Tracking Your Past

Doris Green

When Aldo Leopold studied Wisconsin’s natural history, he often used the Wisconsin Historical Society collections, according to Matt Blessing, writing in the current issue of the Wisconsin Magazine of History. With in-person research limited these days, one can only wonder what Leopold might have found online, should he have searched today. A fur trader’s journal? A federal surveyor’s notes?

We too have the luxury of reaching out — and way, way back — even when staying at home this winter. Returning to websites we have checked before can yield new information, as the sites add new data weekly and as our questions evolve.

Many family historians start with www.Ancestry.com, which offers a free two-week trial subscription; they may search for discounts and coupons online before signing up. Alternately, if you simply wish to access Ancestry’s immense databases and don’t need the ability to create or link family trees, the site recently announced another extension through March 31, 2021, of free home access to some libraries’ Ancestry edition. If you live in Spring Green, from the South Central Library System page (https://www.scls.info/resources/name.html) click on the “Locally Subscribed Resources” tab beneath the “Online Resources” heading. If you live in the Southwest Wisconsin Library System, you will want to check with your local library. For example, the Dodgeville Public Library offers Ancestry only on its own computers, and at this writing you can make an appointment to use them. If you haven’t visited Ancestry in a while, you may want to check out its new and updated collections.

Similar sites like www.FamilySearch.org, www.usgenweb.org and www.FindAGrave.com sometimes offer different information than does Ancestry. Often operated by volunteers, there is no charge to access records, although you may want to register. FamilySearch is offered by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints and registration enables you to find and create online family trees. Owned by Ancestry, FindAGrave relies on numerous volunteers who photograph cemetery headstones and upload them to the website. When seeking information about a birth, death or other record, check several sites if the first site you go to does not answer your question. And don’t forget Google. Googling a name may lead to a news story or surprising new clue.

Your library offers additional resources to access from home, like Heritage Quest, which features city directories, family histories and more. Sign in using your library card number from your library’s website.

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