One Man’s Quest For The Truth About A Forgotten Relative Ends At San Antonio State Hospital

Jason Lucadou wanted to learn why his great-great-grandfather was “chopped” from the family tree. He found out that the reason was rooted in stigma.

By Joy DíazNovember 28, 2019 10:00 am, ,

Shame, societal norms, a lack of information – all of these things could have been reasons why Jason Lucadou didn’t hear much about about his great-great-grandfather Jules Lucadou growing up. Eventually, he did learn about Jules’ life after seeing his 1919 death certificate. That discovery led Lucadou to travel from his home in Houston to the San Antonio State Hospital cemetery to see where Jules is buried. 

“So, this is about the – approximately the area where he is in, a general area where he’d be at,” Lucadou says, pointing to Jules’ approximate gravesite during a visit in September.

For much of history, including during the early 20th century, few people discussed mental health and treatment options were limited. Still, Texas state hospitals treated thousands of people over the years. At San Antonio State Hospital alone, 1,100 people are buried in its cemetery. That means they died while in residence there. But only a handful have headstones; Jules Lucadou’s grave does not.

Until Jason Lucadou found Jules’ death certificate, the only information he had about him was from an 1896 newspaper article that mentioned Jules having an “illness.”

“It says: ‘Mr. Jules Lucadou has been seriously ill and is in still precarious state of health.’ … To me, that applies to his visiting the facility where we are at here today,” Lucadou says.

Hospital records show that just a few months after the article, Jules left his home in Brownsville, where he lived with his wife and children, and admitted himself into San Antonio State Hospital – then known as the Southwestern Insane Asylum.

“I know he was here very long; the records indicate he was here approximately 23 years,” Lucadou says.

That amounts to about one-third of Jules’ life spent in the state hospital.

Lucadou says Jules started out as a schoolteacher in 1870, and during the mid-1880s he became county tax assessor. That public service job meant that there were many newspaper articles about him, which helped Lucadou with his research.

News articles indicate that Jules was a first-generation Texan – the son of a French man and a Swiss woman. He was fluent in several languages, including Spanish. At some point during his working life he even became an immigration judge.

With so much documentation about Jules’ life, Lucadou found it suspicious that relatives left Jules off the family tree. But for many families, a relative receiving treatment at a state hospital was tantamount to them being locked away for good – so, in some cases, they were forgotten.

Joy Díaz/Texas Standard

Jason Lucadou meets with San Antonio State Hospital representative Jessica Ruiz, volunteer Michelle Hayden and others at the hospital's cemetery on the 100th anniversary of his great-great-grandfather Jules' death. Jules Lucadou lived at the hospital for over 20 years, where he eventually died in 1919.

Today, as we learn more about mental illnesses, more people are also curious about their forgotten relatives. Jessica Ruiz works at the San Antonio State Hospital, and says she gets calls every week from people looking to track down relatives.  

“‘I’m doing genealogy,’” she says people tell her. “‘Can you help me?’” they say.

Sometimes she can. In fact, she’s the one who helped Lucadou with his research about Jules. She had also told him that the anniversary of Jules’ death was coming soon, which is what led to Lucadou’s visit to the cemetery.

“Jules passed away exactly 100 years ago today,” Ruiz says during Lucadou’s visit.

Ruiz arranged for the Lucadou family to visit the cemetery that day, and for volunteers to spruce up the grounds. Michelle Hayden is one of those volunteers.

“I kind of get teary thinking about it; it’s very touching to me. Each one of these people is an individual, and is a daughter or son of our creator, and we have a responsibility to each other as brothers and sisters,” Hayden says.

This small gathering, Lucadou, Ruiz and Hayden, didn’t feel like a meeting of strangers. It felt like a gathering of distant relatives who were catching up with each other.

“What was wrong? I mean, I know psychology was a new thing – what did they say on the records?” Hayden asks Lucadou.

“It was listed as a bipolar disorder,” he replies.

“Back then?” she asks him.

“Yup, bipolar – I didn’t even know they could diagnose that,” he says.

Ruiz looks up the origins of bipolar disorder on her phone.

“French psychiatrist Jean-Pierre Falret published an article in 1851 describing what he called ‘circular insanity,’ and it was the first documented diagnosis of bipolar disorder,” she says.

That was the Lucadou mystery, the reason Jules’ life was kept a secret.

On the day of the cemetery visit, Ruiz got a call from another family doing research.

“I was able to confirm that their loved one is here, and noticed that next year will be the centennial,” she says. 

She tells Lucadou that that family will come to the cemetery to pay their respects in just a few months in 2020.

“See what you started!” Ruiz says to Lucadou, laughing.

Lucadou’s investigation about his great-great-grandfather was a way for him to demystify the past. And what he found was that Jules was a man who lived with bipolar disorder – a mental illness, not a moral or a spiritual deficiency. 

Now, both Lucadou’s are at peace. 


Edited for the web by Caroline Covington.