Guide or Instruction
Local and County Histories Research Tips
There are many types of local histories available to genealogists. The most common ones are county level histories, but state, regional and town level histories are not uncommon and may include useful information.
County histories offer a rich information resource for genealogists. In addition to mentioning a number of families in the county, they also offer an overview of the region, the economic well-being of the area and general conditions of a community.
Read County Histories
Read the county history you are interested in from the Society's digital collection of county histories.
Search for Histories of other Regions, Cities, Towns
Search the University of Wisconsin-Madison Library Catalog (formerly MadCat) for other county histories as well as histories for cities, towns and other communities. Search by county name, region, city or town name, and the state. For example: "Dane County" and "Wisconsin". (Search terms such "Dane County" need to be in quotation marks.)
The Archives holds unpublished local histories in a manuscript format. Search ArCat, the Society's online archives catalog, using the same search terms as you would use for the University of Wisconsin Library Catalog.
Use Google to search for other sources that have online local and county histories.
Visit the Wisconsin Historical Society
Use the information you found in the University of Wisconsin-Madison Library Catalog or ArCat to locate the community history you are interested in researching.
Read more than just the biographies. Personal information can often be found in other portions of these books as well.
It is not unusual for the biographies in most local histories to include incorrect information. Many of these articles were written with an eye towards impressing one's neighbors and consequently personal or family achievements are often exaggerated.
Remember that local histories are secondary sources and must be checked against primary documents.
Types of Information that May be in Local Histories
- Natural history of the county
- Summaries of early settlements
- Descriptions of towns, townships and local institutions
- Biographies of some inhabitants. The biographies included in the local histories are typically limited to people who paid to be included.
- Local histories are an easy way to look up information about the community, such as the existence of orphanages, newspapers, churches, hospitals, cemeteries, and businesses.
- The biographies often include information on the parents and origins of the featured person.
- Town or township histories provide summaries of the settlement of an area, where most of the people came from, and how they arrived.
- Local histories vary a lot in the amount and type of information they provide. Originally, most of them were only partially indexed (if they were indexed at all) but many have been reprinted with more complete indexes.
About the Local and County Histories Collections
The Wisconsin Historical Society has an extensive collection of local and county histories for Wisconsin as well as for the United States and Canada. The Society has been collecting local and county histories since the 1850s.
Researching your family history
See more articles about researching your family history.
Contact our Library and Archives staff by email.