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State Hospitals: Historical Patient Records: Getting Started

Historical patient, employee, and student records from Minnesota State Hospitals

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Preliminary Research

To find records for an individual who was a patient at a Minnesota State Hospital it is helpful to have the following information:

  • Patient name (and alternative spellings of name)
  • Patient birth date
  • Patient date and place of death. Did the patient die in the hospital?
  • Hospital admission date

You can search for a patient using only their name, but your search will be much easier if you have more information before you start.

Patient name: The name you should search for is their name at the time of admission.  For women you should search under their maiden name as well as a married name if you do not know the date of admission.  Also, have a few variations of spelling for the name.  Many of the records are handwritten and names may be misspelled or mis-transcribed.  

Patient birth date:  This is helpful to differentiate between patients with common names.  

Patient date and place of death:  This will let you know if the patient died in the state hospital. 

Hospital admission date:  Not all hospitals have alphabetic indexes; some of the records are only arranged by admission date. If you do not know the exact date, an approximation will be helpful. You may bea able to use census records to help you find out when someone was in the state hospital.

First Steps

A good first place to search is the State of Minnesota Human Services Department Aggregated Patient Index Cards. These cards cover patients admitted between 1910 and 1990 and come in two series; patients who were discharged from the hospital, and patients who died in the hospital.  

Aggregated Patient Index Cards, 1920s-1990s

Aggregated Deceased Patient Index Cards, 1910s-1980s

Information on the cards may include name, Department of Public Welfare number or Medical Record number, birth date, county of commitment, county of residence, date admitted, hospital, hospital case number, social security number, and date of death. 

If a patient was admitted to a state hospital before 1910 or 1920 they will not have a Department of Humans Services Patient Card. You will need to start your search with a hospital-specific index.

Record Restrictions

Patient records contain private medical information and are generally restricted for 75 years from the date of the last entry in the record or file. If the record you are requesting will be restricted under this guideline, you should apply for permission to access the records.

Use the Access to Restricted Records for Individuals form to apply for access to restricted state hospital records. You should also submit the appropriate supporting documentation, as listed on the form. This documentation may include:

  • Proof of your identity (driver’s license, passport, or other government issued photo ID)
  • Proof of subject’s death (death certificate, obituary, entry in the Social Security Death Index, or entry in the Minnesota Death Certificate Index)
  • Documentation demonstrating your relationship to the subject

Applications may be submitted by email attachment, fax (651-297-7436) or regular mail. Once we receive your application, it will be reviewed by our permissions staff and you will be informed--usually via email--if your application is granted or denied. Many of these requests, with supporting documentation, can be reviewed and responded to by staff within two days of receipt.

What does MNHS have?

Our record holdings vary by state hospital.  The hospitals did not keep the same records and had different retention and destruction schedules, so our holdings are not consistent.  

In general we may have: 

Patient Records- Information on an individual patient: 

  • Statistical record: A line or page in a ledger book giving information about the patient's background, a diagnosis, and dates of hospital residence.  
  • Commitment papers: Documents filed in the county court committing the individual to the institution.
  • Casebook: A full-page record giving information about the patient's background, a diagnosis, notes on their time in the hospital, medical history and condition. Some casebooks may contain a photo of the patient. Casebooks tend to only exist for dates pre-1910. 
  • Admission and discharge books: A line in a ledger book detailing information about admission and discharge dates. 
  • Patient Registers: Similar to a statistical record, will often be a line in a ledger giving information about the patient's background, a diagnosis, and dates of hospital residence. 

What records doesn't MNHS have?

MNHS holds the records that were transferred to us by the state hospitals or the Minnesota Departments of Health or Human Services.   We do not have complete records from all Minnesota state hospitals.  Many records were destroyed due to destruction schedules designed to ensure patient privacy.  Some were lost to other hazards.  Our records vary greatly from hospital to hospital. We tend to have more detailed information for earlier periods and have very little patient information past 1950.  

The dates listed on the overview tab represent the best patient data available for each hospital. Outside of these dates there is either very minimal information or no records exist. The Minnesota Department of Health does not have any historical state hospital records. State hospitals that are still in operation will hold their own modern records.  Dates will vary by hospital.  

General State Hospital Research

If you are doing general (non-indvidual specific) research into Minnesota state hospitals here are some search tips: 

Search the library catalog using the name of the state hospital (ex: Fergus Falls State Hospital) and select the "State Government Records" option on the dropdown menu. 

Some of the records you may find will include: architectural drawings, farm records, superintendent's subject files and correspondence, inventories, photographs, subject files, financial records, and annual reports. 

You can also search for the administrative agencies that provided oversight to the state hospitals, including the State Board of Control. For more information on administrative agencies, click here

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