Unique Genealogical Resources in the Coulee Region
The Driftless Area is a region in southwestern Wisconsin, southeastern Minnesota, and northeastern Iowa which escaped the flattening effects of glaciation during the last ice age. The Coulee Region is a term used within the Driftless Area to denote land dissected by water erosion into a series of narrow ridges separated by steep-sided valleys called coulees. Although the Coulee Region is geologically unique, this article focuses on unique genealogical resources within the Coulee Region.
La Crosse Public Library Archives (The Archives)
The Archives at the La Crosse Public Library holds a non-circulating collection of materials developed around two major themes: Local History and Genealogy. See their website at: http://archives.lacrosselibrary.org/ for additional details. Contact: Anita Doering, Archives Manager.
The local history collection identifies, collects, organizes, preserves, publicizes and provides public access to primary and secondary resources documenting the history of La Crosse. Available resources cover:
city & county directories,
maps & atlases,
The genealogical collections are broader in scope and reflect the interests and informational needs of La Crosse area residents. In addition to providing access to databases such as the Library Edition of Ancestry, the Archives include a La Crosse area genealogy database and microfilmed local and Wisconsin census & vital records. Microfilm readers including a digital reader are available.
The Archives also serves as the official repository for historic City of La Crosse public records as well as supporting guided historical and architectural tours of La Crosse.
The Archives also maintains a directory of local area resources that are of interest to genealogists.
Murphy Library is part of the University of Wisconsin at La Crosse, and, as of 2017, contains 230 databases, 422,070 volumes, 670,354 e-books, 41,676 audiovisual material. See their website at https://www.uwlax.edu/murphylibrary/collections/special-collections/ for additional details. Contacts include Paul Beck, Special Collections Librarian and Area Research Center Director, and Laura Godden, Special Collections Historian. Areas of genealogical interest include:
Special Collections. Special Collections collects, preserves, and provides access to materials require special handling and care. Types of records include rare books, regional and Wisconsin history books, fine-press publications, maps, oral history recordings and transcripts, university archives, and a large historic photograph collection.
The La Crosse Area Research Center. The library houses the La Crosse Area Research Center (ARC), one of fourteen regional depositories for the Wisconsin Historical Society. The ARC holds public records, manuscript collections, archival records of local governmental bodies and personal papers of people and businesses from five Wisconsin counties: Jackson, La Crosse, Monroe, Trempealeau, and Vernon. This collection totals over 1,000 linear feet of public records, manuscript collections, and 450 reels of microfilm.
Public record holdings include: vital (birth, marriage, and death) records pre-1907, probate cases, deed records, naturalization papers, and tax rolls.
Manuscript collections include materials from individuals, businesses, and local organizations. Examples include the papers of the Hixon family, prominent business owners in La Crosse, the papers of Elizabeth Comstock, a physician in Trempealeau County, and the collection of Henry Bliss, a surveyor in La Crosse.
Digital Collection. Murphy Library’s digital collection is comprised of thousands of items and individual pages that have been scanned for or by Murphy Library. These items offer users instant and free access to unique and hard-to-find books, manuscripts, photographs, maps, academic publications, and other La Crosse and UWL related materials.
Special Collections Photographs. This Murphy Library collection contains over 150,000 historic and contemporary images organized into four major groups:
City of La Crosse and the surrounding area,
inland river steamboats,
UW-La Crosse, and
miscellany from other locations.
Image types include original prints, postcards (both real-photo and lithograph), stereoviews, and photographic negatives.
Register of Deeds (multiple counties)
County Register of Deeds have real estate copies of documents recorded or filed for property located in a particular county (deeds, land contracts, mortgages, etc). The Registrar may issue certified copies of birth, marriage, death, divorce, and military discharge certificates for those records where the event occurred in Wisconsin. You can research Vital Records but, for certified copies, you must have a tangible interest in the certificate you request: generally, this means immediate family only, i.e., spouse, parent, child, brother, sister or grandparent.
The register also records birth, death, marriage, divorce, and military discharges. Research requirements vary but you usually need to register at the desk and indicate the surnames you are searching.
La Crosse County Register of Deeds is located in La Crosse, WI .
Vernon County Register of Deeds is located in Viroqua, WI.
Monroe County Register of Deeds is located in Sparta, WI.
Trempealeau County Register of Deeds is located in Whitehall, WI.
Houston County Recorder of Deeds is located in Caledonia MN.
