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Church records and the information they provide vary significantly depending on the denomination and the record keeper. They may contain information about members of the congregation, such as age, date of baptism, christening, or birth; marriage information and maiden names; and death date. Records may include names of other relatives who were witnesses or members of the congregation. The members of some churches were predominantly of one nationality or ethnic group.
Wisconsin Church Records
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.
The records of many denominations have been preserved. They are especially valuable because often they cover time periods before the state began registration of births, marriages, and deaths. The Family History Library has microfilm copies of many church records from Wisconsin. Some church records have also been deposited with the Wisconsin Historical Society. Although some records of congregations have been gathered to major denominational repositories, the majority still remain with local congregations.
The early Roman Catholic 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).
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 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 also 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 982044item 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 by county. Though it lists towns or cities that 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).
Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons)
Early church records for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, for Wisconsin wards and branches can be found on film at the Family History Library in Salt Lake City. The film numbers for each ward can be located through the Family History Library Catalog or by referring to Jaussi, Laureen R., and Gloria D. Chaston. Register of Genealogical Society Call Numbers. 2 vols. Provo, Utah: Genealogy Tree, 1982. (FHL book 979.2258 A3j; fiche 6031507). These volumes contain the film numbers for many (but not all) membership and temple record films.
Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA Archives)
8765 West Higgins
Chicago, IL 60631
Phone: (773) 380-2818
Fax: (312) 380-2977
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
Phone: (414) 256-3888
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
Phone: (314) 505-7900
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
Phone: (608) 837-7328
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.)
Some church records have been gathered into central repositories or archives. The major denominational repositories are:
German Immigrants in NW Wisconsin Protestant Church Records
German Immigrants in NE Wisconsin Protestant Church Records
German Immigrants in SW Wisconsin Protestant Church Records
German Immigrants in SE Wisconsin Protestant Church Records
Archdiocese of Milwaukee
2000 West Wisconsin Avenue
Milwaukee, WI 53403
Phone: (414) 769-3300
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
Phone: (414) 435-4406
The diocese consists of the following counties: Brown, Calumet, Door, Florence, Forest, Kewaunee, Langlade, Manitowoc, Marinette, Menominee, Oconto, Outagamie, Shawano, Waupaca, Waushara, and Winnebago
Diocese of La Crosse
421 Main Street
P.O. Box 982
La Crosse, WI 54601
Phone: (608) 788-7700
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
Diocese of Madison
15 East Wilson Street, Box 111
Madison, WI 53701
Phone: (608) 256-2677
Diocese of Superior
1201 Hughitt Avenue, Box 969
Superior, WI 54880
Phone: (715) 392-2937
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 nationwide 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.
- Early U.S. French Catholic Church Records, 1695-1954 (Drouin Collection): This database contains the French Catholic parish records from the United States for the following states: Alabama, Arkansas, Illinois, Indiana, Louisiana, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Missouri, New York, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin. The types of records include baptisms, marriages, and burials as well as confirmations, dispensations, censuses, statements of readmission to the church, and so on. They are written mainly in French, as well as English, Latin, and Italian.
- ↑ Sydney E. Ahlstrom, A Religious History of the American People (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1972). FHL Book 973 K2ah.
- ↑ 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.