Last Friday Arlene, Ellen and Sonia took a trip to the Wisconsin Historical Society in Madison, Wisconsin. Sonia researched her husband’s Schoenfeld family in Dodge County, Wisconsin, Arlene was looking for anything on her Detroit ancestors, and Ellen, who had just returned from a week’s vacation, poked around in the book section.
According to their website, the Library-Archives of the Wisconsin Historical Society is one of the nation’s premier collections of published and unpublished materials essential to researching family lineage and history. The Library-Archives contain about four million items, and they hold the country’s second largest collection of newspapers, after the Library of Congress. This was a visit well worth the trip from Libertyville.
After overcoming traffic congestion around Milwaukee, the intrepid researchers were awed by the magnificence of the building. Outside they were greeted by a grand edifice fronted by marble columns. Inside, they took the worn marble stairs to the second floor where they readied themselves for a research marathon.
Except for a quick sandwich lunch our researchers spent the entire day in the library, scouring records for valuable information. Sonia found ancestors’ obituaries in the Wisconsin Necrology as well as in newspaper microfilm. “I felt like a kid in a candy store,” declared Sonia, describing the microfilm room. “I found obituaries and marriage notices from Beaver Dam, Monroe, Edgerton. What a gold mine!” Sonia spent a lot of time preparing for the trip by searching the online catalog, so she was able to jump right into researching and collecting documents.
Arlene echoed Sonia’s praise of the microfilm collection. “I don’t have any Wisconsin ancestors, but I was really impressed with the microfilm collection. I found Detroit newspapers and city directories that helped me follow my grandparents as they moved around the city.”
Ellen delved into the book collection and found historical background information for her Wisconsin ancestors. This was Ellen’s second time at the Library-Archives but her enthusiasm was not diminished. She gave Arlene and Sonia the benefit of her experiences and showed them the ropes so they didn’t miss a beat in their research.
The day went by surprisingly fast. “I looked up and it was 4:30,” said Sonia in amazement. She snapped her fingers. “The time went by like that.” All three researchers agreed that the day was well worth the visit and that, even though their research took them in different directions, they were glad of each other’s company. After a healthy supper at a local State Street eatery, the three headed home.
Lessons learned (in no particular order):
– Prepare for your trip by scouring the institution’s website and catalog before you get there; bring plenty of office supplies including pencils, sticky notes, and matching notebooks and pencil cases.
– Bring a USB, and don’t forget to take it out of the computer when you leave
– Travel with friends to multiply the fun
– Check traffic conditions before you go; pay attention to road signs and one-way streets
– Bring snacks for lunch and treat yourself to a nice dinner after the institution is closed
– Ask for help (even we librarians ask for help!); don’t waste time trying to figure things out for yourself
– Plan your next trip on your way home!