Background Sources for Wisconsin

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This entry was originally written by Dawn M. Knauft and Carol L. Maki in Red Book: American State, County, and Town Sources.

This article is part of
the Wisconsin Family History Research series.
History of Wisconsin
Wisconsin Vital Records
Census Records for Wisconsin
Background Sources for Wisconsin
Wisconsin Maps
Wisconsin Land Records
Wisconsin Probate Records
Wisconsin Court Records
Wisconsin Tax Records
Wisconsin Cemetery Records
Wisconsin Church Records
Wisconsin Military Records
Wisconsin Periodicals, Newspapers, and Manuscript Collections
Wisconsin Archives, Libraries, and Societies
Wisconsin Naturalization
African Americans of Wisconsin
Wisconsin County Resources
Map of Wisconsin


Initial or advanced genealogical research in Wisconsin should include the Wisconsin chapter by James L. Hansen in volume two of Genealogical Research: Methods and Sources, edited by Kenn Stryker-Rodda (Washington, D.C.: American Society of Genealogists, 1983).

There is an abundance of county histories for the state of Wisconsin. Some are written for individual counties or several counties together, and others for sections of the state, such as John G. Gregory, Southwestern Wisconsin: A History of Old Crawford County, 4 vols. (Chicago: S. J. Clark Pub. Co., 1932). Wisconsin State Genealogical Society has published every-name indexes to a large number of these county and regional histories. Most, if not all, of the older histories are microfilmed and included in County Histories of the Old Northwest, Series 1: Wisconsin (New Haven, Conn.: Research Publications, n.d.). This microfilm is available on interlibrary loan through the Wisconsin Historical Society. The films also include county directories, atlases, plat books, city histories, and biographical compendiums.

For territorial and early state history, the twenty volumes of Lyman Copeland Draper and Reuben Gold Thwaites, eds., Collections of the State Historical Society of Wisconsin (Madison, Wis.: the society, n.d.), are outstanding. The scope of the volumes covers every aspect of Wisconsin’s creation, from official documents, census enumerations, and the very earliest baptism and marriage records at Mackinac. Augustin Grignon’s “Seventy-two Years’ Recollections” (volume 3) and James H. Lockwood’s “Early Times and Events in Wisconsin” (volume 2) are personal and detailed accounts of early Wisconsin, including many notations on early settlers. Each volume of the Collections is indexed. Volume 21 is an all-volume index. Major research libraries should have the complete set.

Highly recommended is the History of Wisconsin series published by the Wisconsin Historical Society between 1973 and 1998 as follows:

  • Smith, Alice E. From Exploration to Statehood (vol. 1).
  • Current, Richard N. The Civil War Era, 1848–1873 (vol. 2).
  • Nesbit, Robert C. Urbanization and Industrialization, 1873–1893 (vol. 3).
  • Buenker, John D. The Progressive Era, 1893–1914 (vol. 4)
  • Glad, Paul W. War, a New Era and Depression, 1914–1940 (vol. 5).
  • Thompson, William F. Continuity and Change, 1940–1965 (vol. 6).

For a concise one-volume history, see Robert C. Nesbit, Wisconsin: A History, 2d ed. (Madison, Wis.: State Historical Society of Wisconsin, University of Wisconsin Press, 1989).

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