"THE STATE WE'RE IN"
This conference on "Creative and Critical Approaches to Minnesota History at 150" brings together historians, educators, and anyone interested in Minnesota's history for a three-day gathering at Collegeville on May 28-30. More information is available on the conference web site.
The Hill Reference Library transferred the personal papers of James J. Hill and family members Louis Hill and Maud Van Courtland Taylor Hill as well as related research records to the Minnesota Historical Society. These collections cover a variety of subjects including transportation, economic development, settlement, immigration, politics, art, and finance. They also include material documenting the family’s varied business and social activities in Saint Paul, the United States, and around the world, plus genealogical information on the Hill family and their connections throughout the United States and Canada.
USING MINNESOTA TERRITORIAL RECORDS FOR FAMILY HISTORY RESEARCH
Those researchers who had family in Minnesota before it was a state may find useful information about them in the Minnesota territorial records. Be aware that the familiar governmental and record-keeping units of today were either not in existence or operated under different names and boundaries prior to 1858. It will also be helpful to know as much as possible about the family’s location and pertinent dates during this period. Finding useful records will require extensive use of the Library’s online catalog and its paper inventories of record groups, as most territorial records are not accessible by electronic means.
Searching the Library catalog using a county name and the term," territorial", can give you an idea of what the Library holds for early records. Village names are also useful search terms. Pay attention to the dates and the geographical information in the catalog description and remember that early county boundaries often covered larger geographical areas than today's. For example, the Library holds Marriage Records of Washington County and Environs, 1843-1849 and 1858 that include marriage licenses and certificates actually kept by the justice of the peace of territorial Saint Croix County, Wisconsin. This county encompassed the area west of the Saint Croix River and east of the Mississippi River, including Saint Paul. Another useful tool in determining when a township or county was established is the Society’s online version of Minnesota Place Names.
State level territorial records are also useful to genealogists. Because of its small population, many people were involved in Minnesota's territorial and local government affairs. The Library holds the records of the three territorial governors (Ramsey, Gorman, Medary), along with records of specific units of the territorial government. Hundreds of requests for jobs, appointment records, and petitions requesting special favors -- including establishment of roads, post offices, divorces, pardons, etc. -- can be found in these records.
Territorial censuses may also be useful for locating early Minnesota residents. It is important to remember that none of these censuses are complete, and that today’s place names and boundaries don’t always apply. For example, the earliest census for the area that later became Minnesota can be found in the 1820 Michigan territorial census! The 1836 and 1838 Wisconsin territorial censuses include portions of present-day Minnesota, and the 1840 Wisconsin and Iowa territorial censuses also included Minnesota inhabitants. The censuses of 1849, 1853, and 1855 were special censuses of the Minnesota Territory, and the regular 1850 Federal census also included Minnesota Territory. Finally, in 1857, the last census before statehood was conducted. These censuses are available at the Library on microfilm and through the Library’s subscription to Ancestry.com.
Finding Native Americans
While often more challenging to research, some territorial period records exists for the Native American inhabitants of the geographic area that became Minnesota. The Library’s guide to Researching Dakota Family History provides information on pertinent record groups held here at the Library. Look for a guide to Ojibwe Family Research coming soon!
Finally, on the Society’s Visual Resources Database, one can see early images of Minnesota and its inhabitants. Using the names of places or people, or simply the name Minnesota, and entering search dates of 1849-1857 provides a collection of images that document the beginning of the State of Minnesota.
OVER 150 YEARS OF PUBLISHING
The first newspaper published in Minnesota began before statehood when Minnesota was established as a territory. The Saint Paul Minnesota Pioneer issued its first edition on 28 April 1849. It became the predecessor of today’s St. Paul Pioneer Press.
Territorial and early statehood newspapers were quite different in focus and appearance than papers of today. These early newspapers were primarily promotional and political as they were sent back East to encourage emigration to the new territory. James Goodhue, the founding editor of the Minnesota Pioneer, was an enthusiastic promoter of the new territory as a desirable place to live. People were interested in politics and wanted newspapers that reflected their political leanings. It was not unusual to have, even in a small town of only hundreds, newspapers with different political views. In 1857, both the Democrat and the Republican began publication in Chatfield.
Early editors were “colorful” characters and included a heavy dose of “editorial” comments with their news reporting. By today’s standards these territorial/early statehood newspapers were not objective and definitely partisan, but reflected the standards of newspapers of that era.
In format the papers were also quite different. They did not include headlines and were only two to four pages in length. The first page was “clipped” or copied from other U.S. newspapers and focused on national and international news. The second page contained the local news and editorials. The last pages consisted of advertising. Until 1860, when the telegraph was connected to Saint Paul, the news was delivered by mail, which meant that there was a delay – which was even longer in winter.
Types of Newspapers
Since 1849 over 3500 newspapers have published in Minnesota including “foreign” language, ethnic, labor, religious, legal, and political as well as hundreds of dailies and weeklies. They are a wonderful reflection of Minnesota’s history, growth, and people.