Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Research at the Wisconsin Historical Society

With all the new information I got from Pauline and we weren’t going to see my cousin until the end of the week, we went down to Madison, WI and I spent about two days doing research at the Wisconsin Historical Society on the University of Madison campus.
I stood outside the building in aware.  I joined the Society last year when I stopped by their booth at the Federation of Genealogical Societies conference in Springfield, IL last year.  I didn’t think I’d be able to actually come and do research.  What an opportunity!  The building had been there over 100 years, I felt so honored.  As old as it looked outside, the inside was all marble walls, floors, stairs and balconies.  Beautifully constructed and maintained.

Now, down to business.  I went to the reference desk and asked for help.  A very nice student gave me a payment card so I could load it with money to use when printing copies.  She then took me around and showed me where the microfilm and readers were; how to load the film, print a page, etc.  This was so cool.  To get a copy of a document from home would have cost me $15 per document.  Here, it was only 10¢.  After a while, I was loading microfilm onto the reader, printing copies, rewinding the film and loading another with practiced rhythm.  I had to reload my payment card numerous times.  Here were all the documents I needed on my Ramminger ancestors from both Clark and Sheboygan counties.

I was printing out birth, marriage and death documents from every reel I looked at.  I didn’t want to leave my favorite work space.  I stayed until closing time and did my “happy dance” all the way back to our hotel. 

The next day I finished up with the microfilms and asked for help looking for city directories.  I again got excellent help from one of the librarians.  I had to take a tiny elevator (I think it was as old as the building) down a couple of floors to the “stacks.”  The air smelled old and dank; lighting wasn’t much better either.  I seemed to be the only one down there, kind of “creepy,” but I just stayed away from those thoughts.  I found the city directories and only brought one up with me.  I used the flatbed scanner and was able to save the images from the book to my flash drive.

I next asked for help with finding plat maps of my ancestor’s farms in Clark and Sheboygan counties.  Those I had to go to the Archives on a different floor, and since it was after 4 p.m., I’d have to wait until the next day.  Boo hoo!  We were leaving the next morning, what was I to do?

Since I knew which maps I wanted and didn’t have to hunt for them, I figured I could be at the doors when they opened the next day, get copies of the maps and we would be on the road by lunch time.  Good plan all around!  When I arrived at the Archives the next morning I had to sign in on a log, register to use the Archives, show my driver’s license, and sign a document that I’d abide by their rules of using their items.  I was assigned a locker for my purse, could only bring a camera phone, notebook and pencil.  Since I wanted to look at maps I was taken to a long table, showed how to fill out a request slip and waited while they got my first maps.  The librarians were friendly and knowledgeable. 

Throughout our trip I’d been using my camera phone every day.  Here, I was able to use the camera to take close-up shots of the maps.  I could tweak the different modes, get a wide view, macro view, and use the flash, or not.  I’ll be downloading the photos to my computer and print out what I want or share them with family members via email.  Very cool!

After seeing my ancestor’s names on the plat maps I got a better understanding of who they were.  In Clark County, I found that not only did my great-grandfather have a farm but I also saw where my grandfather Henry and his Brother John’s farms were located too.

In Sheboygan County several brothers and sons also had farms close to each other.  I found where their church was and where they were buried from the death documents I had copied the day before.  We were definitely going to Sheboygan county cemetery before heading to Chicago.

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