Wisconsin Periodicals, Newspapers, and Manuscript Collections

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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.

This article is part of
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the Wisconsin Family History Research series.
History of Wisconsin
Wisconsin Vital Records
Census Records for Wisconsin
Background Sources for Wisconsin
Wisconsin Maps
Wisconsin Land Records
Wisconsin Probate Records
Wisconsin Court Records
Wisconsin Tax Records
Wisconsin Cemetery Records
Wisconsin Church Records
Wisconsin Military Records
Wisconsin Periodicals, Newspapers, and Manuscript Collections
Wisconsin Archives, Libraries, and Societies
Wisconsin Naturalization
African Americans of Wisconsin
Wisconsin County Resources
Map of Wisconsin


The Wisconsin Magazine of History, published in Madison by the Wisconsin Historical Society, is a quarterly publication with historical articles, book reviews, and listings of acquisitions of historical and genealogical material. The complete collection, with issues dating back to 1917, has been digitized and is online at the Wisconsin Historical Society website.

The Wisconsin State Genealogical Society Newsletter, originally titled Wisconsin Families from 1940 to 1941, is available quarterly to members or at subscribing libraries (see Wisconsin Archives, Libraries, and Societies for address). The periodical contains pertinent state activities, queries, and recent publications acquired by the group. The majority of material is the publication of records from Wisconsin counties, including cemetery readings, church records, vital records, newspaper extractions, and other genealogically important items.

Various local and county genealogical and historical societies publish excellent newsletters helpful in research.


Newspaper publishing began in Wisconsin in 1833 with the printing of the Green Bay Intelligencer. First issued on 11 December of that year, it contained four twelve-by-eighteen-inch pages, and was printed semi-monthly for $2 a year. A good finding guide to the early papers of that area is Barry C. Noonan, Index to Green Bay Newspapers, 1833'1840 (Monroe: Wisconsin State Genealogical Society, n.d.). The index includes the name of the newspaper, date, page, column, and brief description of the subject matter.

Included in the outstanding newspaper collection of the Wisconsin Historical Society (second in size only to the Library of Congress in the United States) are over 1,600 titles of Wisconsin's newspapers, almost three-fourths of all the newspaper issues ever published in the state. James L. Hansen, Wisconsin Newspapers, 1833'1850: An Analytical Bibliography (Madison, Wis.: State Historical Society of Wisconsin, 1979), contains information on the very earliest Wisconsin newspapers. An excellent index to this collection, although no longer inclusive, is Donald E. Oehlerts, Guide to Wisconsin Newspapers, 1833'1957 (Madison, Wis.: State Historical Society of Wisconsin, 1958). This volume lists the papers (organized by county and town), dates of publication, availability for research, and the respective repository. James P. Danky, and Maureen E. Hady, eds., Newspapers in the State Historical Society of Wisconsin: A Bibliography with Holdings (New York: Norman Ross Pub., 1993), is a more recent update.

All Wisconsin newspapers held by the Wisconsin Historical Society on microfilm are available through interlibrary loan. The newspaper collection is also useful in the areas of African Americans, ethnic groups, and Native Americans. Specialized bibliographies on some of these collections have been published by the society.

The Milwaukee Sentinel, which covered statewide local news, has a two-part index (1837'79, 1880'90). Originals are at the Milwaukee Public Library, 814 W. Wisconsin Ave., Milwaukee, WI 53233, with microfilm copies at the Wisconsin Historical Society.


Manuscript collections at the Wisconsin Historical Society are extensive. The following are a few representative, important examples:

A manuscript collection with some of the oldest Wisconsin records is the Grignon, Lawe, and Porlier Papers (1712'1884). The sixty-five volumes contain the business, personal, and official papers and correspondence of three early Green Bay families that were involved in the fur-trading industry. Included in the papers are allusions to treaties, to annuity payments, and to Native Americans in connection with the fur trade. Related collections can be consulted for early fur trade documentation. An excellent index to all fur trade manuscripts is Bruce M. White, The Fur Trade in Minnesota: An Introductory Guide to Manuscript Sources (St. Paul: Minnesota Historical Society, 1977).

Betty Patterson, ed., Some Pioneer Families of Wisconsin, An Index, 3 vols. (A Bicentennial Project of the Wisconsin State Genealogical Society, Madison, Wisc., 1977, 1987, and 2001) is a collection of indexes of applications for pioneer or century certificates. The indexes include the following, if available: name of ancestor, birth date and place, death date, name of spouse, county of residence, and name of applicant. The supporting documentation for volumes one and two is deposited in the archives of the Wisconsin Historical Society and is accessible to researchers. Documentation for volume three is available through the Wisconsin State Genealogical Society. Both societies provide photocopies by mail for a fee.

Manuscript collections at this excellent repository are extremely diverse in character and content. Genealogists researching in the state must be diligent and imaginative in using these sources. Many collections not considered genealogical in nature may very well contain valuable information. The society continues to process many important manuscript sources, including several Wisconsin business collections, such as the Island Woolen Company of Baraboo (including payroll books) and the Connor Forest Industries (including records related to the 'company towns' of Laona and Wakefield).

The most noted and widely used are the Draper Manuscripts, collected in the nineteenth century by Lyman Copeland Draper. The variety of the collection includes correspondence, interview notes, extracts from newspapers and other published sources, muster rolls, and transcripts of official documents and research notes for the western Carolinas and Virginia, Kentucky, Tennessee, the entire Ohio River valley, and parts of the Mississippi River valley. A mass of genealogical and historical information is available on microfilm (134 reels), which has been deposited in numerous libraries across the nation. Before attempting to use the collection, consult Josephine L. Harper, Guide to the Draper Manuscripts (Madison, Wis.: State Historical Society of Wisconsin, 1983).