Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Finding Material in the Wisconsin Historical Society Archives

I summarized my experiences at the Wisconsin Historical Society Archives (Madison, Wisconsin) in Day 11 of the Seaver Family History Mystery Tour.  I described the identification, retrieval and copying process briefly, saying:

"I arrived at the State Historical Society of Wisconsin (816 State Street) in Madison, Wisconsin shortly after 9 a.m. My first stop was the Archives section on the 4th floor. After filling out the registration form and receiving my researchers card, I asked the gentleman helping me where I might find Wisconsin State Senate records from March 1866 (the Devier J. Lamphier Smith name change). My hope was that there would be something more - like a supporting file - than just the Senate Act granting the name change. This Archive is very well organized - you check the online catalog, write the call number, box or volume number, shelf location, title and your name on a form and they bring the item to you within 5 minutes. However, you can work on only one item at a time."

I want to lead my patient and curious readers through the catalog search process, because it is, I think, fairly typical of what researchers will find at most state archives and many record repositories. 

The "Guided Search" catalog for the Wisconsin Historical Society Archives (ArCat) is online at  There are "Search Hints" at  The "Guided Search" page looks like this:

The user can input up to three search terms, which can be "as a phrase" (the default), "all of these" or "any of these."

The user can search by Keyword Anywhere, Title, Subject, Author, Call Numbers, etc.

I input "senate" and "acts" in the search boxes, kept "as a phrase" and "keyword anywhere," and clicked on the "Search" button, which gave me seven matches:

Two items stood out for me - the 4th and 5th ones down.  The 4th one down was titled "Enrolled, acts, resolutions, and memorials, 1836-1943."  That sounded like one I might be interested in.  I clicked on it, and saw:

The page above tells me that there are 51.8 cubic feet of records in this collection, comprised of 259 volumes.  Which one has March of 1866 in it?  [Note:  I was really lucky that I knew the date of Devier Lamphier's name change!]

There is a link about half way down the page above for "Register available online."  I clicked on that:

This page provides the following information:

"Title: Wisconsin. Legislature: Enrolled Acts, Resolutions, and Memorials
Inclusive Dates: 1836-1943
Creator: Wisconsin. Legislature
Call Number: Series 188
Quantity: 51.8 c.f. (259 volumes)
Repository: Wisconsin Historical Society Archives
Contact Information
Physical Location:  See the catalog entry for information on possible additional materials and shelf locations.
Archival Location:  Map: Wisconsin Historical Society
Abstract:  All laws, resolutions, and memorials signed by the chief clerk of the Assembly, the President of the Senate, and the Governor.
Language: EnglishURL to cite for this finding aid:"

There is a link on the left-hand side of the page for "Contents List."  Clicking on that, showed a long list of the contents of each page:

The contents with information from March 1866 is in Volumes 80 and 81.  I filled out the Call form for both volumes, printing these items:

Call Number:  Series 188 (from the 4th image above)
Box/Vol. No.:  80 (from the 5th image above)
Shelf Location:  2M/51/D1-J1 (from the 3rd image above)
Author/Creator:  Legislative Enrolled Acts
Reason for Use:  Genealogical (checked)
Researcher's Name:  Randy Seaver
Day/Mo/Year:  9/16/11

That was the process used.  Unfortunately, the two items noted above were the only ones that seemed to have information about this Senate Act. 

I broadened the search in hopes of finding supporting files for the Senate Act, but found only one item out of 198 search matches that had a possible find - but there was no box available for 1866.  I doubt that any papers that might support the Devier Lamphier name change, perhaps providing his birth parents names, exists if it is not in this State Archive.

It is crucial that ALL genealogical researchers understand that there are many archived records available at State Archives, and at the National Archives.  They are usually not digitized, are not indexed, and must be accessed using a process similar to the one described above.  Most of these archives have an online catalog for researchers to explore and identify possible resources before going to the physical location of the archive. 

The staff at the Wisconsin Historical Society Archives was very friendly, helpful, encouraging and prompt.  I can hardly wait to go back! 

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