In an effort to restore the dignity and humanity of the people who lived and died in state mental institutions, the Indiana Medical History Museum, in partnership with the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department Mounted Patrol, the Caroline Scott Harrison Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution, and the Ball State University Anthropology and Applied Anthropology Laboratories, has taken on a project to locate and memorialize the patients who are buried in the oldest section of Central State Hospital’s cemetery. These burials have essentially been lost to history. In the words of Sarah Halter, Executive Director of the IMHM:

“In 2014 we worked with others in the community to clean up Sections II, III, and IV of the cemetery and replace the old marker that was falling apart, but the graves in Section I have long been lost. Those patients, who died at the hospital up until 1905, deserve to be memorialized, too. Their humanity and their suffering deserve to be acknowledged. And their memories deserve respect. . . We’ve made a lot of progress in our research to identify those patients; but to properly mark each burial, we first need to locate them.

“Identifying where these burials are so they can be respectfully marked is an important step in this larger effort to create a welcoming and beautiful green space for the community to reflect on and celebrate these lives and the lives of all people, past and present, who are affected by mental illness.”

To achieve this goal the Ball State University Anthropology Department is carrying out a ground-penetrating radar survey of the oldest part of the cemetery. This will identify the individual graves and define the boundaries of the burial space.

From the 1848 opening of the Central State Hospital for the Insane until 1905, patients who died on the premises and had no family to move their bodies to another cemetery were buried in what is now Section 1, located on the northwest of the hospital grounds. In the mid-1900s the existing headstones were removed in an effort to clear the grounds and make them easier to maintain. During this “clean-up” process, the total number of people and their identities were lost, as well as the boundaries of the original cemetery. With the GPR survey, this information can be restored.

To learn more about this project, visit and view an informative video. You may also wish to contribute to this cause in any amount through their crowd-sourcing link. All contributors’ names will be placed on the donor wall.


RootsTech 2020 is coming up this month in Salt Lake City. If you’re like me, you aren’t going to attend, plus you may have never attended due to cost and distance. But if you have missed previous RootsTech annual conferences, you can catch up by viewing any of the 300-plus sessions that have been presented in previous conferences. These are available online in their entirety and at no cost.

Simply go to and click on Video Archive. This will take you to all past sessions for RootsTech conferences over the last five years – 2015 through 2019 – plus the additional London 2019 conference. Here, you can watch your favorite speakers giving their keynote addresses, view the general sessions, and choose among the hundreds of breakout sessions. The only things lacking are the luncheons and banquets.

Although RootsTech has an overall focus on technology, the majority of the sessions offer traditional fare for any family researcher at any level of skill. Watch to learn more, to stay motivated and inspired, and to feel almost like you went to a conference. 

Recommended for you