Friday, August 30, 2013

Fine points in Wisconsin archives' searchable finding aids

Many local Wisconsin records have migrated into the state's fourteen Area Research Centers -- another reason to call ahead when visiting a courthouse for the first time, as they may have exported the records you need to see!

The ARCs are real archives, with finding aids for the collections. Although they are scattered around the state, there is a central point where you can browse or search all the finding aids: Archival Resources in Wisconsin: Digital Finding Aids. You can search either by title or by every word in the finding aids.

As usual in such cases, it helps to figure out the right search terms. General browsing will find a great many collections of personal papers of all sorts. But it also works to search on genealogy terms. I finally learned that a search for "Wisconsin County Court" in titles only will bring up 86 court records that can be sorted alphabetically in order to scan for target counties. These include probate, guardianship, civil, criminal, insanity, divorce, and other listings.

Internally, most of those finding aids list the cases by number or by years. The case lists sometimes include classic archivist's notes like this one from reel 9 (cases 400-481) of Trempealeau County Probates 1855-1900: "Files 427-428 are filed between 453-456; these may really be files 454-455. They are not the same files 427-428 that are filed between 426-429. No files 424-425, 429, 474." (If you enjoy notes like this as much as I do, you have found your calling.)

But a few counties list probate cases by name. It was in this way that I discovered some very interesting people related to my wife, whose records had somehow escaped me in the past. I can see several trips to the Badger State in my future . . .

Harold Henderson, "Fine points in Wisconsin archives' searchable finding aids," Midwestern Microhistory: A Genealogy Blog, posted 30 August 2013 ( : viewed [date]). [Please feel free to link to the specific post if you prefer.]

No comments: