Friday, February 1, 2008

Places you wish your relatives lived: Monroe County, Wisconsin

Ideally your relatives lived in a place small enough to create accessible individual records (such as obituaries) and large enough to know how to preserve them. Monroe County, Wisconsin, on Interstate 90 between Madison and La Crosse, is such a place. Its local history room is housed in half of the first floor of an old Masonic hall in downtown Sparta, the county seat -- conveniently across the street from the local library and county offices.

Don't let its small size deceive you. The MCLHR has a useful online presence including indices of local newspapers, court records, censuses, burials, and biographies -- which made my two half-days of research there far more productive than they would have been otherwise. A crew of volunteers overseen by Jarrod Roll continue adding to them. Off-line physical resources include plat books, yearbooks, church records, Sparta city directories going back (at intervals) as far as 1897, and an index to the Monroe County portion of Wisconsin's 1905 state census. For my money the jewel of the collection is a photocopy of the handwritten record of Sparta's Woodlawn Cemetery.

While you dig for ancestral gold, less document-oriented members of your party can explore the rest of the first floor, which houses a nicely designed local history museum, and then the upstairs, where the Deke Slayton Memorial Space & Bike Museum honors local astronaut and famous son Donald Kent Slayton.

(One warning: if you have a tracphone it will be useless until you drive about an hour east or west.)

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