Minnesota Courthouse records change extensively from county to county in both level of quality and volume. You will find different kinds of court records that are most likely to possess information related for your genealogical research below.
Minnesota Court Records
The county courthouse’s district court office may have some naturalization records on file. Most of the records, however, are now at the Research Center at the Minnesota Historical Society. The county courthouse may also have records on file regarding coroner’s reports, bonds, professional registrations and criminal case indexes. Some of the things included in civil case records are: Name Changes, Divorces, Adoptions, Monetary Suits, Garnishments
For instance, the Wright County district court records that are at the Research Center at the Minnesota Historical Society feature 1858 to 1929 criminal case files, 1858 to 1928 dockets, various court minutes, 1857 to 1866 judgment dockets and, of course, 1879 to 1899 civil action registrations. The repository’s records carry quite a bit depending on the county and the type of record involved. Some counties are not even represented at the repository. Their information is still held at the county seat district court office.
On June 1, 1847, the first district court term was convened in Minnesota. That took place in Stillwater on the second floor of a store belonging to John McKusick. See Also Research In Court Records.
- U.S. Circuit Court Criminal Case Files, 1790-1871 (search.ancestry.com)
- The laws of the Northwest Territory, 1788-1800 (search.ancestry.com)
- Slavery petitions and papers (search.ancestry.com)
- Guide to the lands of the Northern Pacific Railroad in Minnesota (search.ancestry.com)
- List of persons to whom permits to locate mineral lands on the south shore of Lake Superior have been granted (search.ancestry.com)
- Minnesota Court Record Books (amazon.com)
Minnesota Land Records
There are a total of 12 General Land Office districts in Minnesota, which is what is called a public-domain state. The first of those opened up in Wisconsin in a place called Falls Saint Croix River, back in 1848. Long before that ever occurred, though, pioneers were making claims in that area. Once tribal treaties were created, which was in 1838, the area was settled by several European settlers. They started the logging industry in the area and illegally took over the land. It took a long time for the federal government to actually do land surveys in the area, which finally took place in 1847, after investors and settlers complained. As of 1841, when the Pre-Emption Act was created, settlers could pay $1.25 per acre to purchase some of the160 acres of public domain land that was opened up for settlement.
The Minnesota Historical Society holds a lot of the state’s land records. For example it has sales and accounting records, state land records from the state auditor and the land department and even U.S. General Land Office files. Those files contain homestead records, accounting records and various types of correspondence. Those records go back to 1848 for the Stillwater District, although most districts don’t go back quite that far. There are copies of the records for the U.S. Surveyor General’s Office are on file at the Research Center at the Minnesota Historical Society. They also have files that include the 1901 White Earth Reservation land allotments.
The county recorder holds the county record for Minnesota. The county recorder’s office will have village and township plat records, power of attorney records, leases, contracts, mortgage records, deed records grantor-grantee indexes. See Also Guide to U.S. Land Records Research
- BLM Land Records (glorecords.blm.gov)
- Minnesota Land Records (search.ancestry.com) The patentee was the first owner of property after the initial survey. Once the patent was issued, the land became private property and was then sold with a deed.
- Minnesota Land Record Books (amazon.com)
Minnesota Probate Records
The county district court clerk’s office keeps various probate records. Those include guardianship records, as well as executor and administrator bonds, wills and inventories. County probate records are currently being recorded onto microfilm by both the State Historical Society of Iowa and the Genealogical Society of Utah.
Records regarding insanity, guardianship, wills, estates and juvenile court are generally housed at each county’s probate office. The Research Center at the Minnesota Historical Society holds probate records for Washington, Winona, Pope and Freeborn County. They also have summary volumes for several other counties on file there. If an ancestor died outside of Minnesota, probate records for Minnesota may help to point you in the direction of the death record, since probate records often pre-date death records for the state. See Also Guide to U.S. Probate Records Research
- Minnesota, Will Records, 1849-1985 (familysearch.org) This project was indexed in partnership with the Minnesota Historical Society. Name indexes of the Probate Court will books for the counties of the state and territory of Minnesota. Some testators who resided outside of Minnesota recorded their wills in these Probate Courts. Three Minnesota counties are not in this collection: Hennepin, Marshall, and St. Louis.
