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During the 1800s, two major denominations—the Catholics and the Lutherans—were widely represented in Wisconsin. This was largely due to 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.
The records of many denominations have been preserved. They are especially valuable because often they cover time periods before the state began registration of vital statistics. The Family History Library has microfilm copies of many church records from Wisconsin. Church records have also been deposited with the state historical society. Although some records of congregations have been gathered to major denominational repositories, the majority still remain with the local congregation.
The Family History Library has several Historical Records Survey inventories, completed in the 1940s, of the church archives in the state. These inventories may help you identify what records are available and where they may be located:
- Historical Records Survey (Wisconsin). Guide to Church Vital Statistics Records in Wisconsin. Madison, Wisconsin: Wisconsin Historical Records Survey, 1942. (Family History Library book 977.5 K23h; film 1036234 item 5.) This gives the exact years of the church registers.
The Family History Library has inventories that list the records available in the individual churches. The inventories were prepared by the Historical Records Survey between 1938 and 1942:
- Assembly of God, Family History Library film 982044 item 7
- Disciples of Christ, Family History Library film 982044 item 6
- Moravian Church, Family History Library book 977.5 K2hi; film 2055227 item 6
- Church of the Nazarene, Family History Library film 982044 item 8
- Protestant Episcopal, Family History Library film 1036232 item 4
- United Brethren in Christ, Family History Library film 982044 item 5
To learn which towns or cities had churches in 1940, see:
- Historical Records Survey (Wisconsin). Directory of Churches and Religious Organizations in Wisconsin. Madison, Wisconsin: The Wisconsin Historical Records Survey, 1941. (Family History Library book 977.5 K24h; film 1036193 item 12; fiche 6051165.) This directory lists churches by denomination, and at the end the churches are listed by county. Though it lists towns or cities which had churches, it does not give the year the registers began.
The Family History Library has histories of several denominations. An example is Stephen Peet, History of the Presbyterian and Congregational Churches and Ministers in Wisconsin (Milwaukee, Wisconsin: S. Chapman, 1851; (digitized) ; film 982027 item 5).
Some churches have gathered their records into central repositories or archives. The major denominational repositories are:
Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA Archives)
8765 West Higgins
Chicago, IL 60631
The above archives has microfilms of Evangelical Lutheran congregations for region nine, which includes Iowa, Illinois, upper Michigan, and Wisconsin. Many of their records can be borrowed for a small fee. (For a list of the church records for approximately 200 Wisconsin congregations in the collection, see Family History Library fiche 6330690-93.)
Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod
Department of Archives and History
2929 North Mayfair Road
Milwaukee WI 53222
The following yearbook contains the names of congregations of the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod and includes name, telephone number, and address of the minister:
- Yearbook of the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod. Milwaukee, Wisconsin: Northwestern Publishing House, 1989–. (Family History Library book 977.5 K24w 1990.)
Concordia Historical Institute
801 DeMun Avenue
St. Louis, MO 63105
They have some records of existing Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod congregations and records of some that have closed.
Wisconsin Conference United Methodist Church
750 Windsor Street
Sun Prairie WI 53590
For a history of the Methodist church in Wisconsin, see Pansey S. F. Bennett, History of Methodism in Wisconsin (Cincinnati, Ohio: Cranston & Stowe, 1980; Family History Library book 977.5 K2b; film 1036198 item 6.)
Archdiocese of Milwaukee
2000 West Wisconsin Avenue
Milwaukee, WI 53403
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.
Diocese of Green Bay
1910 South Webster Avenue
P.O. Box 66
Green Bay, WI 54301
Diocese of La Crosse
421 Main Street
P.O. Box 982
La Crosse, WI 54601
Diocese of Madison
15 East Wilson Street, Box 111
Madison, WI 53701
Diocese of Superior
1201 Hughitt Avenue, Box 969
Superior, WI 54880
There is a current directory of congregations:
- The Official Catholic Directory. New Providence, New Jersey: P. J. Kenedy & Sons, in association with R. R. Bowker, annual. (Family History Library book 282.025 Of2.) This directory is available at many public libraries and has addresses and telephone numbers of Roman Catholic churches. The 1936 edition is on Family History Library fiche 6104166.
Drouin Collection 1621-1967 of French Canadian records indexed at Ancestry.com. This collection has over 15 million entries for French Canadian genealogical and vital records. Be sure to search for spelling variations of the ancestor's name. This index includes Quebec notarial, vital, and church records, Acadian Catholic records, Ontario French Catholic records, early French Catholic records in Alabama, Arkansas, Louisiana, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Missouri, New York, and Wisconsin.
The early Roman Catholic mission records, 1695–1821, for the mission of St. Ignace of Michilimackinac contain information about many of the early traders in what is now Wisconsin and are published in:
- Draper, Lyman Copeland, ed. Collections of the State Historical Society of Wisconsin. Madison, Wisconsin: State Historical Society of Wisconsin, 1855–. (Family History Library book 977.5 B4wc; on film beginning with 924580.) This series has the register of baptisms of the parish of St. Ignace de Michilimakinak, 1695–1821 (vol. 19), marriages 1725–1821 (vol. 18), and burials 1743–1806 (vol. 19).