Monday, December 19, 2011

Madness Monday - Trenton Insane Asylum & the Sad Tale of Two Sisters - Part I

Family history can be fun, rewarding, fascinating, sometimes frustrating or even boring.  However, in the story of sisters Mary and Ella Rogers, my husband’s great-grand aunts, I stumbled upon a story that at first puzzled, then absolutely chilled me to the bone.  When I first began researching my husband’s family I was very excited to discover first his great grandfather, Dr. Elmer H. Rogers of Trenton, NJ and then Elmer’s father Levi H. Rogers originally from Bucks County, PA.  Levi and his wife, Jane Eliza Sharp  raised five children, three sons and two daughters.    From what I have pieced together, Levi was a prosperous farmer and landowner.  The three sons were led first by Elmer who was born in 1858, became a well-known physician in Trenton, NJ and died in 1907.  Next was Benjamin born in 1861, also became a physician of some note and died in 1923 in California.  The third born was Irvin in 1863, also quite successful and well-known in the Trenton area as the secretary of the Standard Fire Insurance Company and died in 1912.  I found many newspaper articles on these three successful and prosperous sons. 

The two youngest children of Levi and Jane Rogers were daughters, Mary E. born in 1866 and Ella E. born in 1867.  Both sisters are found in the 1870 and 1880 Lower Makefield, Bucks County, PA census.  It appears that sometime before his death in 1892 Levi and Jane moved to Trenton where their prosperous sons were residing.  The only funeral notice for Levi states that the funeral was to be held from his son Elmer’s residence.  It did not name any of his other children.  In the 1900 Trenton Ward 1, Mercer, New Jersey census, I found his wife Jane and daughter Ella living at 4 East State Street both listing their occupation as Artist.  From this, I originally assumed daughter Mary had married before 1900, but never came across a marriage record or announcement.

In the 1910 Trenton Ward 3, Mercer, New Jersey census, I found Jane age 72 and daughter Ella aged 39 living at 125 Jackson Street.  Ella again listed her occupation as Artist.  Additionally, son Elmer H. Rogers had died in 1907 and I was fortunate to have found his obituary.  It listed his survivors as his wife, children, mother (Jane) brothers Benjamin and Irvin, but interestingly enough did not list his sisters Ella and Mary.

The 1889-1892 Trenton City Directory listed sisters Mary and Ella Rogers as living at 23 East State Street.  The 1895-1896 listed them as living at 6 East State Street and their occupations as Artists.  
Of course, then Mary disappeared and I assumed she had married until I deduced she was dead first from her brother Elmer’s obituary, then from brother Irvin’s obituary in 1912 which listed Ella, but not Mary.  The mother Jane died in 1918 and her obituary listed her only surviving children as Benjamin and Ella.

I could not find Ella in the 1920 census but I found her in the 1920 Trenton City Directory living still at 125 Jackson Street, her occupation artist.  She was mentioned again in her brother Benjamin’s obituary in May 1923, listing his only surviving sibling as Ella.

If you are confused at this point, believe me so was I!  About this time I received in the mail, the will of Dr. Elmer H. Rogers which I had ordered some time before.   Dr. Rogers was quite wealthy and in that will he made bequests for several family members including his wife and children, his wife’s brother and a loyal servant.  I read that will, which was dated and signed 8 May 1905 several times before I realized that he also mentioned his sisters.  Not sister, but both his sisters, Ella AND Mary which means Mary was still alive in 1905.  

Now I was totally bewildered.  If she was alive in 1905, why was she never mentioned in anyone’s obituary that died after 1900?  I have a subscription to the Trenton Times archives, but had never come across any articles or obituaries for her.  I started searching again using different search parameters and also using sister Ella’s name again and voila! came up with this obituary for Miss Mary Rogers in 1939, who died of a lengthy illness, whose only surviving relative was a sister Miss Ella Rogers.  

Where the heck had this woman been for over 39 years?  I went back to and did another census search for 1900 and found a Mary E. Rogus (upon careful inspection of the actual document it is Rogers) living in the New Jersey State Hospital or as it was known, the State Insane Asylum.  She was listed as a patient and her occupation was listed as Teacher of Art.  Aha!  Lightbulb goes on!

Next week I will tell conclude Mary and Ella's story and tell you about what I learned about the horrible conditions at the Trenton "Lunatic" Asylum.


  1. Can you contact the cemetery for interment information? Not all cemeteries have offices but if it's a large enough one and they've kept good records, you might be able to find out her cause of death and possibly some other information.

  2. Another good suggestion Nancy. It is a huge cemetery so they should have an office. Thanks!


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