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The availability of land attracted many immigrants to America and encouraged westward expansion. Land ownership was generally recorded in an area as soon as settlers began to arrive. Land records are primarily used to learn where an individual lived and when he lived there. They often reveal other family information, such as the name of a spouse, heir, other relatives, or neighbors. You may learn where a person lived previously, his occupation, if he had served in the military, if he was a naturalized citizen, and other clues. Sale of the land may show when he left and where he was moving.
Minnesota is a public-domain ("Federal-Land") state where unclaimed land was surveyed, then granted or sold by the government through federal and state land offices. The first sale of a piece of land from the government was called a land patent and the first owner of the land was called a patentee. Later when the land was sold or mortgaged by private owners the document was called a deed. The first federal and state transactions were recorded and the paperwork kept at the federal and state level, while all future transactions were recorded at the office of the county register of deeds. Family History researchers usually use land records from county offices, however, records from federal and state offices may also have genealogical value. For detailed descriptions of land record types see United States Land and Property.
For further information regarding land settlement in Minnesota, please read A Brief History of Land Settlement in Minnesotawritten by the U.S. Department of the Interior, Bureau of Land Management, General Land Office.
If you are new to land research, you may wish to read the Beginner’s corner and other articles included on the United States Land and Property page.
Minnesota was claimed first by France in 1671, briefly ceded to Spain in 1762 and then to England in 1763. The U.S. received it in 1783/4 and it was under 9 different territorial or government subdivisions before it became it's own territory in 1849. It became the 23rd state in 1858.
The following are sources which may be searched for these early records:
- Land Records : AL, AR, FL, LA, MI, MN, OH, WI, 1790 - 1907 [S.I.] : Broderbund, c1996. FHL Collection, CD-ROM no. 9 part 255. This CD includes records which show who obtained what land from the U.S. Government and when. Source documents include homesteads, chas sales, warrants, private land claims, swamp lists, state selections and railroad lists. Records included may not be comprehensive for the time and region covered.
- Minnesota, 1820-1908:cash and homestead entries Springfield, Virginia: BLM Eastern States, 1995. FHL Collection, CD-ROM no. 39.
- Powell, Ransom Judd and Minnesota Historical Society (St. Paul, Minnesota) Papers, undated and 1843, 1896 - 1938St. Paul, Minnesota : Minnesota Historical Society, c1987. Each film includes a biographical sketch of Ransom Judd Powell, an indepth description of papers and a roll list which describes the papers and their order on the film. His "papers in the Minnesota Historical Society's Division of Library and Archives relate to Powell's involvement with the Ojibwe (Chippewa) Indians of the White Earth (Minnesota) Reservation 1) as a member of government commission established by Congress in 1913 to compile a roll of land allotments within the White Earth Reservation and determine the blood status of each allottee; and 2) as legal counsel to various lumber companies seeking title to Ojibwe lands and to various White Earth Reservation Indians." -- Prelim. materials. The collection is divided into 5 series: Correspondence and related papers, undated and 1896-1938; Legal case files, undated and 1906-1936; Subject files, undated and 1911-1916; Volumes, undated and 1843, 1906-1920; and Plat maps, 1912-1916. FHL Collection, 15 film starting with 1550598.
- Simpson, Hon. Thomas, 1831-1905; Minnesota Historical Society. The early government land survey in Minnesota west of the Mississippi River Minnesota Historical Society, 1905.
Government Land Transfers
When the area that is now Minnesota became part of the United States, a few prior land claims by early pioneers were settled in the courts, though most of the land was unclaimed. This unclaimed land became the public domain, was surveyed, divided into townships (36 square miles), range and section (one square mile within the township)and then sold through land offices. The first General Land Office covering Minnesota was established in Wisconsin in 1848 and was transferred in 1849 to Stillwater, Minnesota. There were eventually as many as 11 land districts within the state: Alexandria, Cass Lake, Crookston, Duluth, Minneapolis, Ojibway (no records exist for this district), Red Wing, Root River, St. Cloud, Stillwater, and Winona. District names and boundaries changed considerably through the years as offices opened and closed and land was transferred from one district to another: the 11 districts had a total of 34 names. By 1908 only three land offices remained. They were located in Cass Lake, Crookston, and Duluth. Records from all other offices had been transferred to Duluth. The Crookston and Duluth offices were closed in 1925. The public domain in Minnesota was declared closed to settlement in 1930, and the land office at Cass Lake was discontinued in 1933.
