Wisconsin County Resources
This entry was originally written by Dawn M. Knauft and Carol L. Maki in Red Book: American State, County, and Town Sources.
When mailing requests to any Wisconsin county office, use the name of the county and “County Courthouse,” with the address listed below. Records at the county level are the responsibility of the following offices: birth, marriage, death, and land—register of deeds; court—clerk of courts; probate—county probate court.
Setting up a county with a fully functional government was usually done in three stages: “establishment,” legally defining a specific area as a county; “organization for county purposes,” which involved setting up a governing body or board, land registry office, and fiscal structure; and “organization for judicial purposes,” which involved setting up a county court and law enforcement. In some counties the three stages were accomplished more or less simultaneously. In others they were done separately over many years. When a county was established, but not fully organized, it was typically “attached” to another county that was often, but not always, a parent county. Since these levels of organization and questions of attachment affect the creation and location of records, they can be quite important to the researcher.
For example, when Ashland County was attached for judicial purposes to Bayfield County in 1866, the courthouse in Ashland County did not close. The county board still met, land transactions and marriages were still recorded by the register of deeds, and taxes were still collected in and for Ashland County. Only the courts and law enforcement were affected, and for those records between 1866 and 1873, the researcher would have to check in Bayfield County.
The year given in the county charts for “Date Formed” is the year that passage of the law created the county. With that date is the name of the parent county or counties. Additional lines identify the purposes (c-county purposes; j-judicial purposes), the county or counties to which it was attached, and the dates of that attachment.
The date listed for each category of record is usually the earliest registration filed. The earliest date does not indicate that there are numerous records for that year and does not mean that all such events were actually registered. It has been estimated that less than 50 percent of the vital records, for example, were prepared and submitted for permanent filing prior to 1907. Land deeds, probate, and court records generally begin in Wisconsin with the organization of the county. Prior to that date, check the “Parent County.” Some counties formed from other counties transcribed their portion of property deeds to be kept with the new county deed records.
Information on county formation and earliest record dates was provided by James L. Hansen, Reference Librarian, Wisconsin Historical Society. Addresses were obtained from the Wisconsin Counties Association website at <www.wicounties.org> or the relevant county’s website.