Special Collections and Archives welcomes the use of its materials by anyone. One of the major misconceptions people have about archival materials is that they are only useful to historians. University faculty, staff, and students are primary users of the collections, but nearly half of our researchers are from the general public: family historians and genealogists, local historians, high school students, property owners, lawyers, journalists, writers, city planners, and architects to name a few.
As a holder of public records spanning more than 150 years and several counties, the Special Collections and Archives believes it is our purpose is to provide access to these materials to the public.
Area Research Center Information
The Area Research Center (ARC) network allows the archival collections of the Wisconsin Historical Society to be distributed over the entire state, bringing local history and genealogical collections of regional interest to each of the 14 different areas. The ARCs are located on the four year University of Wisconsin campuses, except for the ARC at the Northern Great Lakes Center in Ashland.
For more information, please see our Materials Transfer FAQ.
One of the primary functions of the archives is to serve patrons and assist with research requests. If you are not able to visit us in person, you are welcome to reach out by Submitting a Research Request or via email. For our contact information, please visit our Staff/Contact Us page.
Researchers are encouraged to explain their project or interests to staff. This can take five minutes or an hour depending on the complexity of the project. Consulting staff will discuss your project and research strategy and suggest sources available to support the project. Once sources have been identified they will be retrieved for your use.
The Special Collections and Archives does not charge for research services. There is also no charge for scanning or digitally duplicating materials. A charge may be incurred when making physical copies of materials that amount to more than 10 pages. At this point, the charge per page is 10 cents per page. We cannot accept credit or debit cards, we are only able to accept cash.
We encourage patrons to bring their own USB Flash Drives or External Disk Drives to save digital copies on.
Online Catalogs, Indexes, and Databases
The archival materials available at the Special Collections and Archives, as well as at other universities across the state of Wisconsin, can be located with the Special Collections and Archives Catalog. Finding aids may be available in the collection’s catalog record, which will describe the collection and its contents more thoroughly than the catalog record.
WHS Vital Records Index
The Wisconsin Historical Society has millions of vital records recorded in Wisconsin before October 1, 1907, at the state level. The collection includes approximately 1 million birth records, 1 million marriage records, and 400,000 death records.
The vital records are indexed in the Pre-1907 Vital Records Index. This online resource can be searched by ancestor name and year of event. Record the microfilm location information to find and view the record on microfilm. You can find the index for this resource here: Wisconsin Vital Records Index.
Ancestry.com: Access is available for onsite access; offsite access to Blugold card holders only.
Newspapers.com (Library Edition): Access is available for onsite access; offsite access to Blugold card holders only.
Access Newspaper Archive (Wisconsin Collection): Access is available for onsite access; offsite access to Blugold card holders only.
While a very small percentage of our collections have been fully digitized and are available online, everything that has been processed in our repository is available to search for in our online catalog.
Visiting the Archive
It is not required to make an appointment to visit the archives. You are welcome to drop by and view records anytime during our business hours.
While it is not required to make an appointment to visit the archives, though it is sometimes preferred based on the size of your request. If you are expecting to have a large request, sending an email prior to your visit to allow us time to prepare the materials for you is appreciated.
For directions on how to get to McIntyre Library, please visit this page.
Parking on campus requires a permit. To obtain a free visitor parking permit, please contact the Flesch Family Welcome Center prior to your visit. Their phone number is 715-836-2544. The closest lot to McIntyre Library is the Phillips lot.
When you arrive at the Special Collections and Archives, you will be asked to register as a patron. This is required to utilize our services. To register, you will be asked to fill out a form with general contact information, provide identification, and agree to the rules of the reading room. This process generally takes less than five minutes.
Because of the unique and delicate nature of our materials, researchers are asked to adhere to the following rules when visiting the archives:
- Researchers must register annually. A Researcher Card will be issued at registration and must be shown at all subsequent visits.
- Please leave all coats and bags outside of the reading room.
- Food, beverages, and tobacco products are strictly prohibited within the reading room.
- Use of pens, markers, and highlighters of any kind is prohibited within the reading room.
- Researchers may bring laptop computers, tablets, cameras, cell phones, pencils, and/or note-taking materials into the reading room.
- Researchers are authorized to use cameras (no flash) to capture images of collection materials for research purposes. For other material duplication options please consult with department staff.
- Please preserve the existing order of the collections. Return all records and documents to their original folders and/or boxes before leaving the reading room.
- Archival materials are often fragile and must be handled with care. They must not be marked on, folded, traced over, cut out, or otherwise handled in ways which cause damage. Please remember that these materials are only available for your use because those before you have used them with great care. Those that follow you should have the same opportunity.