A collection of genealogical information on individuals and activities at the institution located on 440 acres in Dewittville, NY, for the years from 1833 to 1918, extracted from ledgers found in the archives of the Chautauqua County Home in Dunkirk, NY.

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When we walked in to the Chautauqua County Home and simply asked if there were any records from long ago, we had two delightful surprises: the trusting welcome with which we were met, and the number of volumes of records kept and cared for over a period of one hundred and sixty years. Anyone who uses these records owes a debt of gratitude to Carol Portman, Director of Medical Records, for locating and sharing these priceless volumes.
Although the series was not complete, we chose the earliest of the records and spent several months extracting the material from them and prepared for publication. Only then were the missing ledgers found, and although the process of extraction was not in chronological order, the resulting documents are. Hosanna!
To understand our purpose in making this compilation available, it is necessary to understand the function that the County Home and Asylum served during most of its first century .
In Chautauqua County, the first recorded sale of land was in 1803, and only after the War of 1812 did population expand. By the 1820\’s smaller townships were taken off from the original two, and each township had its own local officers, including a Supervisor and at least one Poor Master.
As in any society, there were those who were unable to provide for themselves and their families, and the Poor Master found ways to alleviate their plight. The penniless widow, the orphaned children, the terminally ill had nowhere to turn for help except to \”The Town\”. The homeless were boarded at town expense in private homes until they could make their own way again, low bidders becoming the host family.
At the annual meeting of the County Board of Supervisors in 1830, it was decided to buy a farm and erect a building to house the poor, the ill, the feeble-minded and the lunatics of the county.
It would be a tragic error to regard the Alms House as a place of disgrace and degradation; it met several needs that are today met in specialized institutions. It was the hospital for the consumptives, for those with severe injuries, for difficult pregnancies. It was the shelter for battered women and neglected children. It provided charity when charity was indicated and it gave employment to those who asked for work. Families paid board and care if they were able, sometimes for many years.
And it kept records. In large leather-covered ledgers a clerk wrote one day after another, month after month, names of those who came and the town which would be charged for their expense, the ill who died and the babies who were born. Some of these people were the ancestors of families who are looking for them; we hope that we have helped in the search.
It is with quiet humility that I express my gratitude to Lois and Norwood Barris, without whom I should not have been a participant in this project. With kindness and patience they have gathered me into the fold of the computer-literate.
Virginia Washburn Barden 1992