Tracking Your Past

Usually sooner rather later, genealogists with family ties across the Driftless Area realize they require the resources of a skilled local historian. Maybe they need help to identify a child in a family portrait, or they stumble over the name of the hired hand who saved the family farm when their great-grandfather went away to war. Whatever the roadblock, local volunteers — like the members of the Black Earth Historical Society — can often help.
Organized in 1992, the Black Earth Historical Society operates from its headquarters in a renovated turn-of-the-century gray stucco church at 1022 Blue Mounds St. Besides administrative space, the former church, which still displays historic stained glass windows, provides a gathering space for meetings and events like the annual Santa Sunday program in December.
The society’s restored Depot Museum opens to visitors the last Sunday in May and by appointment. When you visit, bring the family to see the heritage farm replica, historic photos, a World War II tribute and collection of old toys. Who knows? The visit may spark the interest of a future historian.
Genealogists visiting the headquarters building can view and photograph many local newspaper editions from 1916 to the present, binders containing alphabetized obituaries and cemetery records, as well as miscellaneous family records. Photographs feature numerous graduating classes of Black Earth High School from 1908 to 1963.
Even though the resources at the headquarters are not typically open to the public and the museum has limited hours, the society still aims to be helpful. “We make every effort to share our resources if people let us know in advance of a visit to the area,” said Steve Webber, Black Earth Historical Society board member.
Another reason emailing in advance is important: “No one person knows everything.” With advance warning, the society can be ready to respond to a visitor’s top research questions.
While the society is in the process of updating its bylaws, it currently does not have a fee for research. Of course donations are appreciated. “We are a strictly volunteer organization,” Webber said, “so the best manner to contact us is via email.” Contact: behistoricalsoc@gmail.com. Find the society’s webpage by visiting www.blackearthwisconsin.com and clicking on “Helpful Links” in the left margin.
The society will hold its annual meeting at 2 p.m. Feb. 10 featuring a presentation by author Patrick Jung on the Battle of Wisconsin Heights.

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