Wisconsin Historical Society

General Information

Access to Local Government and Court Records

The Administration of Local Government and Court Records | Wisconsin Historical Society

Where the Records Will Be Kept

Local government records are stored at one of the participating archives within the Area Research Center Network (ARCs). Records that originated in the counties of Dane, Sauk, or Columbia are housed at the Wisconsin Historical Society in Madison. Local government records that originate from other counties are assigned to the specific ARC that covers that particular geographic region. Almost all records come first to Madison and remain there until they are organized and cataloged ("processed"). 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.

Access to the Records by 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.

Public Access

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.

Fees and Services

There are no fees or service charges for in-person access to public records held by the Society. Please refer to the Society's policies and procedures for purchasing copies. Please note that if you are accessing public records at an Area Research Center, fees and policies 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.

We also provide limited, fee-based photocopying services. Members of the Wisconsin Historical Society receive a discount. See more information on fees.

Mail and email 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.

Have Questions?

For access or information on the current location of records, contact us at the email below.