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The Administration of Local Government and Court Records

The Society has statutory responsibility to collect, maintain and make available for use permanently valuable records of Wisconsin's local governments and court system. Wisconsin Statute 19.21(5)(d) and Supreme Court Rule 72.04 require notification to the Society sixty days prior to the destruction of obsolete public records.


The appropriate officer of a county, municipality, town, school district or court must notify the Wisconsin Historical Society in writing at least 60 days in advance of the destruction of any public record. To comply with the law, local governments can follow this procedure:

  • Retain the records for at least the minimum period of time required by statute or ordinance.
  • Notify the Wisconsin Historical Society that the municipality, town, county, or school district intends to destroy the records.
    • Notification is required before the destruction of any record.
    • Notification must be made in writing at least 60 days before destruction.
    • Notification letter should include the following information (Court Clerks should use form GF-110 "Notification to the State Historical Society"):
      • Titles of each record series to be destroyed.
      • Years covered by the records
      • Volume of records.
      • Name and phone number of a knowledgeable person who could answer questions about the use and content of the records.
      • Direct notification letter to:

        Matt Blessing, State Archivist
        Wisconsin Historical Society
        816 State Street
        Madison, WI  53706-1482

  • The Wisconsin Historical Society will respond in writing, USUALLY one of three ways:
    • Declining to acquire the records.
    • Declining to acquire the records and providing a waiver to the local government to dispose of these categories of records in the future without further notification.
    • Expressing the Historical Society's interest in acquiring the records and making arrangements for transfer.


The home for local government and court records may be the Society's headquarters building in Madison or one of the thirteen Area Research Centers (ARCs). The ARCs are located at most of the four-year University of Wisconsin campuses and the Superior Public Library. Almost all records come first to Madison and remain there until they are organized and cataloged ("processed"). If the records originated in Dane, Sauk or Columbia county they are housed in Madison. If the records are from another county they are assigned to the ARC responsible for that county. Because the processing timetable is uncertain, records may spend considerable time in Madison before being transferred to an ARC. In addition, master negative copies of microforms are housed in Madison. As time and funding allows, user copies are printed and sent to the appropriate ARC.

Due to the uncertain timetable for transfer of records to the ARCs, it is often best to refer all questions about records held by the Society to the Archives reference staff at the Society headquarters. Descriptions of all records acquired by the Society and their locations are recorded at Madison. Researchers should call or write to verify the location of desired records before making a trip to use them.


The Society has statutory authority and the ability to administer confidential local government and court records. The Society also has the statutory authority, with the concurrence of the creating agency, to establish policies that allow legitimate research in confidential records while protecting the privacy of individuals who might be identified in those records. The Society will not allow access to confidential records without the concurrence of the creating agency.


The Society makes every effort to facilitate access for an agency that has transferred its records. Society staff cannot undertake extensive research for an agency, but will provide easy access to the records so the staff of the agency can perform the necessary research. Generally the Society responds to a creating agency's request within three working days. A creating agency should contact the Society only when the file or information is needed for that agency's own work. The creating agency should tell individual researchers (including genealogists) who want information from records held by the Society, to contact the society reference staff directly. This is the policy of the Wisconsin Historical Society, policies at the Area Research Centers may vary slightly.


All local government and court records in the society's holdings, except confidential records, are open to the public. In addition to providing access to researchers who visit the Society or the ARCs, information or copies of records will be sent to those who call or write. The Society cannot, however, do extensive research for any patron. Mail and phone requests that require the attention of the professional archival staff are answered in the order they are received. At some times of the year four to six weeks may pass before a response is received. It is the Society's policy not to do research in or provide paper copies from collections in microform. This is the policy of the Wisconsin Historical Society, policies at the Area Research Centers may vary slightly.

Nearly all records held by the Society can circulate within the ARC network. Thus if a researcher near a Center wants to use a record stored in Madison, that record can generally be sent to the Center. In addition, records in microform are available for interlibrary loan.


There are no fees or service charges for in-person access to public records held by the Society. Copies prepared on-site by researchers are ten cents when using a vend-a-card and fifteen cents cash. When necessary for legal reasons, society or ARC staff can certify the authenticity of copies of original records. There is a $5 fee for certification. This is the policy of the Wisconsin Historical Society, policies at the Area Research Centers may vary slightly.

Assistance Available for Those Who Cannot Visit
Staff cannot undertake extensive reference or research, but will, within reasonable limits, provide information about or from the Archives holdings.

Reference (defined as giving suggestions and advice, and providing information from catalogs and other finding aids) is available free of charge. Research (defined as going into the collections themselves to provide information or copies) generally requires payment of a service fee in advance. We will notify you if your request requires advance payment.

Limited photocopying is also available at a charge of 25 cents per page plus a service charge: Historical Society members -- $12.50; non-member Wisconsin residents -- $15.00; non-member out-of-state residents -- $17.50. To take advantage of the member discount, supply your member number with your order. You can become a member online.

Turn-around time
Mail and e-mail requests are generally answered in the order they are received and it may take 2-4 weeks for you to get a response, depending on backlog and the complexity of your request.


For access or information on the current location of records contact Reference Services

To transfer records or inquire about the disposal of records, contact Virginia Fritzsch, Public Records Archivist.


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