A federal census was taken in 1850. It included records for Minnesota residents, even though Minnesota hadn’t yet become a state at that point.
Large parts of the census for Minnesota that was taken in 1870 have not survived. The only schedules that still exist are the ones for the following counties: Stearns, Steele, Stevens, St. Louis, Todd, Wabasha, Wadena, Waseca, Washington, Watonwan, Wilkin, Winona, Wright.
Nevertheless, the Minnesota Historical Society does have a duplicate copy of the entire census on microfilm. So, there are two distinctly different versions of the 1870 Minnesota state census records. There is a page in the extant federal census for 1890 that features information for Wright County’s Rockford Township. Similarly, the Minnesota Historical Society Research Center has a copy of the federal return for 1890 on file, featuring information on Stearns County’s Rockville Township.
The fact that much of Minnesota’s early formation was based on the logging industry can make it difficult to do research into your family history, if your ancestors were loggers. That’s because they could have been recorded as boarding house residents or as members of lumber camps and there were many of each in the state. If your ancestors worked on steamboats you may also have some problems, since they may have been recorded under the population of whatever city they happened to be docked at when the census was taken.
Originally, the residents of Minnesota were recorded in a census taken in 1820 for what was then Michigan Territory. They were later counted as part of Wisconsin Territory, when a census was taken for that region in 1836. It wasn’t until 1849 that a census was taken specifically for Minnesota Territory. That census listed basic information for each household, including the name of the head of the household and how many people of each sex resided in the household.
Although an 1853 Minnesota census does exist, it’s not a complete record at all. Many of the schedules taken only listed how many people were in the household, how many of them were children and the name of the household’s head. However, there are a few census records that did include the names of every household resident. A lot of the 1855 census records for Minnesota have been lost, but the published version of the Wright County census does still exist. So do copies of information for Chicago, Doty and Superior County. Records also exist for Winona County for that year, but they are listed on an enumeration under the heading of “inhabitants by building” and can be a bit confusing.
The 1857 census included the names, genders, birthplaces and races of Minnesota residents. It also included each male over 15 years old’s occupation and voting status. The only problem is that a lot of that census included false names and information because the census was required in order to qualify Minnesota to become a state.
Minnesota state censuses were taken for the following years: 1865, 1875, 1885, 1895, 1905.
Every person living in each household was included in each census. The 1865 census included a section for any soldiers who were in service from June first of that year onward. The birthplaces of each person’s parents were included in the 1875 census. The census information for both 1895 and 1905 lists how long each resident was a resident of the district and of the state, which means that they can be quite valuable when doing family history research.
The Minnesota Commission of Public Safety recorded a 1918 document called the Alien Registration and Declaration of Holdings. It contains extra information on immigrants that can be handy for those researching immigrant ancestors. Each form is filed by county and was filled out by adults that were not citizens as of February of 1918. An index of each name has been created, although it is currently missing Hennepin County and St. Louis County information. The form included: Birth Place, Years Of United States Residence, Date Of Arrival, Port Of Entry, Spouse, Children, Occupation.
Although census records feature a lot of information, it may be necessary to also look for information from other sources. The Minneapolis city directory for 1859 and the St. Paul city directory for 1856 can be very helpful. Although some of the originals still exist, others have been transferred to microfilm and are housed at the Minnesota Historical Society.
Searchable Minnesota Census Databases and other Helpful Links