Federal Land Grants
The earliest land sales in Minnesota were in 1848, when land in the St. Paul area was sold at a land office in St. Croix Falls. However, the first major land boom was 1854–57, when more than 5.25 million acres of public lands were sold. In 1854 Wisconsin settlers were allowed to claim unsurveyed land. Thousands of acres were also transferred to holders of military bounty land warrants. These warrants were originally granted to veterans of the Mexican War of 1848, but most warrants had been sold by the veterans to other individuals, including land speculators.
The first federal homestead act was passed in 1862. Between 1863 and 1865 Minnesota settlers registered 9,500 entries for free land. Individuals could also buy land cheaply from the railroads. By 1908 most of the land rush was over, and only the three federal land offices mentioned above were still in operation. For further information regarding homestead records, click here.
After land had been surveyed, the survey was recorded in township plat books. These usually contained a drawing of the township, noting major geographical features such as waterways. Other federal records include the tract books, patents, and case files described below.
- The Bureau of Land Management and General Land Office (BLM-GLO) has an on line Land Patent Search which is an index to millions of ancestors named in federal land patents and warrants from 1788 to the 1960’s located at the National Archives. This is the best place to begin when searching for a land patent because of the ease of navigation when searching for an ancestor. This internet web site also provides many images of patents.
- Copies of the federal records were sent to the Minnesota Historical Society. Most Minnesota federal land records are also in the Bureau of Land Management’s Eastern States office in Springfield, Virginia
- Some land patents, certificates, and other land documents for Minnesota have been indexed on one compact disc which may be found at the following places:
- United States. Department of the Interior, Bureau of Land Management. Minnesota, 1820–1908: Cash and Homestead Entries. Springfield, Virginia: BLM Eastern States, 1995. Family History Library FHL Collection, CD-ROM no. 39. This does not circulate to Family History Centers. These records are patents issued by the federal government. Researchers can search for land title information through any one of six categories: land description, patentee name, patent authority, land office, certificate number, or county.
- Land Records: AL, AR, FL, LA, MI, MN, OH, WI, 1790-1907. [Novato, California]: Brøderbund Software, Family Tree Maker, 1996. Family History Library FHL Collection, CD-ROM no. 9 pt. 255.
- United States. Bureau of Land Management. Card Files. Washington, DC: Bureau of Land Management, 19––. On 160 Family History Library films, Minnesota cards are found on FHL Collection, films 1501675-76. Use these to find the land office name and certificate numbers. Cards mainly cover cash purchases during the 1850s and 1860s. Each card contains the following information: Certificate number District Land Office Kind of entry (cash, credit, warrant, etc.) Name of patentee and county of origin Land description Number of acres Date of patent Volume and page where document can be located . Because these index cards are arranged by township and range within each state, the researcher will need to already have an approximate legal description in order to access these cards. In a few cases, the cards include names of entire families as assignors.
Minnesota uses the rectangular land survey system of section, township, and range.The townships were six-mile square blocks of land, divided into 36 one-mile squares called sections. The township was numbered north and south, starting from the center line, and the range was numbered east and west starting from the center line.
Two different surveys were done resulting in two number sequences. Land east of the Mississippi River was part of the Northwest Territory. Townships in that area of Minnesota are numbered between 22 and 70 north of the (Galena, Illinois) base line. Ranges run east or west of the 4th principal meridian.
Land west of the Mississippi River was part the Louisiana Purchase. Townships in that area are numbered between 101 and 164 north of the (Clarendon, Arkansas) base line. Ranges are counted west from the 5th principal meridian.
The Bureau of Land Management has an index and digital images of the original survey maps for Minnesota. The original survey creates land boundaries and marks them for the first time.
- Maps showing these surveys are included in:
Andriot, Jay. Township Atlas of the United States. McLean, Virginia: Documents Index, 1991. Family History Library book FHL Collection, book 973 E7an 1991. This book is arranged alphabetically by state. Pages 297–320 contain township maps of Minnesota
- Maps showing these surveys are included in:
- Photocopies from the original Land Survey Field Notes are available through the Minnesota State Historical Society. The years available are 1848-1907.
