WLA 2008: Genealogy and Local History Resources at the Wisconsin Historical Society

Posted by Lisa Strand on Wednesday, November 05, 2008 in WLA Blog Archive
A presentation by Rick Pifer, Director of Reference and Public Services, Library/Archives Division, Wisconsin Historical Society.

Richard Pifer said about genealogy info at WHS, "Start with the premise that yep, we have it."

Range of resources available at the WHS -- a paper trail of cradle to grave records created about people:
  • Births: registrations, baptismal records, announcement in newspapers
  • Childhood records: school records, attendance records from rural schoolhouses, school census
  • Marriage records: newspaper announcements
  • Property records - deeds (most are in the county Register of Deeds office)
  • Tax records - assessment rolls & tax rolls for 19th & 20th century
  • Census
  • Divorce records - through the Circuit Court case files (date range varies on the county which provides the records)
  • Prison records
  • Naturalization records - 19th century to 1980's
  • Death registration, church burial records, newspaper obituary, probate records, wills, probate case files
WHS has genealogy info on:
  • Wisconsin
  • U.S.
  • Canada
Local history records:
  • local histories
  • newspapers - huge collection, perhaps 2nd only to the Library of Congress; largest Native American newspaper collection in the country; largest African American newspaper collection in the country
  • personal papers
  • organization records
  • maps
  • photographs
The Peshtigo Fire
  • personal correspondence
  • birds-eye maps of before & after the fire
  • Harper's Weekly newspaper articles about the fire
  • photos (also available online)
Finding info and records:
  • genealogical information is geographically based
  • local history information is geographically based
  • combine place names with type of record
  • Use Madcat to search for surname + the word family as a way to search for info; a "sloppy" search like this will bring up lots of records, but Rick says "specificity is the enemy of finding what you want"
WHS web site:
  • Wisconsin Genealogy Index
  • links to Madcat and ARcat
Richard suggests this search strategy in Madcat:
Go to the guided search and start plugging in words; put in a placename (as a phrase) + type of record

ArCat (Archives Catalog)
Some finding aids or registers are available online; it's a volume-level listing of what's in a collection; tells you what's in a collection volume by volume and box by box

Research Portal

Finding newspapers = use Guided Search to enter placename + type of record
You can navigate through title changes, within the bibliographic record

Virtually everything found in ArCat can be transported closer to you or your patron at a local Area Research Center (ARC), except for photographs and maps

Map collection = paper-based card catalog is the only way to find out what's in the collection

Photo collection useful for local history, 45,000 images online, entire set of Wisconsin birds-eye photos

WHS is a partner with Google Books
  • the vast majority of WHS' family histories has been digitized
  • MadCat will eventually be linking to the Google Books digitized version of the book
  • copyright date affects whether the book is available full text, or snippet view
Interlibrary Loan is possible for works of local history that don't have genealogical content
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