Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Tuesday's Tip: Finding Deaf Ancestors and Relatives in Schools for the Deaf Historical Records

Columbus, Ohio Former School For Deaf
Source; Wdzinc. "Columbus Ohio Former School For Deaf." Photograph. Wikimedia Commons. Web. 28 March 2015.
March 13 marked the beginning of Deaf History Month 2015, which concludes on April 15. During this month, I will be listing tips and strategies for researching your deaf ancestors and relatives in historical records.

We've been following the three deaf children of my ancestors, Ezra and Cynthia (PHILLIPS) DICKINSON, through a variety of historical records to flesh out their lives. As mentioned previously, Ezra moved his family back to Ohio in 1842 after living in Indiana for six years, in order to qualify his children to attend the Ohio Deaf and Dumb Asylum, as there was no such school in Indiana at that time.

If you believe your deaf ancestors and relatives attended a school for the deaf--and even if you're not sure--you should consider obtaining historical school records for those individuals. Admission records can contain basic genealogical information such as date of birth, parents' names and residence, and the onset of deafness (genetic or injury/illness-caused). Additionally, knowing when your ancestor attended school can enhance their personal timeline, and help you determine if they met their deaf spouse at that particular school. Finally, reading about the history of the school may give you a snapshot in time of what your ancestor's life was like while living at the school (which were typically boarding schools). The following are some ways to determine if your family members attended a school for the deaf.

First of all, you may wish to see if your family member appears at a school for the deaf during a regular federal census enumeration, even if they are also enumerated with their family in the same census. Although Thomas Sherman Dickinson appears with his parents and siblings in Hicksville, Defiance County, Ohio in 1850, he is also enumerated at the Ohio Deaf and Dumb Asylum in Columbus, Franklin County (see line 15):

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Another hint for whether your deaf ancestors and relatives attended a school for the deaf is to check out county histories and biographies for the locations and relatives of your deaf individual's families. This is how I originally knew my Dickinsons attended the Ohio Deaf and Dumb Asylum. In 2012 and 2014, I wrote a couple of posts on how to access these county histories and biographies (also known as Mug Books). You can read more about them here and here. Below is the biography of Ezra Dickinson from the DeKalb County, Indiana county history that mentions the deaf and dumb asylum:

Where can you find historical records for schools for the deaf? First, understand that these records are most likely off line and not available to research via the Internet. Secondly, it's important to locate those particular schools. Both the Gallaudet University website and Wikipedia provide comprehensive lists of schools for the deaf in the United States. Cyndi's List provides links to a number of historical schools for the deaf. Another good resource is the Repositories of Primary Sources site, which not only links to schools and institutions with repositories, but state archives, which often are the repositories for state schools for the deaf. Don't forget local genealogical and historical societies. They may know where historical records for the local school for the deaf are now housed. Finally, a catalog search on the keywords deaf school at the Family History Library in Salt Lake City yields in a global list of 45 results. Wherever you locate a school archive--on campus, with the state archives, through a society, or via the Family History Library--you may have to pay a research fee or hire a researcher to locate and obtain copies of the records.

Don't forget that name changes in institutions were not uncommon. For instance, the school my Dickinsons attended was founded in 1826 as the Asylum for the Education of the Deaf and Dumb. Although the following year the state legislature changed the name to the Institution for the Education of the Deaf and Dumb, it continued to informally be called the Deaf and Dumb Asylum in a number of historical records and histories. Around 1904, the name was changed to the Ohio State School for the Deaf. Use a variety of terms to do online searches to find books and images--modern and historical photographs and photo postcards--related to your ancestors' educational institution.

I was fortunate to connect with another genealogist who had purchased microfilmed admission registers of the Ohio Deaf and Dumb Asylum. She kindly looked up my Dickinson relatives and shared her finds with me:

John Fletcher Dickinson, resident of Hicksville, Defiance Co., OH. Parents, etc: Ezra Dickinson. Born 10 May 1825. Admitted 30 Sept 1845. Cause: congenital. Deaf/mute relations: one brother and one sister. Discharged 6 Mar 1848. (Admission register 1, p. 110, entry 284).

Thomas S. Dickinson, resident of Hicksville, Defiance Co., OH. Parents, etc: Ezra Dickinson. Born Nov 1835. Admitted 3 Sept 1845. Cause: congenital. Deaf/mute relations: one brother and one sister. Discharged July 1851. Absent one year. (Admission register 1, p. 110, entry 285). [This is the first record I've seen that named Sherman Dickinson as Thomas S. Dickinson.]

DICKINSON, Harriet Ann. Residence: Hicksville, Defiance Co., OH. Parents, etc: Ezra Dickinson. B. 12 Apr 1840 [family and census records are more aligned with 1838 as her year of birth]. Adm. 23 Nov 1850. Cause: congenital. Deaf/mute relations: two brothers. Discharged July 1851. (Vol. 1, p. 158, entry 450)

The Ohio School for the Deaf history page provides a wonderful account of the daily life of students at the time my Dickinsons attended:

Starting in 1845, a new building was erected on the Institution grounds for approximately $3,000 being spent for the heating apparatus and furnishings.  One hundred four students were enrolled in the facility in 1845; however, the new wing increased the school's capacity to one hundred fifty students.  Other improvements of the era included the replacement of tallow candles by coal oil at the Institution.
An 1850 account of daily life at the school indicated the following schedule of activities.  The children were awakened at about 5:00 a.m. so that they might eat breakfast, family-style, with all teachers and officers (administration) in attendance.  Students then completed all "household" chores followed by a study hall until 8:30 a.m., supervised by responsible students.  Recess lasted until 9:00 a.m. at which time all the students and staff congregated in the chapel for prayers.  The one hundred students then went to one of six classrooms for instruction until noon.  After lunch, the children returned to their classrooms to study until 4:00 p.m.  (School was also held on Saturday morning.)  The boys worked on the grounds at various duties and the girls sewed from the time school ended until supper at 6:00 p.m.  The students studied once again in the evenings.
Wherever your deaf ancestors and relatives attended school, if you can access their historical records, you are sure to find a bounty of information!

Next week, we'll look at locating your deaf ancestors and relatives in other major record groups.


Other posts on this topic:

Tuesday's Tip: Researching Your Deaf Ancestors in U.S Federal Censuses

Tuesday's Tip: Using the U.S. Special Census on Deaf Family Marriages and Hearing Relatives, 1888-1895

Tuesday's Tip: Locating Deaf Ancestors and Relatives in Other Major Record Groups

Thursday's Tip: Resource Wrap Up for Researching Your Deaf Ancestors and Relatives

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