Land Survey Records

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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. This blog is a tool to share these stories and let people know what is happening in the department.

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Land Survey Records

By: admin | Our Favorite Things | June 30, 2008


There are certain core documents you would expect to be preserved in the Minnesota State Archives, such as the state constitution, the papers of the state's governors, Supreme Court case files, and the proceedings of the state legislature. Indeed, these records are preserved in the Minnesota State Archives, but there are a set of very important records concerning Minnesota's land itself. These are the original land survey field notes and land survey plats created during the first United States government land survey of the state. The records date from 1848 to 1907 and are of great value to the State of Minnesota, researchers, surveyors, and ordinary citizens. The handwritten survey notes, in small leather covered notebooks, were compiled by U.S. Surveyor General surveyors as they laid out the exterior and subdivision lines of each township, recording survey reference points and marker posts and including plat drawings and comments on the natural features of each township. Besides the survey notes for the approximately 3,800 townships in Minnesota, there are separate survey field notes for the state's Native American reservations, islands, and military roads. The field notes of survey lines are supplemented by field notes of other surveyors commissioned to examine the accuracy and completeness of the surveys. They serve as fundamental legal records for real estate, as an essential resource for surveyors, and as an analytical tool for the state's physical geography prior to European settlement.

The original public land survey plats are the official legal land records for Minnesota, and all property titles and descriptions stem from them. The plats have been scanned (or ditigitized), and are available online free of charge. This digital collection is a compilation of the state's original plat maps drawn by the U.S. Surveyor General's Office over the years 1848 - 1907. The collection includes later plat maps, up to the year 2001, drawn from surveys conducted by the General Land Office and the Bureau of Land Management. The collection of plats can be viewed any time at either the MHS web site or the Original Public Land Survey Plat Maps of Minnesota site. You are able to view and download high quality, full color images of the over 3,500 plat maps and associated textual data (tables of meanders appear on the back of some maps). Each plat map is available as a high resolution PDF and a lower resolution resampled PDF. The images have not been georeferenced. At this web site there is information about the history and organization of the Public Land Survey System as well.

The original land survey notes are available for use in the Library of the Minnesota Historical Society, but because of their fragile and unique value must be handled with care. Since the land survey plats are available online, and because of the fragile nature of the orginal land survey plats, they may only be used with special permission.

Charles Rodgers, Government Records Specialist