Researchers familiar with the decennial census returns will be aware that, over and above the normal confidentiality which was applied to the information recorded, in the case of asylums it was additionally the practice to render the inmates anonymous by recording only their initials.
A small, but significant, number of persons who are apparently missing from the census returns may have been recorded in this anonymous fashion. The asylum admission books, therefore, provide a valuable key to this otherwise unhelpful information.
The value of the asylum records, however, extends considerably beyond filling gaps in the census returns since the information recorded about each patient can extend considerably beyond that required by the census enumerator.
Each patient admitted was allocated a sequential patient registration number. These consist of two parallel series, each starting with 'one' for male and female admissions respectively. These numbers, which appear in the index, provide the means by which an individual patient can be positively identified in other records.
Many patients might be discharged and then subsequently re-admitted days, months or years later. Each admission was numbered and recorded separately and is indexed as such, although in some cases a cross-reference to a previous admission might be noted.
A patient's record covers each patient's stay in the asylum from admission to discharge. This might span anything from a few days to many years. The record contains basic information collected at the time of their admission, such as age, occupation, marital status, religious affiliation and number of children, as well as an outline of how they came to be admitted. This may be supplemented, in the case of the later admissions, by a photograph of the patient.
The remainder of the record consists of the history of any treatments administered and the patient's ongoing physical and mental condition. This appears to have typically been updated monthly.
The record continues until the patient's eventual death or discharge. In many cases, there may be a note recording the circumstances of discharge which might include their return to the care of family or transfer to another asylum.
In the event of the patient's death while in the care of the asylum, further information may be recorded in death registers and this could include the names of next of kin and details of the place of burial.
The records of a person's stay in the asylum represent a remarkable source of personal information and in some cases include a photograph of the patient. Bear in mind, however, that their state of mind might mean that some of the information they provided when admitted might be less than accurate and verification should, if possible, be sought from other sources.
The source material is divided between two archives. The relevant archive is indicated against each index entry as follows:
GMCRO Greater Manchester County Record Office, 56 Marshall Street, New Cross, Manchester M4 5FU
PREST Lancashire Record Office, Bow Lane, Preston PR1 2RE
The archives will require both the archive reference number and patient number to locate an individual within the records.
Here you can search 22,722 records of male and female admissions to the Prestwich asylum from its opening in January 1851 up to the end of March 1901.