Tracking Your Past

Doris Green

Ask a question of Steve Harrington, president of the Arena Historians, and the answer often comes as a story. When asked about resources the Historians offered genealogists, he described how a woman from North Carolina learned about her great-grandfather who registered from Arena for the Civil War. And how another family historian found out about a grandfather’s membership in the local Greenback Club.
While the Arena Historians collectively maintain a wealth of cemetery records, obituaries, school photos and other items (some in the village hall), the best way to find answers to your questions is simply to ask. Chances are you will find what you are seeking, and a few good stories to boot.
In a good-news move for genealogists, the Arena Historians began meeting informally in 2000. Four years later they launched the formal historical society.
The Historians cover a large township south of the Wisconsin River, containing more than 77 sections, compared to the usual 36. Every other fall, they organize a three-hour bus trip through the township, with storytelling stops at old schools, quarries and other sites.
A highlight of both the bus trips and meetings held the third Monday of the month at the Arena Manor, the stories connect family historians with the lives and lifestyles of their ancestors. Attendees may learn about farming with horses, cutting wood with a crosscut saw, the old railroad depot or cheese factories, or even a Native American campground.
The learning comes from formal presentations, for example, in February by Bill Quackenbush, historic preservation officer for the Ho-Chunk Nation, as well as from attendees sharing photos and their knowledge of local history. As one visitor noted, “This isn’t like a meeting, it’s like a big conversation.”
Following completion of the River Valley School District sale of the former Arena elementary school to Kerska & Crook Real Estate, the Arena Historians may receive space in that building. The space would be welcome, in part, to store and exhibit larger items like a printing press and baby casket for a toddler whose parents were told she was dying. Born in 1915, the girl lived to be 85.
Everywhere you turn, there is a story.
The best way to learn more about Arena’s old-time stories is to visit the Arena Historians Facebook page — and to attend a meeting.

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. Or, your library or bookstore may stock them. Connect with Doris at https://dorisgreenbooks.com/.