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Minnesota History and Research Overview

By Family Tree Editors Premium


Centuries before Bob Dylan, Sinclair Lewis or Betty Crocker could claim Minnesota as their birthplace, the area was inhabited by the Dakota (Sioux) and Ojibway (Chippewa) Indians. Early French traders and missionaries arrived by 1680, including Father Hennepin, who discovered the headwaters of the Mississippi River at Lake Itasca. The trading area came under English control in 1763.

The eastern part of what would become Minnesota was acquired from the British in 1783. It was part of the Northwest Territory from 1787 until 1800, and of Indiana Territory until 1809. In 1803, the United States acquired western Minnesota from the French with the Louisiana Purchase. All of present-day Minnesota was subsequently part of Illinois, Michigan and Wisconsin territories. After the government established Fort Snelling in 1820 and purchased Indian lands east of the Mississippi in 1837, large-scale settlement began. Minnesota itself became a territory in 1849. In the early 1850s, the Dakota and Ojibway sold almost all their lands west of the Mississippi and the railroads reached the territory. Immigrants flocked to the area.

After becoming the 32nd state in 1858, Minnesota was the first to answer Lincoln’s 1861 call for Civil War volunteers. A year later, war erupted within Minnesota. Broken treaties and starvation pushed Dakota Indians to attack several settlements. With hundreds of casualties on both sides, the Dakota Conflict caused panic among settlers across the Midwest.

Early pioneers had come mostly from New England, New York, Pennsylvania or French Canada. After statehood there were large waves of Irish and German immigration, followed by Swedes, Norwegians and Danes in the last third of the 19th century. Discovery of the rich iron ore deposits brought many Eastern Europeans to Minnesota’s northern “Iron Range” towns. New arrivals may have come up the Mississippi by steamboat from Iowa, Illinois, St. Louis or New Orleans. For many Irish, English and Scandinavians, the cheapest ocean passage was to Quebec or another Canadian port. From there, they traveled up the Great Lakes and by train or wagon to Minnesota. Today, half of the state’s population lives in the Twin Cities region of St. Paul and Minneapolis.

(click to enlarge)
Minnesota state map with county outlines



  • Federal census: 1850, 1860, 1870, 1880, 1900, 1910, 1920, 1930
  • Federal mortality schedules: 1850, 1860, 1870, 1880, 1900
  • Special census of Civil War Union Veterans and widows: 1890
  • State/territorial census: 1836, 1838, 1849, 1853, 1857, 1865, 1875, 1885, 1895, 1905


