MCLHR expands online database of searchable records
Even though the Monroe County Local History Room is still currently closed to the public, staff and volunteers have been busy updating the museum’s website with over 44,000 new record entries that they have been indexing over the past eight months.
When MCLHR Director Jarod Roll first began working at the museum nearly 18 years ago, the organization was already known for being a helpful, genealogical library.
People would write in requesting information on certain individuals or families as the museum had numerous resources such as old newspapers, government records and all sorts of documentation of people’s lives, deaths and everything in between.
At the time, the museum only had a single computer and the majority of the record exchange was through written correspondence.
“Our mission here is to connect people to history in a meaningful way and that can be through exhibits or public programs or it can be through our research library,” Roll said. “When you have all of these documents and ledger books, they’re of no use to anybody unless you know what’s in them.”
The museum started indexing all of its resources, pulling out and documenting names by hand in order to make it easier on the researcher, who might be looking for a particular name.
When Roll became director, he suggested taking those indexes, making them electronic and uploading them onto the internet for those who weren’t physically able to come to the museum.
“It helps us to help others because it’s more accessible to us now and it helps others get started on their own,” Roll said, adding the indexing began with newspapers and vital records because those documents are the “go to” resources when researching family history.
“This was before the days of Ancestory.com; it didn’t exist. We were the Ancestory for Monroe County and in many ways, we still are,” he said.
Now, the process for requesting records is much more streamlined, according to Roll. Volunteers read through documents, types in names and information into an index. Then, staff take the information and upload it onto a master spreadsheet and send it to web designers who then put it on the museum’s website.
“We are pulling the needles out of the haystack because unless you have a reference point in time you can’t find it, unless you index it,” Roll said. “We’re finding stuff that people would never even know is there because of the front-end work that all of our volunteers are doing.”
By the efforts of numerous volunteers and Museum Services Associate Hannah Scholze, who is also a genealogist, the museum has ramped up its efforts to build up the online index. What started as a few thousand entries has now grown into nearly one million entries.
Researchers now have access to 26 different databases including Monroe County newspapers, church records, student records, photographs, court records and a new Tomah Indian Agency Census index.
This database is an index of names and accompanying information listed on U.S. Indian Census Rolls filled out by the Tomah Indian Agent based at the Tomah Indian Industrial School. Unlike the U.S. Federal Census, which was filled out every 10 years, these Census Rolls were completed annually.
The Tomah Indian Agency existed from 1911 to 1915 and 1927 to 1939. It served Native American populations including members of the Ho-Chunk, Oneida and Stockbridge-Munsee Nations in and around western and central Wisconsin.
The Census Rolls are a wonderful resource for anyone researching a Native American family member who lived during the first half of the 20th century. Some of the information in the records includes tribe or nation, English name, Indian name, relationship to head of household, birthdate and death date.
Staff will provide a copy of any of the articles indexed in the database for a small fee, which helps cover the cost of the equipment needed. The history room was founded in 1976 as a county department and even though the county pays for wages, staff need to fundraise for the museum’s operating costs; one of the ways is through this system.
However, Monroe County residents have the benefit of accessing the records for free. Individuals can use the website to make a list of the records they want and bring it into the museum where they can access the records free of charge.
The museum’s online database can be accessed at http://www.monroecountyhistory.org.