Category Archives: Court Records

It’s HERE! The Morningside Hospital Patient Database

Carlson, Gustave-1When the Lost Alaskans blog went online five years ago, we began to hear from people who were searching for friends and relatives who were committed to Morningside Hospital, some as long as one hundred years ago. We hope the Morningside Hospital Patient Database will make their search easier and answer their questions.

There are three types of records available. The Quarterly Reports have diagnoses and other information on patients, the Death Certificates are those who died while at Morningside, and the court records document the commitment process. There are gaps in all of the record sets so the search continues.

The database will be formally announced in January. In the meantime, give it a try and send comments and recommendations. Click on Search Patient Records and then enter at least three consecutive letters of the patient’s last name and, optionally, any part of the patient’s first name. The database searches both the name as entered as well as alternate spellings found in the records.

We owe a huge debt of gratitude to the Alaska Mental Health Trust Authority for their long-term support, especially over the past six months. The Trust made it possible for our volunteer researchers to get to record archives in Maryland, Alaska and Oregon. The entry of 45,000 records would not have been possible without Trust support.

And thanks to the volunteers who collected the information in the database. Volunteers by type of record are Meg Greene and Niesje Steinkruger (Court Records), Eric Cordingley, David Anderson and Sally Mead (Death Certificates) and Marylou Elton, Karen Perdue, Ellen Ganley and Robin Renfro (Quarterly Reports), and Deborah Smith (Alaska State Archives).

Many thanks to Doug Toelle, our project manager at Access Alaska And last, but not least, thanks to database programmer Don Kiely, web designer Jana Peirce, and data entry queen Nancy Lowe, all of whom are hugely talented and extremely patient.

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What to do with the criminally insane…

Article by Marylou Elton

Downloadable documents related to this post can be found at the end of the article.

Morningside Hospital was not a prison.  In 1917, Dr. Henry Waldo Coe was proud to note that the new “Parole Home” had “neither bolts, bars or restraining screens”.  “Without doubt”, wrote Coe, “the humane phase of our non-restraint at Morningside, aids greatly in the large percentage of recoveries at Morningside, the records showing, as on file in the Department (of Interior), the largest percentage of recoveries of any institution in the United States, the value of the change of climate, of course, being the greatest factor therein.”

But what was to be done with the criminally insane?  Those who were repeat violent offenders or committed multiple murders?  The law at that time was clear that someone found insane at the time they committed a crime could not be convicted of the offense.  The law also stated those found insane in the Territory of Alaska should be sent to an institution designated by the secretary of interior (Morningside Hospital) – where there was a danger of them being discharged upon recovery or eloping.

By 1917 the issue was coming to a head.  Several individuals convicted of criminal offenses and sent to Morningside escaped and then went on to commit additional crimes.  A discussion of the problem can be found in letters between Dr. Coe, Alaska district judges in Valdez and Juneau, and the departments of Justice and Interior.  Dr. Coe’s letters deny any carelessness on the part of Morningside and note that criminals escape everywhere.  The judges lobby for a change in the law that would send those found criminally insane to facilities where adequate lock-up could be provided.  Read More »

Also posted in 1900-1929, 1930-1949, Patient Stories, Treatment/Outcomes | 1 Comment

Patient Court Records

Researchers Niesje Steinkruger and Meg Greene, both of whom are retired Superior Court judges,  have made incredible progress is locating and documenting Morningside patient court records. Below are photos of some of the things they’ve found with descriptions provided by Niesje.


[image title=”Subpoena” size=”full” id=”705″ align=”left” ] This photo (L) is of a subpoena given to the Federal Marshall by the Judge. Subpoenas were issued for the alleged insane person and the witnesses. Summons were also  issued for six jurors. All persons alleged to be “insane and at large” had a 6 person jury trial.



[image title=”Probate Docket Book” size=”full” id=”712″ align=”right” ]This (R) is an example of a Probate Docket book from Ketchikan. Inside are records of Estates, Guardianships, Adoptions and Sanity court cases.


[image title=”Ketchikan Docket Book” size=”full” id=”725″ align=”left” ]This photo (L) is an example of a page from a Ketchikan docket book from 1953. The amount of information varies from date to date and location to location. Some have entries with basic information only. Others have complete verbatim documents and testimony summary.


[image title=”Nome Court Vault” size=”full” id=”729″ align=”right” ]This photo (R) is of the vault in the Clerk of Court Office in Nome, Alaska. The vault was barged to Nome during the Gold Rush.

We found the Probate Docket books in this vault. The Probate Docket books have entries for the sanity proceedings from the late 1800’s to 1960.



[image title=”Inside Nome Vault” size=”full” id=”732″ align=”left” ]This (L) is the inside of the vault in Nome where historical files, journals and dockets were kept. In early days, gold was also kept here.

Also posted in 1900-1929, 1930-1949, 1950-1960s | 1 Comment

More Nome Court Records

Gold was discovered in Nome in 1898. The city was incorporated in 1901 and grew to an estimated 20,000 over the next 10 years, making it the most populous city in the Alaska Territory.  Only a few of the thousands of miners who came to Nome to seek their fortunes succeeded. Today Nome has fewer than 4,000 residents and serves as the regional service center for the Seward Peninsula.

Arrrival of First Mail in Nome 1906

Niesje Steinkruger was in Nome earlier this month and dug deeper into the court records. There are six probate docket books there and she went through them all. Meg Greene went through two of the docket books on an earlier trip to Nome.  Niesje copied the names, court case numbers and the dates each case began. Many of the defendants went to Morningside, some had their charges dismissed, and some were found not guilty.  In Nome they were charged with being “insane and at large”. She found 182 cases between 1901 and statehood.

Nome Docket Page 1899

The earliest records had Guardianships and Insane in the title.  The earliest record was from June 22, 1901, and the defendent was committed to the State Asylum at Steilacoom, Washington. Between 1901 and 1923 the court documents appear to have been recorded, like deeds.While in Nome, Niesje recruited a volunteer, Debbie Redburn, who offered to copy pages Niesje marked in the docket books. Niesje noted that this is a big job.  The books are approximately 24 inches by 14 inches, so Debbie will have to manhandle them, and somehow reduce the size of the pages to make copies.
The images on this page are from the Photo Archives of the Alaska State Library.

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