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  • Writer's pictureArwen Rasmussen

Dusting Off Some Local History: ARCs and Genealogies

By Greg Kocken, Archivist, UW-Eau Claire,

Every year I have the privilege of working with individuals who are digging into their own family history. Helping someone discover a unique document which sheds light on their family history is a rewarding moment, and I love hearing stories and learning more about these researchers own family trees. Archivists serve the genealogy community, acquiring and providing access to public records and other archival materials which share the stories of our past.

Over 50 years ago the Wisconsin Historical Society set up the Area Research Center (ARC) network in Wisconsin. At every major campus of the University of Wisconsin-System an archival repository preserves and provides access to important public records vital to understanding our forebearers. Among these materials are court and naturalization records. The court records include civil and criminal case files, as well as probate records (which often include wills). Naturalization, the process of becoming a citizen, is a process that produces several distinct records. The most important naturalization record is the Declaration of Intent (often called the “first papers”). These declarations share information about when our ancestors came to the United States, where they came from, and how they arrived here. This information greatly helps us to understand a family’s history.

Several years ago, I worked with the ARC at UW-Green Bay to unearth a Declaration of Intent record for my own great-grandfather. Despite years of working with genealogists to discover similar documents for their own ancestors, I was not prepared for just how profound it is to learn about your own family by uncovering a document of this importance. This document led me to ask many questions and helped me dig even further back into my family’s history tracing a family tree back to the 17th century. I also learned that I likely have distant relatives who share my family name in the small community where my great-grandfather emigrated from in the late 1800s.

I enjoy connecting these historic records with researchers and genealogists. If you get the urge to dig into your own family history don’t forget to reach out to an archivist at one of the many ARCs across Wisconsin. Is there a local history mystery or topic you want to know more about? Do you have a suggestion for an upcoming column of “Dusting Off?” Please contact Greg at the UW-Eau Claire archives. He would love to hear from you.

Photo: The Wisconsin Historical Society’s ARC network helps connect genealogists with vital public records and resources that support family research.

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