Wisconsin Courthouse records change extensively from county to county in both level of quality and volume. You will find different kinds of court records that are most likely to possess information related for your genealogical research below.
Wisconsin Court Records
The government of Wisconsin was not entirely stable until 1836, when it became Wisconsin Territory. However, prior to that there was some government control provided by the Northwest Ordinance. Even so, throughout territorial times the federal government didn’t have much control of the area. Enforcement of civil law at the Green Bay and Prairie du Chien outposts was particularly difficult. There were not many citizens living in the area, and many citizens who did live there were illiterate. The fur-trading frontier seemed to more or less govern itself throughout that time period.
The 1820s saw the appointment of several justices of the peace in Wisconsin. The Wisconsin Historical Society’s Grignon, Lawe, and Porlier Papers (1712–1884) holds Green Bay’s early justices records.
In 1813, Lewis Cass became Michigan Territory’s governor. By 1818, he was creating civil offices. He also divided several counties. Minor civil cases for $20 or under were presided over by justice courts. Non-capital criminal cases and civil cases of $1,000 or less were covered by county courts. Once per year the state supreme court met in Detroit to hear civil cases for amounts over $1,000. It also heard capital criminal cases, as well as appeals from the previously mentioned courts. A circuit court was created to operate in three counties in western Michigan County in 1822. It was effectively a supreme court just for those counties. However, it was known as an “additional court,” not as a supreme court. Some Native Americans were involved in certain court cases. However, that only occurred when white people were also involved in the same cases.
In 1836, Wisconsin Territory was formed. At that time, the judicial system consisted of justice of the peace courts, probate courts, district courts, and a supreme court. That same system stayed in place when Wisconsin became a state, which was in 1848. Mineral Point, Green Bay, and Prairie du Chien each had territorial courts.
County courts hold probate records. Records from civil cases can be found in circuit court files. County courthouses typically still hold old records, but the Wisconsin Historical Society’s Area Research Centers do have some court records on file. See Also Research In Court Records.
- Public Records of the Consolidated Court Automation Programs (wicourts.gov) provides access to certain public records of the circuit courts of Wisconsin
- The laws of the Northwest Territory, 1788-1800 (search.ancestry.com)
- Slavery petitions and papers (search.ancestry.com)
- Wisconsin Court Record Books (amazon.com)
Wisconsin Land Records
Wisconsin was a public-domain state. The General Land Office (GLO) split it up into 1,554 townships using a grid pattern. Mineral Point was home to the first land office in the area, which opened on November 10, 1834. At that time, the land that is now part of Grant County was available, except for mineral land. The Commissioner of Public Lands, P.O. Box 8943, Madison, WI 53708-8943 holds the records from all 9 GLO district offices in Wisconsin. The State Archives, Wisconsin Historical Society holds many of the Commissioners of Public Lands Records. Those records feature 1834 to 1858 plat books from federal land surveys. Copies of Wisconsin Local Land Office Tract Books are housed at the State Archives, Wisconsin Historical Society. Those records include listings of those who bought and sold nearly all of the land in the state of Wisconsin. Township plats, patents, and copies of tract books can be found in Alexandria, Virginia at the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) Eastern States Land Office. Land-entry case files can be found at the National Archives. Many patent records and indexes can also be accessed online.
The register of deeds office in each county recorded land transactions that occurred after the lands were first distributed. Grantor and grantee indexes for those records are available in most counties. Area Research Centers, the FHL, the Wisconsin Historical Society, and other repositories also have microfilmed copies of some of those indexes available. See Also Guide to U.S. Land Records Research
- BLM Land Records (glorecords.blm.gov)
- Wisconsin Land Records (search.ancestry.com) contains information on Wisconsin (U.S.A.) land records. The database comes from the Bureau of Land Management’s Wisconsin Pre-1908 Homestead and Cash Entry Patent and Cadastral Survey Plat Index. Information recorded in the collection includes patentee name, land office, legal description, etc.
- List of persons to whom permits to locate mineral lands on the south shore of Lake Superior have been granted (search.ancestry.com)
- Wisconsin Public Land Survey Records: Original Field Notes and Plat Maps (wisc.edu)
- U.S., Indexed Early Land Ownership and Township Plats, 1785-1898 (search.ancestry.com)
- Wisconsin Land Record Books (amazon.com)
Wisconsin Probate Records
Executor or administrator bonds, wills, inventories, and guardianship papers can be found in Wisconsin probate records. Those records date back to county formation in most counties. Some probate files from Wisconsin can also be found on microfilm at the FHL, with copies also being available at the Wisconsin Historical Society’s Area Research Centers. Other records may also be found at those centers. See Also Guide to U.S. Probate Records Research
- Wisconsin, Probate Estate Files, 1848-1935 (familysearch.org)
- Wisconsin Probate Record Books (amazon.com)
Wisconsin Tax Records
Wisconsin tax records constitute one of the most complete sets of available records generated at the county level (by the Commissioners Court) because these documents are maintained by the state.
Real estate records are some of the oldest tax records in the state. One early tax record that still exists today is the Brown County 1824 tax roll. Each county’s treasurer is responsible for keeping its tax rolls. However, many of those records or copies of them have been filed at Area Research Centers. See Also Guide to U.S. Tax Records Research
- Wisconsin, County Tax Rolls, 1846-1910 (familysearch.org)
- Wisconsin Tax Records Description (ancestry.com) from Red Book: American State, County, and Town Sources.
- Wisconsin Tax Record Books (amazon.com)
Wisconsin Immigration & Naturalization Records
County courthouses typically held records of Wisconsin naturalizations. Those records are now being moved to the Wisconsin Historical Society’s Area Research Centers. The Waukesha and Milwaukee county historical societies hold the records for those county papers. Researchers should note that Menominee County was not formed until 1961. Therefore, earlier records can be found in parent counties. Records from 1961 onward for that county are held by its county courthouse. The National Archives— Great Lakes Region holds Wisconsin naturalization records that were filed with federal courts. It also holds some naturalization records from La Crosse. See Also Guide to U.S. Immigration Records Research
- Wisconsin Immigration Project (usgwarchives.net)
- Wisconsin Crew Lists, 1925-1969 (search.ancestry.com)
- Research In Immigration & Naturalization Records (ancestry.com)
- Wisconsin Immigration Record Books (amazon.com)
Wisconsin County & City Government Links
Wisconsin contains 72 counties. Each county is the local level of government within its borders. Counties in Wisconsin are run by county boards, headed by a chairperson. Counties with a population of 500,000 or more must have a county executive as well. Smaller counties may either have a county executive or a county administrator.
The links in the table below link to county and city government offices and is limited to government-maintained websites. If you know of a Wisconsin county that has an official government web site but is not linked, or if the link is in error, please contact us so we may edit our database. Wisconsin State Government is located in Madison.