relationship. Have I enough hard evidence in my files to satisfy a government department? If this doesn't test the veracity of my genealogical research I don't know what will.

A letter was carefully composed stating my request and outlining the salient details of William's life. Attached were copies of:

William's death certificate
William's birth certificate
John O'Tooles birth and death certificates (my great grandfather and William's younger brother)
My grandfather's birth and death certificates with a statement that he was my maternal grandfather
Lastly a family group record for Laurence O'Toole and Anne Groves ni Leonard (you should know who they are by now)

All posted off in a fat envelope.

Then I waited.

Finally, a couple of weeks ago, it was my turn to receive a fat envelope. Permission granted. I have to bring the two enclosed letters to the Archive, along with identification to prove who I am. They attached copies of all the documents I had sent, so I suppose I will bring those along too, just in case.

Monday of last week I contacted State Archives. Oh yes, I was told, contact us Friday if you haven't heard from us. We are open weekends if that suits for visiting. We'll get on to it.

To be honest, my greatest fear with all this has been that there will be nothing, or very little, in the file. A couple of entries in a book, a few slips of paper, little if anything beyond what I have gleaned from the papers.

Friday strolled around so I rang back. "We are still going. We keep finding more". We started talking about William. It turned out that the records stopped almost mid sentence with the words "transferred to free wing". Was that in 1917? I asked. Yes. So I told the beautifully efficient staffer that that was when William was deemed never fit to stand trial. She got quite excited, set on a new trail. I was told that I would be rung when it was all ferretted out, and apologised to for the delay. Apologised to - because it was taking longer due to sheer volume. I don't think an apology was needed, do you?

And then this week I got a call from the lovely staffer. Everything has been found, here are instructions, when can you come? We have never seen a file this size, there is a lot to go through. be warned, mental health records can be hard going (I know that, oh god I know that).

I am going down on Saturday, and my staffer will be on duty that day. She is so pleased to be the one to guide me, which makes me pleased too. Every adventurer needs a guide.

When I return from the wilds of darkest Kingswood I shall regale you with tales of my discoveries, or at least write a modest blog post.

Indiana Jones, eat your heart out.

1 comment:

  1. Well this is exciting. Hope you find some interesting tidbits to share.