Hospital Records – when to use discretion?
If you are lucky enough to have access to historical hospital records you will know that they can provide a really interesting insight into the health and wellbeing of your ancestors. The ailments and injuries they endured, when placed in historical context offer a focal point for thought and discussion especially if you are writing your family history. They may also be useful to your own personal medical conditions for tracing hereditary genetic disorders and diseases. Something you might want to consider though when writing about your ancestors medical conditions is when to use discretion.
The hospital admission records that I am lucky to have access to for my ancestors have revealed, in some cases what you might call “too much information”. My gr gr grandmother Anastasia Maher was admitted to hospital on several occasions with dyspepsia (heart burn) during her 13 pregnancies and even gave birth in the hospital to some of her children. Nothing too sensitive about that you might say but she was admitted to hospital on another occasion for a more delicate and painful Gynaecological condition. Do I reveal the name of this condition in the family history I am writing? Or do I use some discretion and just make a general statement that she was admitted to hospital and footnote the source? That way anyone who is curious to know what she was admitted for can look it up themselves.
Another scenario is the past life of my gr grandmother (one of Anastasia’s daughter-in-laws), a formidable lady who I haven’t heard a nice word about from family members who remember her. She was arrested for vagrancy and for having no lawful means of support at one time in her life. This description of the crime is a more polite way of saying prostitution. This lady was admitted to the hospital on 4 or 5 occasions for complications associated with backyard abortions. Do I write this into the family history? There are several family members (my mother’s generation mostly) that still remember their grandmother and probably don’t know about her past life. However, when you look at my gr grandmother’s situation in context of the times, it provides an insight into the hardship faced by people in that era. It was just at the onset of WWI in 1914. My gr grandmother had an illegitimate child and no other means for financial support. She did what was necessary to provide shelter and food for her herself and her child.
I want to tell the stories of these women in their entirety “warts ‘n’ all” but I do need to consider the sensibilities of other family members. Something else that troubles me is that when I’m gone will my medical records be accessible to my descendants “warts ‘n’ all”?