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Genealogical Information in Birth, Marriage, and Death Records

of Wisconsin and the Upper Peninsula of Michigan

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Vital records are created for purposes important to the states and their communities. Unfortunately, those purposes don't include genealogy, even though states and counties do cooperate with genealogists in making the records available to the public when possible. As the states' needs change over time, so do the pieces of information, called "fields of data", that the states require to be collected from individuals and recorded in vital records. There are basic fields that have always been there and probably always will be: the name(s) of the individual(s) directly involved, the date of the event, and the place of occurrence. All other fields of information come and go depending on the time period in which the record was created, and may be collected in one state but not another.

Even when a state directs that certain information should be collected, various factors lead to the omission of data from some records. For example, a person getting married in times past might frequently not have known the name of one or both of their parents, so a parent's name field will be left blank. Sometimes individuals will even record data that was not actually required to be collected. For example, some officiants at wedding ceremonies would interpret the "place of marriage" to include the venue of the ceremony and would write it down, though the state might only require that the city or township be recorded. Thus, vital records may have a little something extra waiting for a genealogist to dig up.

If you are looking for genealogical information on a person and wonder if it's worthwhile finding a particular record, it is helpful to know what is likely to be found on the record. I have collected many vital records from different counties in Wisconsin and northern Michigan, and below you can see what genealogical information you will find in records from different time periods, and with what frequency it appears on or is omitted from individual records. If you are looking for a specific piece of information - birthdate, for example - you'll want to know whether the vital record would contain that particular data item. It's a little hard to discern that from what you'll find below, but you can look elsewhere to find a list of data fields and frequency of occurrence on different records.

In the information on these pages I have named all the fields of interest that appear on the records, and I have calculated the percentage of records that actually have the information filled in on the record. On this page, for later time periods I saved time by only listing what was changed from the previous time period; I stopped listing all the fields that were present. I determined the time periods by observing abrupt changes in frequency of reporting data, or noting gain or loss of a data field. The time periods probably correspond with revised directives from the state government or with the issuing of new forms for recording vital information to be used in all counties.

The information for Michigan is based only on records from Upper Peninsula counties, with about 80% of the records being in Houghton, Marquette, and Gogebic counties. The information for Wisconsin is based on records from nearly all counties, distributed somewhat according to county population, except that Milwaukee County records are excluded from statistics. All records are for the surname Harrington, which could introduce some ethnic bias to the data to the extent that reporting depended in the early days on the inclination of the individuals involved. A large proportion of Harringtons have Irish immigrant roots and most of the remainder were Yankees from the East.

Statistics are based on what I copied from records, not on the records themselves. If something was totally illegible, it counts as missing information here. If I forgot to copy something off the record, it counts as missing information - but I tried very hard to be careful about that!

Record Types

Birth Records

Wisconsin Birth Records

Early birth records gave the race of the child. I did not note at what point the race was no longer recorded.

Prior to Oct 1, 1907, based on 185 birth records (earliest record was 1863)

Field of InterestRecords with Data
Child's Name100%; 70% with child's first name
Date of Birth100%
Parents' Names>99%
Father's First Name98%; 6% with initials only
Mother's First Name91%
Mother's Maiden Name91%
City or Town of Birth97%
Sex of Child
Occupation of Father91%
Birthplace of Father78%; 40% name locality
Birthplace of Mother76%; 45% name locality
Names of Other Living Children32%
Date Filed

Oct 1, 1907 - 1939, based on 282 birth records

Field of InterestRecords with Data
Child's name100%; 94% with child's first name
Date of Birth100%
City or Town of Birth99%
Sex of Child
Parent's Names99%
Father's First Name99%; 2% with initials only
Mother's First Name99%
Mother's Maiden Name98%
Residence of Parents95%; often includes address
Ages of Parents100%
Occupation of Parents99%; more specific beg. 1935
State of Birth of Father90%; usually with locality beg. 1932
State of Birth of Mother93%; usually with locality beg. 1932
Number Child and Num Living Children94%
Date Filed

1940 - 1962 changes

Residence changes to residence of mother, including street address.
Locality a little less prevalent in birthplaces of parents.

1963 - 1967 changes

Birthplaces of Parents are state of birth and rarely include the locality.

1968 - 1982 changes

Occupations of parents are no longer given.
Birthplaces of Parents are state of birth and never include the locality.

1983 - 1987 changes

Mother's residence no longer includes the street address.

1988 - 2005 changes

Parents' birthdates are given instead of their ages.

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Michigan Birth Records

Births more recent than 110 years ago are not open to the public in Michigan. If an index volume contains any of these births, the index is closed. For most counties that means every index and record is closed.

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Death Records

Since the early twentieth century death records in Michigan and Wisconsin state whether the deceased was in the military service, but I didn't note exactly when that began to be recorded.

Many older death records record the age at death in years, months, and days. Those records may or may not record the birthdate. However, the birthdate may be calculated from the age and the date of death. Some Web sites will calculate the birth date from the age for you automatically. You can assume the age at death in years, months and days was originally calculated from the birthdate without use of a computer, so an error is possible. In event of a conflict between age to month and day and the recorded birthdate, you can probably assume the birthdate is correct; except if the age is only in years and the year of birth conflicts, you can't draw a conclusion about whether the age or the year of birth is correct from the death record alone.

