Tracking Your Past

Avid genealogists sometimes travel to the Family History Library in Salt Lake City or the Wisconsin Historical Society Library in Madison to search for information about their ancestors. Yet surprising clues can also be unearthed in local museums and archives.

Consider the archives of the Lafayette County Historical Society headquartered at the former Darlington Public Library. The society purchased and then moved to this building in 2000. The archives, established in the old City Council room on the library’s lower level, moved upstairs.

You can easily spot the Carnegie building set in the city park at the top of Main Street. The society’s archives contains a multitude of items, all catalogued and accessible for historical or genealogical research.

Where to begin? The archives holds many items you will not necessarily find at a state or larger facility: local and area histories, family histories, hundreds of photos, files of news clippings, school census records from 1912-1960s, rural school and business records, church records and cemetery listings.

In addition to the archives, the Lafayette County Historical Society headquarters building showcases a museum containing military items and a Civil War exhibit; medical items and a pharmacy; a barber shop; beauty salon; children’s nursery; Parson Circus exhibit; and Lavern Kammerude original paintings.

Kammerude’s 20th-century folk paintings portrayed such scenes as house parties, farmsteads and horse teams pulling agricultural equipment, wagons and sleighs. The museum sells a selection of his limited-edition prints and other local history prizes. You can purchase “Combined Plat Books of Lafayette County, 1864, 1895 and 1916;” old calendars; views of area towns including Argyle, Benton, Blanchardville, Gratiot and Shullsburg; the “Lafayette County Probate Book, Earliest to 1997,” as well as memoirs and histories.

Wait, there’s more! The Lafayette County Historical Society also operates the Depot Museum on South Washington Street. As you would expect, the well-maintained depot features railroad artifacts and you can view railroad maps from 1874, 1898 and 1905. The depot and adjacent warehouse also display agricultural items and Florence Bennett oil paintings of Lafayette County depots.

Visitors come from all over the country to search for family information, according to Marion Howard, archives curator, who said they also receive many requests by email and phone.

The museum is open 1-4 p.m. Monday-Saturday. Howard is there Mondays and Thursdays. To learn more, visit www.lafayettehistorical.com/1401.html, email lafayettehistorical@centurylink.net or call (608) 776-8340.

Doris Green is the author of “Elsie’s Story: Chasing a Family Mystery.” Her latest book is a second edition of “Wisconsin Underground: A Guide to Cave, Mines and Tunnels in and Around the Badger State.” Both books are available from henschelhausbooks.com. Reach Doris via dorisgreenbooks.com.