How-To Essay #1 - The County
- Let's start with a brief description
of Rock County, Wisconsin, and it's geography.
- THE COUNTY
- Rock County is on the southern border
of Wisconsin. Illinois lies to the south and three of Illinois'
counties are Rock's neighbors--Winnebago on the west and center
and Boone on the east. Coming back into Wisconsin, to the west
of Rock County is Green County, to the north is Dane (western
half) and Jefferson (eastern half), and to the east in Walworth
County. The Rock River runs through the center of the county,
north to south. There are numerous other rivers, streams, creeks
(sometimes pronounced "crick" by us locals), lakes
and ponds in the county as well.
- THE TOWNSHIPS
- There are twenty townships in the county.
Avon, Beloit, Bradford, Center, Clinton, Fulton, Harmony, Janesville,
Johnstown, La Prairie, Lima, Magnolia, Milton, Newark, Plymouth,
Porter, Rock, Spring Valley, Turtle and Union.
- A funny thing about Wisconsin is that
all townships are called "towns." Wisconsin, as most
states, divides its counties into civil townships, which outside
of New England are typically 6 miles square. These form the
basis for official land descriptions as each 1 mile square part
of a civil township is a Section. (Sections are further divided
into quarters, and quarters into quarters, etc. . .) Legally,
however, in Wisconsin the unit of government is called a "Town"
(e.g., the Town of Harmony, the Town
of Porter). Thus, the Town levees taxes, provides services,
and has an elected board. Members of the board and other officers
are referred to as Town Board Members, Town Treasurer, Town Constable,
etc. Civil townships, as described above do not have
to correspond exactly to Towns, but just coincidentally they
- In describing land, it is perfectly
appropriate to refer to the township, but this usage has often
been colloquially applied to the unit of government, the Town,
confusing the issue for many. Most of the local Wisconsinites
tend to call them townships, as I do on the various Rock County
history and genealogy websites I'm in charge of. It is usually
easy to figure out if the writer means town as in township or
town as in a little city. When referring to a township, one usually
writes "the town of Union" (notice "town"
is not capitalized). When referring to a city, the word town
will normally follow the city's name, such as "Union is
a town pleasantly situated in the northwest corner of Rock County."
If you ever have any doubts, feel free to contact me at <email@example.com>.
- All the census records I've seen for
the county use "town of" and mean "township."
Weird and annoying, I know. On the websites, message boards and
in the mailing list, I will use Township or Twp. It's just easier
- Rock County has two major cities that
don't lie within a township-Janesville and Beloit.
- The city of Janesville is just about
dead center in the middle of the county, straddles the Rock River,
and is also the county seat. The city covers the southeast corner
of Janesville Township, the southwest corner of Harmony Township,
the northeast corner of Rock Township and the northwest corner
of La Prairie Township. Many of the locales that were originally
in one of these townships now lie within the city limits of Janesville.
- The city of Beloit also straddles the
Rock River and is south of Janesville on the Illinois border.
It covers the southeast part of Beloit Township and the southwest
part of Turtle Township. Again, many of the locales that were
originally in Beloit Township or Turtle Township now lie within
the city limits of Beloit. If you headed south across the state
line from Beloit, you would be in South Beloit, Winnebago County,
Illinois. Anyone who is research a city of Beloit family should
keep in mind that many families migrated into South Beloit.
- As in any area, some of the cities
and villages in the county have experienced name changes or have
become extinct. Others have nicknames. I will discuss some of
these in the next essay.
- Online references:
- Map of the layout of Rock County's
townships -- http://freepages.misc.rootsweb.com/~wirockbios/Maps/twpsmap.jpg
- *Please be aware that I'm not a genealogy,
history or geology expert. I welcome any corrections or additions.
- Much thanks to Kathy
Lenerz for information regarding townships
in the second and third paragraphs!
updated: June 13, 2002