Wisconsin Death Records

Prior to 1897, based on 40 death records (earliest record was 1877)

Field of InterestRecords with Data
Last Name of Deceased100%
First Name of Deceased98%
Date of Death100%
City or Town of Death90%
Date of Birth60%
Age at Death90%
Residence5%
Marital Status50%
Name of Spouse35%
Occupation19 out of 19 males
Birthplace83%; 35% name locality
Surname of Father65%
First Name of Father58%
Birthplace of Father5%, state or country only
Maiden Name of Mother13%
First Name of Mother56%
Birthplace of Mother5%, state or country only
Cemetery75%
Locality of Burial85%
Cause of Death93%
Date Filed63%

1897 - September 1907 changes, based on 56 death records

Field of InterestRecords with Data
Date of Birth or Exact Age80%
Locality of Residence66%; 21% have street addresses
Marital Status87%
Spouses Name93% of married or widowed persons
Occupation93% of adult males
Birthplace of Father54%, with locality if in Wisconsin
Birthplace of Mother54%, with locality if in Wisconsin
Undertaker Name73%

October 1907 - mid-1948 changes, based on 234 death records

Field of InterestRecords with Data
First and Last Names of Father88%
Maiden Name of Mother75%
First Name of Mother79%
Birthplace of Father87%; 11% include locality
Birthplace of Mother80%; 12% include locality
Cemetery66%
Locality of Burial91%
Date of Burial94%
Informant's Name and Address90%
Social Security Number of Deceased14% after 1940

mid-1948 - 1962 changes, based on 71 death records

Field of InterestRecords with Data
Spouses Name For Widows0%
Spouses Name For Married Persons23%
Date of Birth95%
Father's Birthplace0%
Mother's Birthplace0%
Informant's Address0%
Cemetery Name94%
Cemetery Locality100%
Social Security Number of Deceased24%

1963 - 1967 changes, based on 36 death records

Field of InterestRecords with Data
Spouses Name For Married Persons99%
Cemetery Name100%
Social Security Number of Deceased58%

1968 - 1977 changes, based on 80 death records

Informant's Address now supplied
Birthplace gives state only
Social Security Number of Deceased - 82%

1978 - Present changes, based on 159 death records
Explicit Date of Burial not given; only date signed by undertaker
Social Security Number of Deceased - 93%

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Michigan Death Records

Prior to mid-1897, based on 157 death records (earliest record was 1868)

Field of InterestRecords with Data
Last Name of Deceased100%
First Name of Deceased94%
Date of Death100%
City or Town of Death94%
Date of Birth or Exact Age34%
Age at Death98%
Sex100%
Residence City32%
Marital Status94%
Occupation23%, virtually all are males
Birthplace95%; 23% name locality)
Surname of Father85%
First Name of Father82%
Birthplace of Father8%
Residence of Father64%; incl. locality if in Michigan
Maiden Name of Mother1%
First Name of Mother81%
Birthplace of Mother3%
Residence of Mother5%
Cause of Death100%
Related to Occupation?
Date Filed83%

mid-1897 - 1913 changes, based on 92 death records

Maiden Name of Mother - 89%

1914 - 1933 changes, based on 73 death records:

Father's and Mother's Birthplaces - 81%

1934 - 1939 changes, based on 27 death records

Field of InterestRecords with Data
City or Town of Residence11%
Spouse's Name7%
Informant Name and Residence15%
Birthdate or Exact Age100%
Date of Burial15%
Cemetery Location19%
Undertaker Name19%

1940 - 1951 changes, based on 42 death records

Field of InterestRecords with Data
Residence40%, most with street address
Spouse's Name47% of Married or Widowed persons
Informant Name and Residence62%
Date of Burial69%
Cemetery Name24%
Cemetery Location69%
Parent's Residences0%

1952 - 1957 changes, based on 23 death records

Parents Birthplaces not given

1958 - Present changes, based on 63 death records

Field of InterestRecords with Data
Residence71%, nearly all with street address
Cemetery Name71%
Cemetery Location81%
Social Security Number of Deceased52%

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Marriage Records

When a person was divorced and remarried, there is often an indication of that in the later marriage record(s). Either the record will explicity state whether it is the person's first, second, etc. marriage, or, for women, their name will be given as "Mrs. so-and-so", or, again for women, their last name will not match that of their parents. However, there are a goodly percentage of marriages for which one cannot tell if it is the person's first marriage or not, especially for men. I did not note data for or calculate statistics regarding apparent remarriages.

Differences in statistics for reporting brides' and grooms' parents' names illustrate the amount of variation in the statistics you might see depending on exactly which records you look at to collect the statistical data. Normally all parents' names are reported if any at all are reported, but in early days people often died young and their children didn't always know one or both of their parents' names.

