52 Ancestors – Week 5

At the Library

For me researching in a state archive or library was one of the most rewarding endeavors I have pursued as a genealogist, second only to actually walking on the land an ancestor once owned. Why you might ask, it is just a library! A state archive is so much more than just a library. An archive houses many of the original documents that are often available on microfilm or in digitized form. Again you might ask “so what? It is much easier to view these from the comfort of our home via our computer.”

The Joy of Discovery

What I discovered on my visits to the Kentucky State Archives is the wonder of touching those old documents; untying the string or ribbon holding the packet together, gently, carefully separating the different pieces of aged papers, some over 150 years old, then struggling with the writing, trying to decipher the words and phrases. For me this was Genealogy Heaven!

Even if I didn’t find anything new to add to my collection of data, the simple experience of handling these old documents was priceless. And then there was the one time I did find something. Something so unexpected the memory remains clear in my mind.

Circuit Court Indictment Records

I found Absalom Arnspiger my husband’s 2nd great granduncle.  In all my years of Arnspiger research, which was about twenty-five or more, I had never run across this name, but in the Kentucky State Archives I found him listed in the index to the Circuit Court Indictments for the county of Jessamine. Whoa, what was this, who was this? So I followed the trail from the index. The index lead me to the microfilm of the Circuit Court Order Books, bk. O, 18301-1832, indexed listing Absalom Arnspiger on page 942.

With help from the Archives staff I was able to locate the original documents regarding this case which provided more details. Apparently Absalom had been exhibiting erratic mental behaviors for eight years. A jury was impaneled to inquire into the state of his mind. The label placed on Absalom was “lunatic” and the jury found him to be a lunatic and ordered his father, Michael Arnspiger to “carry him to the asylum in Lexington3.”

The Story Changed

This piece of information altered my entire mental image of this family. So many questions came to mind. How did this eldest son’s disability impact the family? In the 1820s what was known about mental health? Very little I discovered. Did Michael actually “carry” Absalom to the asylum? A search in the records available at the Kentucky archives provided no answers to this question. No circuit court records were located to indicate this order was carried out. No further reference has been found for Absalom.

The asylum was known as the Eastern State Hospital. It was opened in Lexington in 1824 and closed in 2013 with the buildings demolished in 2014. Records for this facility remain closed. There is a cemetery which contains between 4000-6000 unmarked graves, with additional unmarked graves throughout the hospital grounds; as many as 4000. I believe Absalom was one of thousands who died and was ignominiously buried there. Did his family know? Did the hospital inform them? Did his brother, sisters or parents come to visit? I will never know the answers to these questions but I, by sharing what I have learned, by writing this post, can shine just a little light on this ancestor’s life.

Footnote TitleFootnote Description
11830For Emaline Johnston, Pennsylvania, Death Certificates, 1906-1924, digital images Ancestry (https://www.ancestry.com : accessed 5 Feb 2019), listed as Mrs. Emaline H. Johnson, cert. no. 20413; citing Pennsylvania Historic and Museum Commission. For Henry Johnston see 1850 US Census, Berks County, Pennsylvania, population schedule (pop, sch.), South East Ward, p 286A, family 656, Adam Johnston; digital images Ancestry (https://www.ancestry.com : accessed 5 Feb 2019); citing National Archives Administration (NARA) micropublication M432, roll 752.
2page 94Jessamine County, Kentucky, Circuit Court Order Books, Bk. O, 1830-1832, indexed, p. 94, item 2, July 1830, Writ of Lunacy, Commonwealth of Ky vs Absolem Arnspiger, 19 July 1830; Kentucky Department of Libraries and Archives [KDLA], Frankfort, Kentucky.
3LexingtonJessamine County, Kentucky, "Circuit Court Indictments 1799-1850," accession no. A2009-026; KDLA, Frankfort, Kentucky, Commonwealth of Ky vs Absolem Arnspiger, Writ of Lunacy, packet no 16, case no. 600, box 6, date July 1830.

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