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More than just a name in an admission book

Discovering lost families and histories of those with learning disabilities one hundred years ago

Kath Ensor

"Next of kin unknown": how often in the past have these or similar words appeared in historic documents relating to those with learning disabilities? Should these words be accepted on face value or there ways to discover the unremembered and unrecorded families?

 children with their nurse in the summer house

This paper will show ways of exposing aspects of these individual life-stories and family histories by combining both the official records with a wide range of other private sources such as those used by genealogists when researching their own family histories.

By relating some of these previously untold stories the individuals and their families can be placed in the context of the social history of the day. They become much more than just names in an admission book with unknown next of kin.

The examples that I will present are from early twentieth century records of Kew Cottages, an institution for the learning disabled in Victoria, Australia. However, there is no reason why these research techniques can not relate to other geographical areas around the world.

This will be a practical paper showing examples of research that give patients not only a family but a place in history.

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About the Group

If you woud like to get in touch with the Social History of Learning Disability (SHLD) Research Group, please contact:

Liz Tilley 
Chair of the Social History of Learning Disability (SHLD) Research Group
School of Health, Wellbeing and Social Care
Faculty of Wellbeing, Education and Language Studies
The Open University
Walton Hall
Milton Keynes

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