Tract books may also serve as indexes to the case files. They are arranged geographically by township and range, so you have to have some idea of the legal description of the land where your ancestor lived to be able to use them. Some legal land descriptions are included in county records.
- The Minnesota Historical Society has some county maps, land atlases, and plat books
- United States. Bureau of Land Management. Tract Books. Washington DC: Records Improvement, Bureau of Land Management, 1957. (The Family History Library films for Minnesota are films FHL Collection, films 1445629–1445676. Use the Author/Title Search of the microfiche catalog to find film numbers. The tract books devote a page or so to each land section in a township. They list the name of the first owner of each quarter section or the certificate number or both.
- Microfilm copies of the tract books and township plats of the Minnesota land offices are available at the Family History Library. Plat books for counties in Minnesota are listed in the Place Search of the Family History Library Catalog under:
- [name of county], Minnesota – Land and Property
- Minnesota Historical Society Research Center
345 Kellogg Boulevard W.
St Paul, MN 55102-1906
Holds microfilm copies of tract books and township plats.
When federal land was finally transferred to private individuals, it was said to be patented.
The actual patents may be found on line at the Bureau of Land Management - General Land Office web site (BLM-GLO) as indicated in the section on indexes. They may also be found at the following office:
- Bureau of Land Management Eastern States Office
7450 Boston Boulevard
Springfield, VA 22153
- Bureau of Land Management Eastern States Office
Land Entry Case Files
Also known as Land Entry Files or Patent Files, the case file is the accumulation of paperwork gathered during the land transactions which occurred when the land is transferred from the U.S. Government to private ownership and are kept at the National Archives in Washington D.C. These documents are the most helpful records for researchers because some files contain valuable information and may include personal or family information, such as military discharge papers, proof of citizenship, former residences, birthplaces and more. While not all files have pertinent information for the researcher, they are often worth obtaining. For further information regarding case files and how to order them, you will want to read the article Locating the Land and it's Associated Records at the United States Land and Property wiki page. The physical address of where the records are kept at the National Archives is as follows:
- Old Military Civil Records Branch
National Archives and Records Administration
7th and Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20408
- Old Military Civil Records Branch
To obtain copies of a case file you will need the following information which may be found in the land patent records indexed at the BLM-GLO web site:
- Name of the purchaser
- State where the land was purchased.
- Name of the land office.
- Type of certificate (homestead, cash, bounty-land warrant, mining, timberland etc.)
- Certificate number or patent number
State Land Office and Records
A State Land Office was established in 1862. It administered and sold trust fund lands that had been set aside to support public schools and the state university. It also received land grants from the federal government to transmit to the railroads. Records from the State Land Office are at the Minnesota Historical Society. They are described in the following guide:
- Kinney, Gregory, and Lydia Lucas. A Guide to the Records of Minnesota’s Public Land. St. Paul, Minnesota: Minnesota Historical Society, Division of Archives and Manuscripts, 1985. Family History Library book FHL Collection, book 977.6 R2k, microfilm 1698227 item 11. In addition to describing land records, this guide contains brief histories of the state and federal agencies that created the records.
Additional indexes, printed sources, and records of original transfers of land from federal and state governments are found in the Locality Search of the Family History Library Catalog under:
MINNESOTA - LAND AND PROPERTY
UNITED STATES - LAND AND PROPERTY
Individual Land Transfers
After land was transferred to private ownership, subsequent land sales and mortgages were usually recorded in the register of deeds office in each county. Original documents were retained by the families, while copies of deeds, mortgages, and leases were kept by the registrar of deeds. Abstracts and indexes for these records are generally available at the county courthouse. Registrars of deeds are now know as county recorders. The Family History Library is continuing to acquire microfilm copies of these records and their indexes from the southern and eastern counties.
Land records for Minnesota are listed in the Place Search of the Family History Library Catalog under:
MINNESOTA – LAND AND PROPERTY
MINNESOTA, [COUNTY] – LAND AND PROPERTY
A wiki article describing an online collection is found at:
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