Researching Your Historical Marker Topic | Wisconsin Historical Society

Guide or Instruction

Researching Your Historical Marker Topic

Questions to Get You Started

Researching Your Historical Marker Topic | Wisconsin Historical Society

Once you choose an appropriate subject based on the approved criteria for your historical marker topic, you should begin your research. A thoroughly researched historical marker topic will result in well-documented, comprehensive text for your marker inscription. Local libraries, local historical societies, and local newspapers are excellent sources for information, as are the Library and Archives of the Wisconsin Historical Society.

Use These Questions for Your Research

  • Who was associated with the subject? Include names, birth and death dates, the chronology of important events in their lives, and their significant contributions.

  • What events occurred at this particular time or place? Of those events, which events were the most significant?

  • What groups of people were associated with this event?

  • When did the event occur? What is the subject’s period of significance?

  • How did the historical event develop?

  • What influence did the marker subject or event have on the national, state, or local community?

  • Why is the marker subject important to the community, state, or nation?

  • Why is it special, unusual, or significant?

  • Did you document all statements of fact and dates with footnotes? Try to avoid words like "first," "oldest," "unique," or "only" unless there is irrefutable documentation. These descriptors rarely apply. If you include these words, you need to supply irrefutable documentation using objective, primary sources. 

    The use in marker texts of superlatives such as first, last, only, most, biggest, smallest, etc. should be avoided. While there is a first for everything, it is usually not documented at the time. Events recognized as significant at the time (i.e., the first atom bomb explosion, the first battle of a war, or the first man in space) are documented by multiple sources. In local history, an event sometimes becomes the first simply because someone other than an eyewitness wrote it down first or surmised so after the fact. While it is often a community’s point of pride to say that it was the first in something, only a thorough and exhaustive search of disinterested sources can prove the superlative.

For a tool to aid in thinking about a subject, analyzing sources, and crafting a great marker text, see Historical Thinking Strategies, courtesy of the Creative Learning Factory.  

A Notes on Sources

Verification of text is required. Marker texts will not be approved when it is impossible to verify and authenticate information included in the marker application to the satisfaction of the Wisconsin Historical Society. The inclusion of legible copies of your sources and a bibliography is required for all applications. Primary sources are preferred, but a good secondary source shows that the applicant has looked at all available materials.

For brief explanations of primary and secondary sources, see:

Primary Sources: What Are They?

Secondary Sources: What Are They?

Sources from the time of the subject (primary sources) are strongly preferred over those that describe the subject years after the fact (secondary sources). Document all statements of fact in your proposed with endnotes. Ideally, we would like to see an endnote and supporting document attached to every sentence, date, and name in your written text.

Please make sure each endnote includes the following information: AUTHOR of source, TITLE, PLACE OF PUBLICATION, DATE OF PUBLICATION, and PAGE NUMBER. Format isn’t as critical, but the markers program needs to know the sources that you used to establish your facts. Whatever format is used, a good endnote answers these questions: "What is the source of this fact?" and "What source must I consult to find this fact for myself?" If the source is a web page, please include the link in your footnote, for example: "March on Milwaukee," University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee Libraries Digital Collection at It is not necessary to repeat information if you refer to the same source many times throughout your suggested text, but do include the author, title, and page number. 

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Fitzie Heimdahl
Historical Markers Program Coordinator