Wisconsin Vital Records
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This entry was originally written by Dawn M. Knauft and Carol L. Maki in Red Book: American State, County, and Town Sources.
Wisconsin issued marriage applications as early as the 1820s in some counties, although most jurisdictions began maintaining them with county organization. The state directed the counties, in 1852, to record births and deaths, a mandate generally ignored. In 1878 a similar law received more attention and adherence. A separate volume was kept for recording births that had occurred prior to 1852. The earliest delayed birth record dates to 1746. A table showing the earliest filed vital records can be found on the website of the Wisconsin Vital Records Service.
Beginning in 1907 the state became responsible for maintaining birth, death, and marriage records. Researchers may apply for records of births, deaths, and marriages at Wisconsin Vital Records, P.O. Box 309, Madison, WI 53701-0309. The website provides updated information about process and costs for obtaining copies. Certified copies are only available to the person on the record or specific relatives of that person, such as parent, spouse, or grandparent. Onsite searching in the state vital records is possible with advance appointments at particular hours and on particular days. Contact the office for complete information on this procedure before traveling to Madison. Some records are not accessible. Vital records at the county level are held by the register of deeds at each county government center. Indexes and original records may be searched within established guidelines. Photocopies or certificates of county records can be obtained at the same rate schedule as the state’s.
Of great value to the genealogist in Wisconsin is the statewide microfiche index to the births, deaths, and marriages recorded in the state prior to October 1907. The Wisconsin Historical Society, all Area Research Centers, and the Family History Library (FHL) in Salt Lake City hold copies of this index. In addition, the index can be found online at the website of the Wisconsin Historical Society. The Wisconsin Historical Society Library at Madison has microfilmed copies of the actual records referred to in the index, and each Area Research Center has the microfilmed records for the counties covered by that center. Some records at the county level are not included in the statewide index. Some specific counties are not indexed for specific types of vital events. In the marriage records index, for example, the entries for Racine County are incomplete, and counties following Racine alphabetically are not included. Price County is also missing. However, separate indexes to each of the remaining twenty-one counties have been compiled by volunteers and are available in print at the Wisconsin Historical Society Library. For those counties without an index, the society also has microfilmed, handwritten registers, arranged chronologically by registration date, and indexed primarily by the first letter of the groom’s surname. Despite these limitations, the microfiche index is a tool that should certainly be used in Wisconsin research.
Divorce records are usually found in the county government centers, most often in the civil court records. Post-1907 divorce decrees, although they actually contain very little genealogical information, can be located at the State Bureau of Vital Statistics. From 1836 through 1848, the territorial legislature granted the divorces listed in the Wisconsin State Genealogical Society Newsletter (April 1980).
The “Wisconsin Necrology” at the Wisconsin Historical Society is a collection of several thousand selected obituaries of Wisconsin citizens (1890–1945). The obituaries are in scrapbooks that were originally indexed by a card catalog, and are searchable online at the Wisconsin Historical Society website. The scrapbooks have been microfilmed and are available through interlibrary loan.
Other obituary indexes can be located in numerous local libraries and in some Area Research Centers. Some early vital records have been extracted and published in state and county genealogical periodicals.
FamilySearch.org has a variety of collections available for free online:
- Wisconsin, Birth Index, 1820-1907
- Wisconsin, Births and Christenings, 1826-1926
- Wisconsin, Marriages, 1836-1930
- Wisconsin, Marriage Index, 1973-1997
- Wisconsin, Divorce Index, 1965-1984
- Wisconsin, Death Index, 1820-1907
- Wisconsin, Deaths and Burials, 1835-1968
- Wisconsin, Death Index, 1959-1997
- Wisconsin Birth, Marriage, and Death Records - free up-to-date guide to accessing Wisconsin birth, marriage, and death records (FamilySearch Research Wiki). Includes links to FamilySearch vital record databases.