- Minnesota Probate Record Books (amazon.com)
Minnesota Tax Records
There are many county property tax records are housed at the Minnesota Historical Society. They are filed according to county. Specific municipalities also have some tax records on file. There has been no determination regarding county courthouse tax records. See Also Guide to U.S. Tax Records Research
- Minnesota Tax Record Books (amazon.com)
Minnesota Immigration & Naturalization Records
People who directly immigrated to Minnesota would have had to do so using the waterways or the railroad system from Canada to the United States. Port of entry records were not kept until 1890, according to St. Paul’s Immigration and Naturalization Service. There was no passenger list requirement for vessels traveling on Minnesota’s waterways. However, some such records were kept and are still available. They can be difficult to find, but they are still worth looking for. Many of them are available in newspapers, letters, diaries and records kept by ship personnel, as well as papers kept by shipping companies.
The Research Center at the Minnesota Historical Society and the county District Court offices each hold some naturalization records. Some counties have more records available than others, of course. Some records are currently being transferred to the Research Center. The Research Center holds the 1858 to 1906 Naturalization Records from the Supreme Court. The U.S. Federal District Court took over naturalizations after 1906.
The first people to ever immigrate to the state of Minnesota were French Canadians. They came to the area in the 19th century as lumbermen, fur traders, and Catholic priests. Many more French-Canadians later settled in the river valleys in the state. The first French-Canadian communities sprang up at Mendota and Fort Snelling, both Mississippi River and Minnesota River junctions. As of the late twentieth century, the French-Canadian population of Minnesota was the largest of any state in the Union, excluding some New England states.
From 1820 to 1950, approximately 32,000,000 people immigrated to the United States. Of all of those, an estimated 1,000,000 or so traveled either through or to the state of Minnesota at some point. They came to support existing colonies, obtain land and make their way in the world. Many of them came up the Mississippi River on steamboats or entered the area from Red River trails or from Canada. Later immigrants often came by train.
June Drenning Holmquist’s They Chose Minnesota: A Survey of the State’s Ethnic Groups (St. Paul, Minn.: Minnesota Historical Society Press, 1981) is an excellent resource for information on Minnesota immigration groups.
Many of Minnesota’s ethnic groups are well represented by documentation in research repositories. For example, the Immigration History Research Center at the University of Minnesota (826 Berry Street, St. Paul, Minnesota 55114) collects records for the 24 ethnic groups that immigrated to the area from the Near East and various parts of Europe. It was established in 1965. It now includes church records, records for cultural societies, political organization records, personal papers, periodicals, books, newspapers and other records pertaining to immigration in the state. For example, the collection includes 15,000 letters that were sent back to Finland from immigrants. The collection spans from 1880 to 1964 and is on microfilm. It is known as “the American Letters” collection.
A collection of diaries, letters, family histories, obituaries, business records, photographs and more can be found at the Norwegian-American Historical Association, St. Olaf College, Northfield, Minnesota 55057.
There are many materials relating to Norwegian immigration at the Minnesota Historical Society. They include around 10,000 manuscripts, periodicals, and guidebooks. The society’s Historic Resources in Minnesota: A Report on their Extent, Location, and Need for Preservation (St. Paul, Minn.: Minnesota Historical Society, 1979) also lists other parts of the collection, including artifacts and other ethnic items.
For information on Swedes that settled in America, one of the best resources is the American Swedish Institute, 2600 Park Avenue, Minneapolis, MN 55407. It includes Bibles, genealogies, photographs, correspondences, personal paperwork, record books and many other documents written by or about Swedish-American immigrants.
The Celtic Collection, O’Shaughnessy Library, College of Saint Thomas, 2115 Summit Avenue, St. Paul, Minnesota 55105 is an excellent resource for information on Irish, Welsh and Scottish immigrants and their literature, languages and folklore. See Also Guide to U.S. Immigration Records Research
- Minnesota Immigration Project (usgwarchives.net)
- Minnesota Naturalization Records Index, 1854-1957 (search.ancestry.com) This index recorded the name of each person requesting citizenship and included the following information: Spouses name, county of residence, microfilm reel reference, print volume, and page number. The index also includes records of people who were denied citizenship and those who never completed the process. The present version of the index contains all of the 61 counties and roughly over 865,000 records.
- Minnesota Crew Lists, 1929-1952 (search.ancestry.com) This database is an index to the crew lists (NOT passenger lists) of vessels that arrived at various ports in Minnesota, that had last departed from Canadian ports, between 1929 and 1956.
- Minnesota Immigration Record Books (amazon.com)
Minnesota County & City Government Links
Minnesota contains 87 counties. Each county is the local level of government within its borders. The links in the table below link to county and city government offices and is limited to government-maintained websites. If you know of a Minnesota county that has an official government web site but is not linked, or if the link is in error, please contact us so we may edit our database. Minnesota State Government is located in St. Paul.