Wisconsin Church Records

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Wisconsin Wiki Topics
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Beginning Research
Record Types
Wisconsin Background
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Local Research Resources
St James Episcopal Church Manitowoc

Historical Background[edit | edit source]

During the 1800s, two major denominations—Catholics and Lutherans—were widely represented in Wisconsin. This was largely because of the tremendous number of German, Polish, and Scandinavian immigrants who settled in the state. Methodists and Baptists were also represented but in much smaller numbers.[1]

Information Found in the Records[edit | edit source]

To effectively use church records, become familiar with their content. Click on these links to learn about a specific record type:

Finding the Records[edit | edit source]

Look for online records.[edit | edit source]

Ancestry.com, FindMyPast.com, and MyHeritage.com can be searched free of charge at your local family history center or the Family History Library in Salt Lake City, Utah.

Caution sign.png

Online databases are incomplete. This can lead to two common errors:

  1. Near matches: Researchers might mistakenly accept an entry very similar to their ancestor, thinking it is the only one available. Only use information that matches your ancestor in date, place, relationships, and other details.
  2. Stopping research: Researchers might assume the database proves church records do not exist. Actually the record is still out there, just not in this incomplete collection of records. Keep searching!

Indexes[edit | edit source]

Dutch Reformed[edit | edit source]

Presbyterian[edit | edit source]

Lutheran[edit | edit source]

Other Collections[edit | edit source]

Look for digital copies of church records in the FamilySearch Catalog.[edit | edit source]

Family History Library
Salt Lake City, Utah
  • The Family History Library (FHL) has a substantial collection of original church records and transcripts on microfilm for churches in the United States.
  • Online church records can be listed in the FamilySearch Catalog under the state, county, or town.
  • If you find a record that has not yet been digitized, see How do I request that a microfilm be digitized?
  • Some records might have viewing restrictions, and can only be viewed at a Family History Center near you, and/or by members of supporting organizations.
  • To find records:
a. Click on the records of United States, Wisconsin.
b. Click on Places within United States, Wisconsin and a list of counties will appear.
c. Click on your county if it appears.
d. Click on the "Church records" topic. Click on the blue links to specific record titles.
e. Click on Places within United States, Wisconsin [COUNTY] and a list of towns will appear.
f. Click on your town if it appears, or the location which you believe was the parish which served your town or village.
g. Click on the "Church records" topic. Click on the blue links to specific record titles.
h. Some combination of these icons will appear at the far right of the listing for the record. FHL icons.png. The magnifying glass indicates that the record is indexed. Clicking on the magnifying glass will take you to the index. Clicking on the camera will take you to an online digital copy of the records.

Consult available finding aids.[edit | edit source]

These aids generally provide lists of records that are known to exist and information on their location.

Wisconsin churches.png

Correspond with or visit the actual churches.[edit | edit source]

Some records are still held in the local churches. Contact the current minister to find out what records are still available.

  • Make an appointment to look at the records. Or ask the minister of the church to make a copy of the record for you.
  • To find church staff available, you might have to visit on Sunday.
  • Ask for small searches at a time, such as one birth record or a specific marriage. Never ask for "everything on a family or surname".
  • A donation ($25-$40) for their time and effort to help you would be appropriate.
  • If the church has a website, you may be able to e-mail a message.
  • See the Letter Writing Guide for Genealogy for help with composing letters.
  • Each denomination page offers an online address directory of local churches for that denomination.

Check the church records collections in archives and libraries.[edit | edit source]

Some church records have been deposited for preservation in government archives or in libraries. Watch for links to digitized, online records offered by the archives. Some archives provide research services for a fee. For others, if you cannot visit in person, you might hire a researcher.

Here you will find archive information unique to the state. Many more archives are kept by denomination. For denominational archives, go to Searching for Church Records by Denomination.

Wisconsin Historical Society[edit | edit source]

Wisconsin Historical Society
Division of Library, Archives and Museum Collections
816 State Street
Madison, WI 53706

Lutheran[edit | edit source]

Evangelical Lutheran Church in America
Wartburg Theological Seminary
333 Wartburg Place
Dubuque, IA 52001
Phone: (563) 589-0200 Fax: (563) 589-0333

The Wartburg Theological Seminary has Lutheran records from Iowa, Illinois, Wisconsin, and upper Michigan. The WTS Archives also contain the documents of the German Lutheran Synod of Iowa, 1854-1930 and the records of antecedent bodies of the ELCA Region 5. Many of the records in this repository can be borrowed for a small fee. For a list of some of the records, see:

  • Archives hold records for closed churches. For open churches write directly to the local church.

Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod
Evangelical Lutheran Synod Historical Society
2929 North Mayfair Road
Milwaukee WI 53222
Phone: (414) 256-3888

  • Contact Us
  • Their mission is to assist local congregations in preserving their records. They may be able to advise researchers on the location of records.

Concordia Historical Institute
801 DeMun Avenue
St. Louis, MO 63105
Phone: (314) 505-7900

  • They have some records of existing Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod congregations and records of some that have closed.
  • Archives Catalog

Methodist[edit | edit source]

Wisconsin Conference United Methodist Church
750 Windsor Street
Sun Prairie, WI 53590
Phone: (608) 837-7328

Roman Catholic[edit | edit source]

Archdiocese of Milwaukee
3501 South Lake Drive
PO Box 070912
Milwaukee, WI 53207-0912
Phone: 414-769-3300
Toll-Free: 800-769-9373
Fax: 414-769-3408

The church records of the parishes in the above diocese have been microfilmed to about 1920 and are available through the Family History Library. These records include parishes in about eleven counties in southeastern Wisconsin. The records are cataloged by the town where the parish is located.

The Archdiocese consists of the following counties: Dodge, Fond du Lac, Kenosha, Milwaukee, Ozaukee, Racine, Sheboygan, Walworth, Washington and Waukesha[2]

Diocese of Green Bay
Chancery Building
1825 Riverside Drive
Green Bay, WI 54305-3825
Phone: (920) 272-8186, 272-8187, or 272-8195
Fax: (920) 435-1330

The diocese consists of the following counties: Brown, Calumet, Door, Florence, Forest, Kewaunee, Langlade, Manitowoc, Marinette, Menominee, Oconto, Outagamie, Shawano, Waupaca, Waushara, and Winnebago[2]

Diocese of La Crosse
3710 East Ave S
PO Box 4004
La Crosse, Wisconsin 54602-4004
Phone: 608-788-7700
Fax: 608-788-8413

The diocese consists of the following counties: Adams, Buffalo, Chippewa, Clark, Crawford, Dunn, Eau Claire, Jackson, Juneau, La Crosse, Marathon, Monroe, Pepin, Pierce, Portage, Richland, Trempealeau, Vernon, Wood[2]

Diocese of Madison
702 South High Point Road, Suite 225
Madison, WI 53719
Phone: 608-821-3000
Fax: 608-440-2808

  • Archives This page has a link to a list of closed parishes and the location of their records.
  • For more recent records and information, contact the local parish.

The diocese consists of the following counties: Columbia, Dane, Grant, Green, Green Lake, Iowa, Jefferson, Lafayette, Marquette, Rock, and Sauk[2]

Diocese of Superior
PO Box 969
Superior, WI 54880
Telephone: 715-394-0205.

The diocese consists of the following counties: Ashland, Barron, Bayfield, Burnett, Douglas, Iron, Lincoln, Oneida, Polk, Price, Rusk, Sawyer, St. Croix, Taylor, Vilas and Washburn.[2]

Correspond with genealogical or historical societies.[edit | edit source]

Some church records have been given to historical societies. Also, historical societies may be able to tell you where the records are being held. To find a society near you, consult these lists:

Next, go to the Wiki article for your ancestors' denomination.[edit | edit source]

There are frequently additional, nationwide or regional archives and online collections for each denomination. Find the article for your ancestors' denomination and follow the instructions there to access these sources.

Wiki Articles for Records of Major Religious Denominations

Carefully compare any record you find to known facts about the ancestor[edit | edit source]

You will possibly find many different people with the same name as your ancestor, especially when a family stayed in a locality for several generations, and several children were named after the grandparents or aunts and uncles. Be prepared to find the correct church records by organizing in advance as many of these exact details about the ancestor as possible:

  • name, including middle name and maiden name
  • names of all spouses, including middle and maiden name
  • exact or closely estimated dates of birth, marriage, and death
  • names and approximate birthdates of children
  • all known places of residence
  • occupations
  • military service details

Dark thin font green pin Version 4.pngCarefully evaluate the church records you find to make sure you have really found records for your ancestor and not just a "near match". If one or more of the details do not line up, be careful about accepting the entry as your ancestor. There are guiding principles for deciding how to resolve discrepancies between records that are seemingly close. For more instruction in evaluating evidence, read the Wiki article, Evaluate the Evidence.

References[edit | edit source]

  1. Sydney E. Ahlstrom, A Religious History of the American People (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1972). FHL Book 973 K2ah.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 Map of the Roman Catholic Dioceses in the United States of America, Office of Catholic Schools Diocese of Columbus, accessed 3 Nov 2010.