How to Access Michigan Insane Asylum Patient Records

At the time of this writing in the State of Michigan many patient records from the various mental institutions across the State are housed at the Michigan Archives in Lansing, Michigan.

Unfortunately… you can’t view them.  Patient records are closed to the public.

In accordance with current Michigan Law (Mental Health Code Act 258 – Section 748) all mental records are to be kept strictly confidential irregardless whether or not the patient is deceased.  The archivists at the State Archives can’t even view the files.

In order to access the files you need to enter probate and request of the judge permission to view them.  This is time consuming and can be costly.  And the judge can deny your request and place restrictions on what you can do with the file(s) once received.  Not very genealogist friendly.

I talked with an archivist who suggested that he could neither confirm nor deny whether there was any information contained in a particular patient’s file.  The patient was a family member who had been institutionalized for at least 8 years at the Pontiac Mental Asylum in the early 1900s.

In other words I could pay the court fees to enter probate only to be denied access or to find out that there is no pertinent information to be found.  Quite the hassle.

Because of this I contacted my State Senator and my State Representative to request that legislation be created to allow genealogists and family historians access to these “closed” files if the patient is now deceased and the file is over 70 years of age.

What harm could this do?

I request any who read this to sign my petition.

Sign Petition.


Whereas Federal census reports are unsealed for public viewing after 70 years, we the undersigned genealogists and family historians request that Michigan release patient records from the various Michigan-based mental institutions if and when over 70 years old, an ample amount of time to protect the confidential nature of the files.

As genealogists and family historians we have a basic right to view files pertaining to our respective families.  Already in Michigan we have access to numerous death records archived and digitally made accessible through  

We do hereby request that the aforementioned patient files be made accessible for viewing at the State Archives and/or digitally made accessible for viewing via

These patient files help genealogists and family historians to understand the nature of their “committed” family member so as to understand 1) why they were committed and 2) what treatment(s) the family member patient underwent and 3) what mental illness(es) may be genetic.

Sign Petition.

What can you presently do if you have a Michigan ancestor who was placed in a Mental Asylum?

You can still access the guardianship file from the probate court within the county wherein your ancestor lived.  You will need to find the probate court and request the file.  Many of these files will be on microfiche and you may need to visit the county to view these yourself.  Or you will be dependant on a probate employee who may or may not access the record, may not conduct a thorough enough search, or flat out refuse to look.

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5 comments On How to Access Michigan Insane Asylum Patient Records

  • I am trying to find out how long my younger sister was a patient at Kalamazoo State Hospital in 1966 at the age of 14, and whether or not she was there when Dr. William Decker started his adolescent program.

    • Jay Kruizenga

      Hi Marsha. It is my understanding that all hospital records were turned over to Western Michigan University, but may not be fully accessible. Your sister (1966) was definitely present when Dr. William Decker was there. The following series of YouTube videos were presented by Dr. Decker. Other information can be found here. Hope that helps a bit.

  • Do former patients have access to their own records? Do you have a good photo of one of the lock-up rooms?

  • I also find it frustrating that we cannot access records of ancestors if they were committed 70+ years ago. My 2nd Great Grandmother was committed in the 1880’s. Through the guardianship record, I was able to see that she was at both Kalamazoo and Pontiac. There was no mention of any behaviors she exhibited, as guardianship was requested and processed 9 years after she was originally committed in Pontiac (per a document I found in the guardianship file). It just states she was insane and incompetent. She passed away in 1910 at the Pontiac asylum. I would like to find the asylum records, as there seems to be a genetic link to Schizophrenia on that side of the family and I am thinking it may have some from her. Do you know of anyone who successfully found records or petitioned the court for access to the records? Given she was at two asylums, do you think her records could be split and put in different locations? Thank you.

  • For those of you who are trying to access your ancestor’s records from Kalamazoo State Hospital – my sister and I just three weeks ago were finally granted permission. We have them – 230 pages (sadly, she was in there for 26 years until she died there) and a photo of her at admission. We went to the Archives of Michigan and to the Legal Affairs office, both of which are in Lansing. It was a LOT of back and forth, constant checking, gentle prodding, etc. but we GOT them!! We still can’t believe it. We needed to give our ancestor’s exact date of birth and place, exact date of admission to the hospital, and exact date of death. She was admitted in 1917 and died in 1944. Good luck to all of you who are trying to get them.

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