Tracking Your Past

Doris Green

Go in person if you can. The Sauk County History Center looks like an old urban schoolhouse perched on a scenic curve in the Baraboo River. Built in 1917, the restored Island Woolen Mill office building represents the work of Claude & Starck, a Madison architectural firm that designed many schools and libraries.
Baraboo’s Island Woolen Mill was built in 1859 at the “island” created by the raceway that cut across an oxbow peninsula. Once the largest employer in the county, the Island Woolen Mill carded, spun and loomed material for automobile upholstery and clothing (including overcoat material for the U.S. Army during World War II). After 1949, the mill stood vacant. After a 1963 fire damaged the complex, most buildings were demolished. The brick office building remained, however, and for years the city used the lower level as a maintenance shop. But with the completion of a new facility, the old building was eventually abandoned. The Sauk County Historical Society purchased it for $1 in 2006 and opened the renovated History Center in 2013.
Inside, you will find a well-lighted reading room, display cases, visitor log, shiny woodstove and errant parking meter. A genealogical treasure trove lies in smaller rooms beyond, containing probate books dating back to 1847, school yearbooks and photos. More than 3,000 family surname files offer hard-to-find news clippings.
Linda Levenhagen, office and research manager, recently identified other treasures: family histories, indexed scrapbooks, Sauk County histories and a 1842-1907 marriage record book identifying the parents of the brides and grooms. There are phone books and a 19th-century Sauk County directory. Baraboo city directories date to 1895-96 and additionally list residents of outlying townships.
Much information is online — even a list of Sauk County churches along with their records holdings and contact information. Genealogists working from home may also request searches for information about their ancestors. Yet they may unearth more clues by making an appointment and coming for a personal visit. One scrapbook article may lead to another or offer information about an ancestor’s neighbors and neighborhoods. A printed list of cemeteries is more complete than findagrave.com and includes small family plots not mentioned elsewhere.
The History Center (https://saukcountyhistory.org/research), 900 2nd Ave., is open year-round 12-4 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday. The Sauk County Historical Society (www.saukcountyhistory.org) opens the Sauk County Historical Museum, 531 4th Ave., on Friday and Saturday May through October.

Doris Green authored “Elsie’s Story: Chasing a Family Mystery” and “Wisconsin Underground: A Guide to Cave, Mines, and Tunnels.” Newly available: “Minnesota Underground: A Guide to Caves & Karst, Mines & Tunnels,” is co-authored Greg Brick. Contact http://henschelhausbooks.com, Amazon or your bookstore.