Minnesota State Census Records — Help/About

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Help/About the Records

About MN State Census Records

Q: How can I search for Minnesota State Census Records online?
Use the Minnesota People Records Search.  The search defaults to searching multiple record types, so if you want to search only birth records, click the check-marks to remove the others.  

Q: Can I still search for State Census Records using the search.mnhs.org  (search box located at the top-right of MNHS webpages)?
Yes.  However, the Minnesota People Records Search was specifically designed to be an easier and more effective search tool for records about people.  

Q: What will the online index tell me?
Generally it will tell you the person's name, age, gender, ethnicity, and birthplace; the census location; and their parents' birthplace(s). Anything missing from the original record (often first and middle names) will not appear in the index.

Q: Can I see the original record online?
Yes!  MN State Census records can be viewed online for free.  Just click on the name in your search results list and this will take you to the individual record's page.  This page includes a viewer that will allow you to navigate and zoom in on the record.   

Q: Which Census Records are included in the search?

  • MN Territorial Census records from 1849, 1850, 1853, 1855, and 1857
  • MN State Census records from 1865, 1875, 1885, 1895 and 1905

Q: How does the MN State Census differ from the US Federal Census?
The main differences are that the MN State Census asked fewer questions and they were held in different years.  

  • The US Federal Census is taken every ten years on years that end in a 0.  
  • A Minnesota census was taken irregularly several times when Minnesota was still a territory.  After statehood--beginning in 1865 and ending in 1905--Minnesota conducted a population census every ten years, in years that end in a 5.  Since they were halfway between each federal census, state census records can be used with US Federal Census records to show more detail about change over time.  

Q: What information can I find on the State Census?
Census questions varied from year-to-year:

  • 1865 – Name; sex; race; disabilities; whether a soldier in service on June 1, 1865
  • 1875 – Name; sex; race; birthplace (state or country); birthplaces of father and mother
  • 1885 – Name; age; sex; race; birthplace (state or country); whether parents were foreign-born; disabilities; whether a soldier in Federal Army during the Civil War.
  • 1895 – Name; age; sex; race; birthplace (state or country); length of residence in state and in enumeration district; occupation; whether a soldier or sailor in the Civil War; whether parents were foreign-born
  • 1905 – Name; address; sex; age; race; birthplace (state or country); birthplaces of mother and father (state or country); length of residence in state and in enumeration district (years and months); occupation; whether a soldier or sailor in Spanish-American or Civil War.

Q: Are there any particular limits to the different census year's records?

1849: Was taken soon after Minnesota became a territory and before any of its current counties had been organized. The territory was divided into six districts for census purposes:

  1. St. Croix County
  2. La Point County
  3. The country west of the Mississippi River south of the Osakis Rapids
  4. The country west of the Mississippi River north of the Osakis Rapids
  5. Red River of the North country
  6. Settlements on the Missouri River.

    The last two districts include areas that later became part of North Dakota and South Dakota while the first two counties were originally part of Wisconsin Territory. The information on this census was also limited since it followed the form of earlier U.S. Censuses, listing only the names of heads of households and little other information.

1853: Seems to have included only Washington County (mostly Stillwater) and Dakota (spelled Decota on the original) County. Members of each family are listed sequentially on this record.

Search Tips

  • Search without a first or middle name: Many people did not give their first names, or used initials or nicknames
  • Try alternate spellings: Names may have been spelled differently, or a name may have simply been transcribed or entered incorrectly into the index.
  • For common last names: Try searching for the family member with the most unusual first name, or specify probable county/counties of residence.
  • Use the power of the “Starts with” search: Try using one--or just a few--of the beginning letters of a first or last name.  Particularly helpful for names that can be spelled different ways or were easily misunderstood by census-takers.   
  • Try other search options: The search defaults to Starts With, but the other options (Sounds Like, Contains, Exactly, etc.) can be helpful
  • Sorting results: Results are initially sorted alphabetically by last name.  Switch to a chronological sort by clicking on the date label at the top of the column.  Clicking the date label again will reverse the list so the newest records are first.
  • Family members may be on different record pages: If you find the family's child at the very top of a page, the parents are likely on the previous page.  If you find the parent(s) at the bottom of a page without their children, the family list likely continues onto the next page.  
  • People are listed by household, not family: If a person is living in a household with a family that is not their own, they might be distant relatives, boarders, servants, etc.
  • If you believe that a record was not included in the index, see “Why can’t I find a MN State Census record that I know should be there?”

Q: Can I edit my search without starting over?
Yes!  Scroll up to the search area.  Add, change, or remove information from the boxes, and then click the Search button.  Your new results will be below.  

Q: How does searching for multiple record-types impact my search?
If you are searching for more than one type of record, there are a few things that change:

  • Dates: The record-types cover different periods of time, as listed next to their names in the search area.  If you search for a record type in a time period for which there are no records (census records after 1905, for example) you will get no results for that type of record.
  • Available search fields: You may see search fields that only apply to some records.  For example, neither State Census nor Veterans’ Graves Registrations use the Middle Name field.  If a record-type does not use a field, the search ignores it for that type.  So if you search for Death and State Census records for John James Smith, the death search tab will have results with all 3 names but the census search tab will have all the John Smiths.

Q: How does the Sounds Like search work?
“Sounds Like” searches use Soundex, an indexing system based on how a name sounds rather than how it is spelled. It enables one-step searching for alternate spellings. Soundex will find some names that are very close in spelling (Anderson, Andersen, and Andreson, for example), as well as names that are different in spelling but are pronounced similarly or have similar base consonants (O’Brien, Obring, Overom, and Obermann, for example).

Because Soundex utilizes the first letter of a name, it is crucial that this letter is known and has been correctly transcribed from documents (for example, Yorgeson and Jorgeson may be pronounced the same, but will not show up in the same “sounds like” search).  

Q: What are the results under the Comments tab?
They are comments left by users like you!  Researchers can comment on any record and often leave information about alternate spellings, nicknames, etc. that can help other researchers.  The system searches the full text of comments, and clicking on a comment in the results page will open the full index record.

Q: Can MNHS staff research State Census records for me?
We can help you place an order if you are having difficulty and we are more than happy to give you search advice, but we do not have the staff or resources to do in-depth research for our patrons.  You can contact our Reference Staff by phone (651-259-3300), or through email or Facebook.  

Unusual Circumstances

Q: What should I do if I find an error in the index?
If you find a transcription or indexing error (as opposed to an error on the record itself), please leave a user comment describing the problem.  MNHS staff will look at the comment and original record, and make necessary changes.  

Please Note: Not all errors can be corrected. Information that is present in original records cannot be changed in the index, even if it is incorrect.  However, if you suspect that the original record's information was incomplete or incorrect please leave a user comment anyway.  User comments are searchable and can help other researchers.  

Q: Why can’t I find a MN State Census record that I know should be there?

  • Problem with original record: Enumerators (census takers) often made mistakes in taking down information. Some were simple errors in recording, but errors were more common in ethnic communities where the enumerator did not understand the language.
  • Incomplete or incorrect original record: People providing information may have lied, misspoke, or left out information when speaking to enumerators.  
  • Transcription errors: Creating a database index is not exact science and mistakes can be made when people type in information, especially if the original record has poor handwriting.  It was also possible that the indexers inadvertently skipped some names.  If you suspect an error, please see "What should I do if I find an error in the index?"

More Help

If you have any questions, please contact the Reference staff at the Gale Family Library by phone (651-259-3300), via email, or through Facebook.