  • A Bibliography of Books and Pamphlets Held in the Northeast Minnesota Historical Center by D. Gaynon (St. Louis County Historical Society, 1981)
  • A Bibliography of Minnesota Territorial Documents by Esther Jerabek (Minnesota Historical Society, 1936)
  • Blacks in Minnesota: A Preliminary Guide to Historical Sources by David Vassar Taylor (Minnesota Historical Society, 1976)
  • The Book of Minnesotans: A Biographical Dictionary of Leading Living Men of the State of Minnesota by Albert Nelson Marquis (A.N. Marquis, 1907)
  • Check List of Minnesota State Documents, 1858-1923 by Esther Jerabek (Minnesota Historical Society, 1972)
  • Chippewa and Dakota Indians: A Subject Catalog of Books, Pamphlets, Periodical Articles and Manuscripts in the Minnesota Historical Society (Minnesota Historical Society, 1969)
  • Commemorative Biographical Record of the Upper Lake Region (J. H. Beers, 1905)
  • Compendium of History and Biography of Central and Northern Minnesota (Higginson Books, 1904, 1995)
  • Continuing Your Genealogical Research in Minnesota by Marilyn Lind (The Linden Tree, 1986)
  • Directory of Churches and Religious Organizations in Minnesota edited by Antona Hawkins Richardson (Paduan Press, 1977)
  • Early Presbyterian Church Records from Minnesota 1835-1871 by Mary Hawker Bakeman (Park Genealogical Books, 1992)
  • Every Name Index to Pioneer Chronicles, Stories of Minnesota Territorial Pioneers by Ann H. Peterson (Warren Research and Marketing, 1990)
  • Fifty Years in the Northwest (Higginson Books, 1888, 1994)
  • French-Canadian Families of the North Central States: A Genealogical Dictionary, 8 vols., by Paul J. Lareau and Elmer Courteau (Northwest Territory French and Canadian Heritage Institute, 1980)
  • Genealogical Resources of the Minnesota Historical Society: A Guide, 2nd edition, (Minnesota Historical Society Press, 1989, 1993)
  • Guide to Depositories of Manuscript Collections in the United States: Minnesota from the Historical Records Survey (Historical Records Survey, 1941)
  • Guide to the Northwest Minnesota Historical Center Collections from the Northwest Minnesota Historical Center (Livingston Lord Library, Moorhead State University, 1988)
  • Guide to the Public Affairs Collection of the Minnesota Historical Society by Lucille M. Kane (Minnesota Historical Society, 1968)
  • Guide to Public Vital Statistics Records in Minnesota from the Historical Records Survey (Historical Records Survey, 1941)
  • Historic Resources in Minnesota: A Report on Their Extent, Location and Need for Preservation (Minnesota Historical Society, 1979)
  • History of the Church of the Brethren on the Northern Plains by Maryanna Hamer (1977)
  • History of the Finns in Minnesota by Hans R. Wasasjerna (Minnesota Finnish-American Historical Society, 1957)
  • History of the Great Northwest and Its Men of Progress by C. W. G. Hyde (Minneapolis Journal, 1901)
  • History of Methodism in Minnesota by Chauncey Hobart (Park Genealogical Books, 1887, 1992)
  • The History of Minnesota, 4 vols., by Val Bjornson (Lewis Historical Publishing Co., 1969)
  • History of the St. Croix Valley, 2 vols., edited by Augustus B. Easton, et al. (Higginson Books, 1996)
  • History of the Swedish-Americans of Minnesota, 3 vols., by A.E. Strand (Higginson Books, 1910, 1994)
  • History of the Synod of Minnesota — Presbyterian Church USA by Rev. Maurice Dwight Edwards (Park Genealogical Books, 1924, 1993)
  • History of the Upper Mississippi Valley, Including Explorers and Pioneers of Minnesota, Outlines of the History of Minnesota, Exploration and Development Above the Falls of St. Anthony by Rev. Edward D. Neill (Higginson Books, 1881, 1994)
  • Holdings of Genealogical Value in Minnesota’s County Museums by Lucille L. Kirkeby (L. Kirkeby, 1986)
  • How to Trace Your Minnesota Ancestors by Robert B. Porter (Porter Publishing Co., 1985)
  • Illustrated Album of Biography of the Famous Valley of the Red River of the North and the Park Regions (Higginson Books, 1889, 1996)
  • Illustrated Historical Atlas of the State of Minnesota (A.T. Andreas, 1874)
  • An Introduction to Minnesota Research Sources by Paula Stewart Warren (Minnesota Genealogical Society, 1988)
  • Memorial Record of Southwestern Minnesota (Higginson Books, 1897, 1994)
  • Minnesota: A Bicentennial History by William E. Lass (W.W. Norton & Co., 1977)
  • Minnesota Biographies, 1655-1912 compiled by Warren Upham (Minnesota Historical Society, 1912)
  • Minnesota in a Century of Change: The State and Its People Since 1900 by Clifford Edward Clark (Minnesota Historical Society Press, 1989)
  • Minnesota Genealogical Index by Wiley R. Pope (Minnesota Family Trees, 1984)
  • Minnesota Genealogical Reference Guide by Paula Stewart Warren (Warren Research & Publishing, 1994)
  • Minnesota: A History of the State, 2nd edition, by Theodore C. Blegen (University of Minnesota Press, 1975)
  • Minnesota and Its People, 4 vols., by Joseph Alfred Arner Barnquist (S.J. Clarke, 1924)
  • Minnesota Research Outline by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (online at
  • Minnesota State Archives Preliminary Checklist (Minnesota Historical Society, Division of Archives and Manuscripts, 1979)
  • Minnesota: Its Story and Biography, 3 vols., by Henry Anson Castle (Lewis Publishing Co., 1915)
  • Minnesota in Three Centuries, 1655-1908, 4 vols., by Lucius Frederick Hubbard (Society of Minnesota, 1908)
  • The Oral History Collections of the Minnesota Historical Society (Minnesota Historical Society Press, 1984)
  • Progressive Men of Minnesota by Marion Daniel Shutter (The Minnesota Journal, 1897)
  • Reference Guide to Minnesota History by Michael Brook (Minnesota Historical Society, 1974)
  • Research in Minnesota by Paula Stewart Warren (National Genealogical Society, 1992)
  • They Chose Minnesota: A Survey of the State’s Ethnic Groups by June Drenning Holmquist (Minnesota Historical Society, 1981)
  • Tracing Your Ancestors in Minnesota, A Guide to Sources by Wiley R. Pope and Aliss L. Wiener. (Minnesota Family Trees, 1984)
  • The United States Biographical Dictionary and Portrait Gallery of Eminent and Self-Made Men: Minnesota Volume (American Biographical Publishing Co., 1879)
  • Women’s History in Minnesota: A Survey of Published Sources and Dissertations by Jo Blatti (Minnesota Historical Society Press, 1993)
  • Women of Minnesota: Selected Biographical Essays by Barbara Stuhler (Minnesota Historical Society Press, ca.1977, 1979)

Return to the main Minnesota page

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