Thanks to online records, a phone call, and the kindness of a cousin who lives in London, I'll soon know more about this ancestor's sad fate. This is part of my Genealogy Go-Over, filling in the blanks on the family tree.
I am fairly certain of Mary's birth date, thanks to marriage records, but not her death date nor her whereabouts after the 1871 UK Census, shown here. At that time, Mary and her husband John Slatter and their 5 children lived together in Tower Hamlets, Whitechapel, London--an area known for extreme poverty.
learned that Mary's 5 children had spent time in a notorious London workhouse.
Checking further, I discovered that a woman with the name of Mary Slatter had been committed to Banstead Asylum in September, 1877. Whether this is our Mary Slatter, I couldn't tell, but it was an intriguing and disturbing thought.
Women were committed to such asylums for a variety of reasons, not just in the 19th century but also well into the 20th century. Click to read what one genealogy researcher found out about her great-grandmother's time in Banstead, circa 1930s. But get out your hanky before you click.
Next, I did an online search and landed at the National Archives in Surrey, England, which has an entire page devoted to Banstead Asylum and Hospital, closed for years. At the very bottom is the statement: "...not clear whether these records are now at either London Metropolitan Archives or Surrey History Centre."
Time for a phone call to the Surrey History Centre. The gentleman who answered the phone listened to my question about where the asylum's records might be found and told me they were definitely at the London Metropolitan Archives. He even gave me the archive catalog code so I could quickly locate what I needed.
On the London Metro Archives site, I found lots and lots of files readily available to the public, subject to the 100 year rule that protects patient privacy. Oh, the archive has patients' records, organized by date and by gender. Also visitors' logs and some photos (possibly only of staff, but maybe I'll get lucky?). What a treasure trove. Only one catch: These files must be accessed in person.
I sent an email to my London cousin Anna, asking whether she would be willing to undertake a field trip to the archives on my behalf. Even though she has no relation to poor Mary Shehen Slatter, my wonderful cousin agreed to visit this spring, armed with what I know and what I want to know. Before the snow melts here in New England, I hope to confirm whether this is hubby's great-grandma Mary and clarify her fate.
Why is Mary Shehen Slatter in my thoughts? Because too often, women are much less visible in family history . . . especially once they marry and their maiden names disappear from public records. I want to honor and respect the lives these women lived, give them dignity and help them be remembered as more than simply "the wife of" or "the mother of" when I share the family tree with their descendants.