Doing Local History
The Minnesota Historical Society holds many kinds of resources to help you research local history in Minnesota—the history of a farm, a township, a village, a city neighborhood, a reservation, a county, or a region. Some of these sources are on microfilm; others are in their original format.
Types of Records
Published materials in the library catalog
- Books include county histories, city histories, city directories, histories of regions.
- Newspapers published in Minnesota, in English and several other languages, 1849 - present.
- Maps, including fire insurance maps, atlases, plat books, gazetteers.
- Congregational histories of churches and synagogues.
- Photographs, many of which can be searched in the Collections Online database; others are in manuscript collections, government records collections, or cataloged separately as albums or collections.
- Films & videos, from home movie footage to professionally produced documentaries and feature films can be found in the library catalog
- Posters, which can be searched in the Collections Online database.
- Artworks, which can be searched in the Collections Online database.
Manuscripts in the library catalog
- Diaries of women, men, and a few children, 19th and 20th-century.
- Records of businesses large and small, from railroads to groceries.
- Records of organizations of many kinds - veterans, benevolent, fraternal, civic, cultural, men's, women's, and mixed.
Government records in the library catalog
- Local, such as the Detroit Lakes City records.
- State, many of which contain information about local history, like District Court records.
Books and articles about how to do local history are also available in the MHS library. They include
- Encyclopedia of Local History, by Carol Kammen (2000).
- Minnesota, A Students' Guide to Localized History, by Russell W. Fridley (1966).
- On Doing Local History: Reflections on What Local Historians Do, Why, and What It Means, by Carol Kammen (1986).
- The Progress and Prospects of Local History Work in Minnesota, by Theodore C. Blegen, in Minnesota History, vol. 11, no. 1 (Mar. 1930).
- The Pursuit of Local History: Readings on Theory and Practice, by Carol Kammen (1996).
- Rethinking Home: A Case for Writing Local History, by Joseph A. Amato (2003).
- See also the many publications of the Society for the Study of Local and Regional History, Southwest State University, Marshall, in the library catalog.
One good way to begin searching for material is to look up the name of the place in which you're interested:
- The library catalog
When searching the library catalog, you can limit the number of hits you get by including additional information. For example, search “Litchfield Minnesota” or “Marshall County Minnesota” to avoid getting information about persons named Litchfield and Marshall Counties in other states. Try searching these:
- Angora Township (in St. Louis County)
- Dayton's Bluff (a St. Paul neighborhood)
- White Earth Reservation
- Cuyuna Range
- The Collections Online database
The best search terms when searching the Collections Online database aren't always consistent with those used in the online catalog. For example, searching for “Marshall County” brings photographs of the town of Marshall, in Lyon County, as well as photos of Marshall County.
The Minnesota Historical Society's quarterly magazine, Minnesota History, has been published since the 1910s and includes information about—and many photographs of—hundreds of Minnesota locales.
Newspapers published in Minnesota in towns small and large are rich sources of information about local history. Don't forget the (limited) collection of foreign-language papers published here as well, like New York Mills's Uusi Kotimaa (Finnish), Winona's Wiarus (Polish), and Minneapolis's Svenska Amerikanska Posten.