Bangor & Area Historical Society (BAHS)
Located in Bangor WI, BAHS offers archival documents, photographs, artifacts, and historical clothing. Contact: Gregory Wegner. See their website at: http://www.historicbangor.com/ for additional details.
Holmen Area Historical Society (HAHS)
The Holmen Area Historical Society provides historical information and presentations about the Holmen community. HAHS is raising funds to develop a site where they can display the many historical artifacts acquired throughout the years. Contact: Ruth Scholze.(608-526- 3064). See their website at: http://holmenhistory.org/ for additional details.
Houston County Historical Society (HCHS)
Established in 1948, HCHS is located in Caledonia, Minnesota, and maintains exhibits in the Main Museum, the Sheldon Presbyterian Church, Flatten-Swenson Pioneer Home, the Mayville Town Hall, the Daley School, and the Ag Machinery Building. Besides the exhibits and artifacts, the Society has extensive resources, including microfilm for Houston County births, deaths and marriages; land and probate records; declarations of intent and naturalization records; county newspapers; Houston County state and federal census; and county Lutheran and Presbyterian church records. The HCHS library includes: over 20,000 photographs, county histories, plat books and maps, church and community histories, cemetery recordings and records, obituaries, clippings and ephemera files, genealogies, some school, business and church records. See the HCHS website at http://houstoncountyhistoricalsociety.org/index.html for additional info.
La Crescent Area Historical Society (LCAHS)
The La Crescent Area Historical Society collection includes family histories, albums, photographs & mementos as well as Applefest memorabilia: LCAHS has an oral history project recording interviews of local elders. See their website at https://lacrescenthistory.org/ for additional details.
La Crosse County Historical Society (LCHS)
Since 1898, the LCHS collects, preserves, and shares the history of La Crosse County. Curator: Amy Vach. LCHS collects historical materials of all kinds, including books, documents, images and artifacts, to encourage the spread of knowledge about the history of La Crosse County. Searchable collections include: Things That Matter, Prohibition, 1920s Dresses, Hmoung Collection, Made in La Crosse, La Crosse Breweriana, La Crosse Artwork, Chocolate Companies and Illustrious Portraits. See the LCHS website at http://www.lchshistory.org/ for additional details.
Onalaska Area Historical Society (OAHS)
OAHS is a museum focused on the Onalaska area and its surrounds, and includes a display area as well as a rotating collection of artifacts. OAHS’ local history collection includes the book “From Sawmills To Sunfish” by John & Joan Dolbier and more than 10 loose leaf volumes containing information related to Onalaska’s history as complied by long-time resident, Nancy Tolvstad. Housed with the Onalaska Public Library, the Museum’s displays are open about 10 hours per week as well as by appointment. Contact: Dorothy Johnson, curator. See their Facebook page at: https://www.facebook.com/Onalaskaareahistoricalsociety/ for more details.
Monroe County Historical Society (MCHS)
The Monroe County Historical Society Inc preserves, advances and disseminates the history of Monroe County, WI. MCHS was instrumental in establishing the Monroe County Local History Room, and MCHS owns and operates the Big Creek Church and the Brackett School as historical sites. The Monroe County Museum offers history exhibits and special programs. Permanent exhibits and regularly changing displays illustrate past lives and experiences of Monroe County people, pioneer history, agriculture, military history, industry, business, and the home. The Local History Room research library has a wide variety of information available on Monroe County, its towns, cities, villages, and people. Several indexes and research aids are available on-line thru their website. Contact: Hannah Scholtze, museum Services Associate. See their website at http://www.monroecountyhistory.org/index.php for additional details.
Trempealeau County Historical Society (TCHS)
The Trempealeau County Historical Society focuses on the resources of Trempealeau County and its unique stories and history. See their website at http://trempealeaucountyhistory.org/ for additional details.
Vernon County Historical Society (VCHS)
The Vernon County Historical Society is located in Viroqua and is focused on the history of Vernon County. Contact: Assistant curator Carol Krogan. VCHS has 4 buildings including the Museum, the Old St. Mary’s Church Museum, the Foreaker One Room Schoolhouse, and the Sherry-Butt House. The Museum’s Historical Society has a genealogy and local history research area. Exhibits include the teaching classroom, archaeology, military history, a general store, the Astronaut Mark Lee Space exhibit and agricultural exhibits. Each week, a small segment of Vernon County history is published in the county papers. See website at http://vernoncountyhistory.org/ for additional details.
