Researching family in Madison

Monday I spent most of the day at the Wisconsin Historical Society looking through their microfilmed newspapers. Mostly I was looking for obituaries and a couple of marriage announcements that happened in Cassville and Glen Haven Wisconsin. They have a rather large collection of Wisconsin newspapers, as well as a few newspapers from elsewhere in the country.

The most important item I sought was an obituary for William Dennis Ryan, my 2nd great grandfather. I found his grave last year, so I knew he died in 1919. A brief mention of his death in a Colorado newspaper (where several children lived) narrowed the time frame to some time before the end of August. The nearest town with a newspaper was Bloomington. At the time, the Bloomington Record was a weekly newspaper. So I started at the last issue of August and worked backward. Found it. Which means I now have a date and location for his death.

William Ryan obituary
William Ryan obituary

I also found obituaries for Mary Weiss, Agnes Weiss, Peter Voigt, Gertrude Voigt, Alonzo Teasdale, Clara Teasdale, James Ryan, Elgie Ryan, Archie Ryan, Glenn Ryan and Martha Klaus.

On Wednesday, I stopped in at the Dane County Register of Deeds to pick up some vital records. I requested the death certificates for Alfred and Mae Sorenson as well as their marriage certificate and the birth certificate for their daughter Evelyn. They found the first three, but no birth certificate. I was hoping the death certificates would have information on Evelyn, but they did not. The marriage certificate gave me Mae’s maiden name, Gibbons. Though since she was a ward of the state as a child, I don’t know if that name is that of her parents or was given to her in some other manner.

Alfred Sorenson - Mae Gibbons marriage certificate
Alfred Sorenson - Mae Gibbons marriage certificate

Theoretically, everyone born in Dane County after 1907 should have a birth record on file. However, a fair number of births never were registered. I know Evelyn was born in 1914, but I don’t know the exact date. In Alfred and Mae’s obituaries, Evelyn was listed as living in California. She was on her 4th marriage at the time, but I haven’t found any reference to her after 1958. With an exact birth date, I could list everyone in the Social Security Death Index with her date of birth whose first name matches, and could figure out which one was her. There’s also an outside chance she’s still alive as well. Sadly none of the Sorensons born in 1914 matched her.

I found out one really nice thing about Dane County: I can actually search through their records myself. All I had to do is fill out a form, give them a piece of ID, and they let me peruse through the records without supervision. The Wisconsin Historical Society has pretty liberal access policies too. No ID needed. Just walk back among the microfilm stacks, pull out what you need, and start looking. The King County vital records office, by comparison, works behind a glass partition.

One thought on “Researching family in Madison”

  1. Greetings, I am a descendant of James M Ryan. My mother’s father is James M Ryan of Seattle, grandson of James M Ryan of Cassville and Glen Haven Wisconsin. I recall my great grandfather, LeRoy Jesse Ryan, we called him Po. He lived into his 90’s in Seattle. Perhaps we are related! I would like to find other relations in the area if possible. I have only been able to find this one obit:

    “JAMES M. RYAN, farmer, Sec. 32; P. O. Beetown; born in London, England, in 1833. Lived there two and a half years; came to New York in 1836; lived there six months and moved to Grant Co., Wis., the same year; located at Cassville, then moved to Clayton Co., Iowa, near Guttenburg; lived there five years, back to Cassville for two years, then moved to Patch Grove, where he lived until 1852. Became dissatisfied and emigrated to California, and followed mining for five years; saved $2,000, came back to Wisconsin and located at Glen Haven, where he now resides. Married in 1858, to Elizabeth A. Brown, daughter of Jesse S. Brown. Has nine children – Frank, Effie A., Charles H., John, Lily M., William A., Levi J., Leroy J. and Clyde. Politics, Greenback. Is one of the well-to-do and prosperous farmers of Grant County.”


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