About the Collections

The Minnesota Historical Society preserves and makes available a wide range of materials chronicling Minnesota’s history and culture. The goals of the collections department are to collect and preserve; provide access and interpretation; and engage in education and outreach.

Search MNHS collections

The collections include

  • Approximately 250,000 objects
  • 6,000 works of art
  • 300,000 photographs
  • 50,000 cubic feet of manuscripts
  • 50,000 cubic feet of state archives
  • 500,000 printed works, including books
  • 1,245 cataloged moving images and 3 million feet of news film from the television station KSTP
  • The oral history collection contains 500 total interview projects, 40 video projects, and over 2,000 hours of cataloged interviews (Watch a short video about the film digitization process)

Potential donations

If you are interested in donating item(s) to the collections, please visit donate to MNHS collections for more information.

NAGPRA and Culturally Sensitive Items

MNHS is working to make changes to our NAGPRA (Native American Graves, Protection and Repatriation Act) and Culturally Sensitive Objects Policy to reflect the current NAGPRA regulation updates. If you have any questions regarding the NAGPRA process at the Minnesota Historical Society, please reach out to nagpra@mnhs.org.

Help recover Minnesota’s heritage

MNHS asks for your help to locate and recover Minnesota’s missing heritage!

Take-down procedure

In making collections available online, the Minnesota Historical Society acts in good faith, gives credit to rights holders when possible, and respectfully provides access to culturally valuable materials.

If you wish to contest the online inclusion of MNHS collections material due to any of the following reasons, please complete a take-down request form:

  • If you hold the copyright to material, you have not given permission for use, and the use is not covered by an exception to copyright law
  • If the copyright holder (besides yourself) has not given permission for use, and the use is not covered by an exception to copyright law
  • If inclusion of the material violates your rights of privacy or otherwise
  • If the material contains content that may be regarded as culturally sensitive

Complete the take-down request form.

Upon receipt of your request, MNHS staff will:

  • Review your request to determine if enough information has been provided
  • Notify you of the receipt of your request via email or other form of communication if you do not have email, and indicate if additional information is needed
  • Assess the validity of your request given the information you have provided. MNHS staff may, at their discretion, remove material from online access during the assessment process.

Upon completion of the assessment, staff will take appropriate action and notify you of the outcome. Potential actions may include:

  • The material will remain unchanged and remain online for unrestricted access
  • The material will remain unchanged, but online access outside the Gale Family Library will be restricted for a period of time
  • A redacted version of the material will be made accessible online
  • The material is deemed culturally sensitive to such a degree that it will be removed from online access

If you have additional questions regarding the take-down procedure, please contact our reference staff.

Restricted collections

Q: Why are some of the collections restricted?

Some manuscript collections (personal, organizational, or business papers) are restricted for a period of time as part of the contract with the donor.

Some state archives records are restricted to protect individual privacy. For some institutional records, such as state hospitals and correctional facilities, the time period may be specified in years from the date of last entry, and may depend on whether the subject of the records is still alive. Records involving adoptions have the strictest requirements; case files and institutional records documenting adoptions are sealed for 100 years.

Catalog records and finding aids often outline the nature of the restrictions.

Q. How can I view restricted manuscript collections?

To view materials in a restricted collection of personal, organizational, or business papers, apply for access to the collection using the general application for permission to use restricted collections form (PDF). Library staff will send your application to the donor or donor’s designee for approval. You will be notified about whether your request was approved. The process may take a few days to several weeks.

Q. How can I view restricted state archives collections?

Use the access to restricted records for individuals form (PDF) to apply for access to restricted state archives records. You should also submit the appropriate supporting documentation, as listed on the form. This documentation may include:

  • Proof of your identity (driver’s license, passport, or other government-issued photo ID)
  • Proof of subject’s death (death certificate, obituary, entry in the Social Security Death Index, or entry in the Minnesota Death Certificate Index)
  • Documentation demonstrating your relationship to the subject

Applications may be submitted by email attachment or regular mail. Once we receive your application, it will be reviewed by our permissions staff and you will be informed — usually via email — if your application is granted or denied. Many of these requests, with supporting documentation, can be reviewed and responded to by staff within two days.

Due to the strict requirements surrounding adoption records, to access to adoption records that are less than 100 years old you must obtain a court order from the court where the adoption occurred, and submit a copy of the court order with your application form and other documentation. For more information on adoption research, please see the record restriction & access page of our adoption research guide.

Q: Can I order copies of restricted state archives records or do I have to view them in person?

You can order copies of restricted records — such as state hospital and state correctional institution records — through our research services page, but you may need to submit additional permission paperwork before we can complete your order. Generally speaking, these types of records contain private information and are restricted for 75 years from the date of the last entry in the file or record. If you know or suspect that the records you are requesting will be restricted under this guideline, you should apply for access to the restricted records. Please note: some state archive records’ restrictions — notably those related to adoptions — are more strict.

To apply, submit the access to restricted records for individuals form (PDF) and the appropriate supporting documentation listed on the form (see question above). You can submit your application for permission before you place an order, or at the same time. If you do place an online order at the same time, write your order number on the top of the permission form; this number will be shown on-screen when your order is completed and it will also be included in your confirmation email. If you do not submit a permission application but one is required, our staff will contact you and your order will be put on hold until all the appropriate paperwork is completed.

If you have any questions about ordering restricted materials, please contact our reference staff.

Off-site collections

The following collections are no longer housed at the Gale Family Library:

State archives collection

  • Naturalization records that have been microfilmed, dated 1850–1950s: about 200 medium oversize boxes. Note that naturalization records on microfilm are available at the library.
  • Supreme Court case files, dated 1850–1991: about 3,123 boxes
  • Hennepin County District Court civil case files, dated 1858–ca. 1934: about 2,047 boxes

Manuscripts collection

  • Bush Foundation records, dated 1953–2015: 628 boxes
  • Chicago, Burlington & Quincy (railroad) corporate records, dated 1855–1983: 179 boxes
  • MNHS archives, dated 1849–2000s: about 1,150 boxes
  • Roger D. Moe papers, dated 1954–2003: 87 boxes
  • Maurice Stans papers, dated 1882–1990: about 199 boxes
  • Soo Line records, dated 1885–1954: about 275 boxes

All of the above materials may be retrieved upon request.

  • Normally, a maximum of 6 boxes per researcher can be retrieved at one time.
  • For retrieval of more than 6 boxes at a time, please contact reference staff. Depending on the size and timing of larger requests, a fee may apply.
  • Records are transferred from off-site storage once per week and are delivered by 9 am on Tuesday mornings.

For information on how to place a retrieval request, contact the library by email or phone during open hours.

Some of the collections at MNHS