West Salem Historical Society (WSHS)
The West Salem Historical Society preserves and advances the culture and history of the West Salem area. To fulfill this purpose the Hamlin Garland Homestead, the Palmer-Gullickson-Octagon House, and the Palmer-Lewis-Octagon House are used as a center for cultural events and local history study. See website at http://westsalemhistoricalsociety.net/ for additional details.
Winona County Historical Society (WCHS)
The Winona County Historical Society is dedicated to the collection, preservation, exhibition and interpretation of materials that document the history of Winona County. The Society currently has over 1400 members, and operates three museums. The Winona County History Center in downtown Winona houses the main museum facility, Laird Lucas Library and Archives, Society offices and program and event spaces. The Bunnell House is located in Homer and the Rural Heritage Museum is on the Winona County Fairgrounds in Saint Charles. The the Laird Lucas Library and Archives contains an irreplaceable collection of manuscripts, documents and photographs. See their website at http://www.winonahistory.org/ for additional details.
Norskedalen (which means the Norwegian Valley), is a Norwegian heritage center dedicated to preserving, interpreting and sharing the natural environment and cultural heritage of the area surrounding Coon Valley in southwest Wisconsin. Norskedalen includes over 400 acres of wooded coulee, goat prairie, springs, creek and fields, crossed by miles of nature trails. Heritage Classes are offered by experts in Norwegian heritage in arts, history and nature-related crafts and skills. See their website at https://www.norskedalen.org/ for additional details.
The Diocese of La Crosse
The Diocesan Archives manage the historical records and data of the local Roman Catholic Diocese, and provides research services to the offices and departments of the Diocesan Curia and the parishes of the diocese. The Archives also coordinates the collection and filming of parish sacramental registries, and the requests for sacramental and genealogical records. Genealogical requests should be submitted in writing, either by regular mail or using by an online form found at https://diolc.org/archives/genealogical-records-request/ The attached list of Catholic churches in the Diocese of La Crosse indicates the year in which the records of birth, marriage and death begin for the respective parishes or missions.
Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration (FSPA)
St. Rose Convent, built in La Crosse in 1870, serves as the spiritual heart and administrative center for the Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration, a global community of Franciscan women committed to prayer, witness and service. Perpetual Adoration (round-the-clock prayer) has been a cherished practice of FSPA. Consequently, day and night since August 1, 1878, at least two people have been continuously praying before the Blessed Sacrament. Sister Mary Gschwind heads up the archives for the FSPA . An appointment is required. Their general website is https://www.fspa.org/.
Congregation Sons of Abraham Synagogue
This synagogue has a 100 year heritage in La Crosse and is located at 1820 Main Street. Contact: email@example.com. Their general website is http://www.lacrossesynagogue.org/. The La Crosse Archives have a history of this synagogue and Jewish settlement in La Crosse at https://archives.lacrosselibrary.org/blog/jewish-structures-in-la-crosse/. Murphy Library also has B’Nai B’rith records for La Crosse in Special Collections.
Local Lutheran Churches
For the many local Lutheran churches, and since some of these records have been moved to unexpected locations such as Wartburg College (located in Waverly, IA), we recommend starting with the Archives.
St. Francis Hospital
Sister Mary Gschwind of the FSPA is reputed to have some records related to St. Francis Hospital. Additionally, the Archives has some information including the following statement:.
The St. Francis School of Nursing operated in La Crosse, Wisconsin, from 1902 to 1970, and was associated with St. Francis Hospital (now Franciscan Skemp Health Care), Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration and Viterbo College (now Viterbo University). Materials of the School of Nursing include historical photographs, newspaper clippings about the school and students, bulletins and promotional materials, handbooks for students, biographical information on nursing faculty, clippings and other miscellaneous information about St. Francis Hospital. Also included are records of the St. Francis Alumnae Association, the nursing school’s alumni group, which include constitution/bylaws, historical materials, and some homecoming booklets.
Hear, Here La Crosse
Hear, Here La Crosse is an oral history project sharing the diverse stories and voices of La Crosse including stories from the Oral History program at the Murphy Library Special Collections. Throughout downtown La Crosse, orange street-level signs with the Hear, Here logo enable listeners to dial a toll-free number on the sign to hear a first-person account of things that happened in that exact location. See their website at http://www.hearherelacrosse.org/ for additional details of these stories.
Generally, we recommend that the Archives be consulted to identify optimal starting points for genealogical research in the Coulee Region.