Birth Records

History: From 1852 to 1907, physicians or other persons attendant on a birth, or the parents if no one else was present, were required (though it was widely ignored) to file a certificate of birth within thirty days with the county register of deeds. After July 1897 the certificate was to be filed with the local health officer, or local clerk if there was no health officer, who then forwarded the certificate to the register of deeds. The register of deeds entered information from the certificate into a separate registry book and submitted a copy of the registry semiannually to the Secretary of State, before October 1907, and to the Bureau of Health Services, after October 1907.

Scope and Content: In 1852, Wisconsin Statutes specified that the birth registry contain the following information: full name of child; sex; race (“color”); name of other children (“issue”) living; full name of father; occupation of father; name of mother previous to marriage; place, date, and time of the birth; name and residence of the physician or other person signing the certificate or making the application; date of certificate; date of registration; and any other additional circumstances noted. In 1898 this list was amended to include the birthplaces of the parents.

Problems: The statewide index refers to the date of registration, not the actual birth date. Though registration has been required since 1852, early records are far from complete. Many births, particularly those prior to 1870, simply were not recorded. Conversely, many pre-1852 births were recorded, including some dating back to 1808. In some cases, babies that had not been named at the time of registration were indexed under the last name, with the first name left blank.

With the microfilmed records, the statewide volume and microfilm reel numbers do not always match. The statewide index for counties that begin with an S are indexed under the wrong county name: St. Croix is indexed as Sauk; Sauk is indexed as Sawyer; Sawyer is indexed as Shawano; Shawano is indexed as Sheboygan; and Sheboygan is indexed as St. Croix.

Marriage Records

History: From 1836 to 1907, clergy, justices of the peace, and others solemnizing marriages were required to submit a certificate for each marriage performed. Before 1852 these reports were to be submitted to county clerks. After 1852 the reports were submitted to the county register of deeds. The register of deeds was required to enter the information into a registry book, maintain an index, and until 1905, send a copy of the registrations to the Secretary of State. After 1905 the copies were submitted to the state Bureau of Vital Statistics, now the Bureau of Health Services. Registrations on file with the Secretary of State were transferred to the Bureau.

Death Records

History: From 1852 to 1907, a physician attendant at a death was required to submit a death certificate to the county register of deeds. In 1897 the requirement to file a certificate was extended to all deaths, whether or not a physician was present. Legislation passed that year made it illegal for any sexton, undertaker, or other person to bury anyone without obtaining a burial permit from the local health officer or clerk. The burial permit was to be issued only if a death certificate had been submitted. The register of deeds recorded the information from the death certificate in two identical volumes. The county retained one volume; the other was forwarded to the Secretary of State, before 1907, and to the Bureau of Health Services, after 1907. The pre-1907 Secretary of State’s records were transferred to the Bureau of Health Services.

Problems: Although registration of deaths has been required since 1852, records for early years are far from complete. For many Wisconsin counties no registrations pre-date 1870. The index to the statewide records provides reel and frame numbers for an earlier microfilming project, and should be disregarded. The only reliable access to the microfilms is the volume and page numbers provided in the index.


Birth, marriage, and death records through 1907 can be found at county courthouses, the Wisconsin Historical Society’s Area Research Centers, the Mormon Family History Centers, and FamilySearch, and also may be obtained from the Wisconsin Bureau of Health Services. With FamilySearch, you may be prompted to sign in before you are able to view the available records. If you do not have a FamilySearch account, you can register for free.

Records after 1907 are available at county courthouses and from the Wisconsin Bureau of Health Services.

For more detailed information on the development of Wisconsin records, see the Guide to Public Vital Statistics Records in Wisconsin (Madison, Wisconsin: Wisconsin Historical Records Survey, 1941). Call number: CD 3591 .H53. The guide may also be accessible online.

Information obtained from: Guide to Genealogical Collections in the Milwaukee Metropolitan Area, Mark A. Vargas, editor. (Milwaukee, Wis.: Library Council of Metropolitan Milwaukee, 1995.) Call number: (ARC) Z1352 .M5 G85x 1995.