Tips for Genealogists

Recollection Wisconsin offers many resources that can help you discover your family history. However, the types of materials available in our digital collections and the way our search engine works mean you may need to get creative in using this website to search for information about your ancestors. These tips can help improve your genealogy research results.

Good sources for genealogy research

Some useful categories of materials to consider in your search include:

  • City directories
  • County histories and local histories
  • Newspapers (full issues or clippings)
  • Plat maps
  • Records (military records, church records, marriage certificates, etc.)
  • Yearbooks (high school and college)

To explore any of these categories, go to Browse Collections by Category and choose one or more categories from the Format list. Click on a link to open a specific collection, then enter a search term.

Searching for personal names

To search the full text of books or other documents, you’ll need to navigate to a specific item or collection and then run a second search within that item or collection. For example, if you’re searching for biographical information about John Smith from Appleton, you might not get many results if you simply enter “John Smith Appleton” in the search box.

Instead, you might . . .

  • Enter Appleton or Outagamie County into the Places search box at the right. Choose an item–for example, the book Appleton Wisconsin Illustrated from your search results–and then search for Smith within the book to reach the specific pages where the name Smith is found.
  • Explore collections on a map and look for collections in the Appleton area. Click on a link to open a specific collection, then search for Smith within that collection.

Getting creative with searching

Another way you can use the resources you’ll find here is to establish a historical context for your ancestors–looking not at their own stories, but at the places and events that shaped their lives. This kind of research requires some creative thinking and also some creative searching and exploring of the digital collections.

With this approach, you might start with some questions:

  • What did your family member’s hometown look like in the year he or she was born?
    Use the Places search box at the right to find photographs, postcards, maps and bird’s eye views of communities across Wisconsin.
  • Are there photographs available of the school or church he or she attended?
    Search for a community name plus the term “school” or “church” to see what you might find.
  • What did he or she do for a living?
    Try search terms like farming, dairying, logging, banking, etc.
  • What kinds of important events were taking place in Wisconsin during his or her lifetime?
    Choose the Wisconsin history subject category in Browse Collections by Category to find materials that document statewide history.

What you’ll find–and what you won’t find

Our search engine includes photographs, diaries, letters, maps, books, magazines, newspapers, postcards, oral histories, music, film clips, and museum artifacts from libraries, archives, museums and historical societies across the state. The search engine does not include indexes of historical information such as cemetery indexes, obituary indexes, or vital records indexes.

What we make available through Recollection Wisconsin depends on what our contributing partners have shared online. That means some locations in the state are very well represented and others aren’t represented at all. The collection continues to grow as we work with new contributing partners, and new material is added every month.

More resources