Census Records for Wisconsin
This entry was originally written by Dawn M. Knauft and Carol L. Maki in Red Book: American State, County, and Town Sources.
• Indexed—1820 and 1830 (as Michigan Territory), 1840, 1850, 1860, 1870, 1880, 1900, 1910, 1920, 1930
• Soundex—1880, 1900, 1920
Industry and Agriculture Schedules
• 1850, 1860, 1870, 1880
• 1850, 1860, 1870, 1880
Union Veterans Schedules
All federal census schedules, for all states, are at the Wisconsin Historical Society. The society also has original state copy manuscripts of the 1850, 1860, and 1870 federal census for Wisconsin. Every-name indexes to the state copies of the 1850, 1860, and 1870 censuses, on microfilm, are available through interlibrary loan from that repository. In addition, all the state’s federal census records are indexed and available through online database services (see pages 16-17). Some variations between the state and federal copies of the federal population censuses may exist. Mortality schedules are indexed and available through interlibrary loan, except for the 1880, which is not indexed. The 1820 to 1870 censuses for Wisconsin were also indexed by the Works Projects Administration (WPA), listing each individual within the state in a given census year.
Territorial and State
When the territorial government of Wisconsin was established on 20 April 1836, it provided that an enumeration of the inhabitants of the several counties in the territory be taken by the sheriffs and sent to the governor before the election. This first Wisconsin census did not have preprinted forms. The sheriffs wrote the names of heads of white families with the number of persons in each family divided by sex and age in four groups. The sheriff of Crawford County regrouped his constituents who were deaf and dumb, or blind, and included tables of aliens and “slaves and coloured.” Some heads of household on this census appear to have unusually large families. It appears, for example, that in Brown County, Daniel Whitney’s “family” of forty-nine included his workmen in sawmills, lumber camps, and at the Helena shot-tower.
Wisconsin territorial and state census original schedules, with a few exceptions, are in the State Archives at the Wisconsin Historical Society. Microfilm copies are available in the microforms reading room, through interlibrary loan, and for purchase. They include the following:
1836 (AISI index): Names only head of household, plus numeric listing of household; published in Wisconsin Historical Collections 13 (1895): 247-70.
1838 (AISI index): Includes name of master, mistress, steward, overseer, or other principal person; name of head of family and numeric listing of household; extant only for certain counties.
1842 (AISI index): Similar to 1838.
1846: Includes name of head of family; numeric listing of household by sex and color; some counties missing.
1847: Same as 1846; some counties missing.
1855 (AISI index): Similar to 1847, plus number of deaf and dumb, blind, or insane; includes number of individuals in each household of foreign birth; Kewaunee County not included (online at the FamilySearch pilot website).
1865: Listing same as 1855; schedules apparently were destroyed at an unknown date; only a few schedules survive (Crawford, Dane, Dunn, Green, Jackson, Kewaunee, Ozaukee, Racine and Sheboygan). A printed and bound index by Barry Noonan is available at the Wisconsin Historical Society.
1875: Listing similar to 1855 (online at the FamilySearch pilot website).
1885: Listing similar to 1855, plus some additional information on number of foreign-born persons (online at the FamilySearch pilot website); includes a special enumeration of “Soldiers and Sailors of the Late War” (online at the website of the Wisconsin Historical Society).
1905: Includes name of each individual, relationship to head of household, color or race, sex, age at last birthday, marital status, place of birth, place of birth of parents, occupation, number of months employed, whether home or farm is owned or rented; also includes veterans’ enumeration (online at the website of the Wisconsin Historical Society); indexed, by county, on microfilm (online at the FamilySearch pilot website).
A very complete listing of Wisconsin Territorial and State Censuses is in James P. Danky, Genealogical Research: An Introduction to the Resources of the State Historical Society of Wisconsin (Madison, Wis.: State Historical Society of Wisconsin, 1986).
Local census enumerations were taken between 1848 and 1959, ordered for qualification as a municipality by the state. Copies were required to be kept by the county register of deeds and the village or city clerk. Some of these censuses have been found in circuit court files.
Evidence of migration to Wisconsin through the upper Great Lakes may be found in Donna Valley Russell, Michigan Censuses, 1710–1830, Under the French, British and Americans (Detroit: Detroit Society for Genealogical Research, 1982). Canadian voyageurs may be found in the same author’s Michigan Voyageurs, From the Notary Book of Samuel Abbott, Mackinac Island, 1807–1817 (Detroit: Detroit Society for Genealogical Research, 1982).
City directories for urban areas may help fill the gaps where census records are nonexistent. The Wisconsin Historical Society has an extensive collection that includes directories for Milwaukee as early as 1846 and several cities for the 1850s. Local libraries, historical societies, and the Area Research Centers network may have directories for their specific locales.