Monday, October 02, 2006

Records for Eloise (Wayne County, Michigan)

In my previous post I mentioned Eloise. Eloise was a complex of about 75 buildings that served the Wayne County (Detroit) poor and indigent in need of medical treatment. For the most part, Eloise is closed now (except for one office building) but it has a long and interesting history.

I was looking for records on a cousin of mine who was a resident of Eloise according to the 1930 U.S. Census. I wondered what she'd been hospitalized for (she was only 23 years old at the time) and how long she stayed there. I've found no records for her after this listing on the 1930 census so I have no idea what ever became of her. Did she die there? Is she buried there? (Over 7,000 people are buried in the Eloise cemetery.) Was she discharged and went on to marry and change her name? Who knows?

I started on the internet, looking for information on Eloise residents. I came up with nothing solid. There are several web sites about Eloise but none of them mention patient or cemetery records. I did find one recent Detroit News article that was of interest... Wayne County's private paper chase
Wayne County public records, including health and mental health records, have become hostages in a financial dispute between the county and the private company that stores the records...

...The dispute has caused delays for people seeking records such as patient records from the closed Eloise (Wayne County General) Hospital, mental health treatment records, tuberculosis test records and immunization records. The records range from about 5 years old to about 100 years old, Niemiec said.
But even that article didn't describe how one would go about requesting access to records.

Eloise is located in the city of Westland, Michigan so I tried a search for that and came up a web page that mentioned that the Westland Historical Commission had records for Eloise residents but gave no specific information about the records. But that's OK, at least it was a starting point. So I waited until Saturday (the archives are only open on Saturdays) and went in search of the Westland Historical Museum where the archives are located. Except that the museum isn't where the web site said it would be. Fortunately I had written down the phone number and was able to call from my cell phone. It turns out that the published address for the museum is actually the City of Westland complex of offices (police, fire, court, etc.). The museum is located a short distance away on another road altogether.

At the archive office, I was welcomed by a couple of wonderfully helpful ladies who knew right off what I was looking for. They get 2-3 phone calls a week from people who are looking for Eloise records. Jo Johnson (member of the Westland Historical Commission and the Friends of Eloise group) provided a wealth of information about Eloise and what records were and were not available. What was available at the Westland Historical Commission archives was binders full of indexes... indexes of one-time Eloise residents, indexes of who was buried in the cemetery, indexes of persons treated for TB or mental illness, and indexes of employees. What was not available was actual medical records or a complete list of every person who ever had reason to be treated or resided at Eloise. The indexes have some "holes" in them, meaning there are spans of time with no records, but they do have thousands of names in them. And if you have a family member who resided at Eloise this is definitely the place to start looking for information.

I mentioned to Jo that it would be helpful to have a compilation of the Eloise indexes on the internet so that others could find this resource and I offered to put the information on my web site. She offered to compile a list of the indexes for me but cautioned that it would take her some time to put it all together. I told her I would put up a page on the subject and when she got her list put together I'd add the information to the web site. So I now have a topic page on Eloise records at On the topic page is some basic information about Eloise, a list of links to other web sites with information about Eloise, a link to the collection of photos (on Flickr) that I took of the Westland Historical Museum and archives, some basic information about the Eloise cemetery and the Friends of Eloise group, and contact information. As soon as the compilation of indexes is available it will be added too.

Unfortunately, I wasn't able to find out much about my cousin. I was able to determine that she was not buried in the cemetery, and was not treated for TB while she was there. I'm going to assume that she was only there for a short time since we were not able to find her on any indexes either before or after the 1930 census. It's not much, but it's something.