Wisconsin Marriage Records

Prior to 1876, based on 104 marriage records (earliest record was 1839)

Field of InterestRecords with Data
Groom Surname100%
Groom First Name100%; 4% initials only
Bride Surname100% - not necessarily the maiden name
Bride First Name100%; 1% initials only
Date of Marriage100%
City/Town of Marriage90%
Venue of Marriage10%
Groom Residence City85%
Bride Residence City10%
Groom Occupation74%; rarely before 1850
Groom Birthplace66%; rarely before 1850
Officiant98%
Officiant's Title or Type of Ceremony84%
Witness 162%
Witness 262%
Witness Residences3%
Groom's Father's Name50% bef 1859, 88% aft 1859 inclusive
Groom's Mother's Namefirst name 68%, maiden name 5%
Bride's Father's Name46% bef 1859, 88% aft 1859 inclusive
Bride's Mother's Name42% bef 1859, 80% aft 1859 inclusive
Bride's Mother's Maiden Name6%

1876-1881 changes, based on 39 marriage records

Field of InterestRecords with Data
Groom Residence City100%
Groom Birthplace96%
Bride Birthplace8%
Witness 1100%
Witness 295%
Groom's Father's Name92%
Groom's Mother's Name84%; maiden name 23%
Bride's Father's Name92%
Bride's Mother's Name87%; maiden name 21%

1882-Oct 1, 1907 changes, based on 234 marriage records

Field of InterestRecords with Data
Venue of Marriage6%
Bride Birthplace85%
Bride's and Groom's Mother's Maiden Names75%
More Than Two Witnesses Named3%

Oct 1, 1907 - 1918 changes, based on 72 marriage records

Middle Names of Bride and Groom often indicated, frequently only with the initial letter
Bride Occupation added
Birthplaces of Bride and Groom are state only

Field of InterestRecords with Data
Bride Residence City96%
Age of Groom92%
Age of Bride92%
Officiant's Title or Type of Ceremony14%
Bride's and Groom's Mother's Maiden Name92%
Residence of Witnesses89%
Bride's and Groom's Parents' Birthplaces87%, state only

1919 - 1943 changes, based on 149 marriage records

Many bride and groom birthplaces include locality

Field of InterestRecords with Data
Details of a previous marriage14%
Venue of Marriage16%
Street Address included in Residence26% of individuals
Residence of Witnesses5%
Bride's and Groom's Mother's Maiden Names97%
Parents' Birthplaces0%

1944 - 1967 changes, based on 164 marriage records

Full Middle Names of Bride and Groom usually spelled out after 1950, when given
Street Address included in Residences, increasing with shift from rural to city residences

Field of InterestRecords with Data
Venue of Marriage89%
Birth Dates of Bride and Groom93%
Residence of Witnessesnone after 1950
Officiant's Title or Type of Ceremony87%

1968 - 1981 changes, based on 139 marriage records

Confidential Information was collected
Birthplaces are state only

Field of InterestRecords with Data
Years of Military Service listed3%
Venue of Marriage97%
Birth Dates of Bride and Groom>99%
Occupations20%
Parents' Birthplaces94%, state only
Officiant's Title or Type of Ceremony31% 1968-1977, 100% 1978-1981

1982 - 1988 changes, based on 139 marriage records

Street Address not included in Residences after 1982
Occupations not included
Parents' Birthplaces not listed

1989 - Present changes, based on 120 marriage records

Ages of Bride and Groom not included (but birthdates still given)
When middle names of parents are indicated, gives full middle name; previously was initial
Venue of Marriage - 11%

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Michigan Marriage Records

Prior to 1868, based on 25 marriage records (earliest record was 1856)

Field of InterestRecords with Data
Groom Surname100%
Groom First Name100%
Bride Surname100% - not necessarily the maiden name
Bride First Name100%
Date of Marriage100%
City/Town of Marriage100%
Venue of Marriage28%
Groom Residence City100%
Bride Residence City96%
Ages of Bride and Groom80%
Birthplaces of Bride and Groom33% bef 1863, none aft 1862)
Officiant96%
Officiant's Title or Type of Ceremony80%
Witness 196%
Witness 1 Residence72%
Witness 296%
Witness 2 Residence72%
Parent's Names4%; give maiden names of mothers


1868 - 1870 changes, based on 12 marriage records

Field of InterestRecords with Data
City/Town of Marriage92%
Venue of Marriage17%
Groom Occupation100%
Groom and Bride Birthplace100%
Witnesses' Cities of Residence92%


1871 - 1887 changes, based on 60 marriage records

City/Town of Marriage - 98%
Venue of Marriage extremely rare (0% in sample)

1888 - 1945 changes, based on 196 marriage records

Bride's Occupation included
Parents' Names included (mothers always with maiden name)

1946 - 1966 changes, based on 36 marriage records

Field of InterestRecords with Data
Venue of Marriage11%
Street Addresses with Residence42%

1967 - Present changes, based on 22 marriage records

Occupation and Witnesses' Residences rare after the mid-eighties

Field of InterestRecords with Data
Venue of Marriage23%
Bride and Groom's Birthdates64%

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