Gale Family Library

345 W. Kellogg Blvd.
St. Paul, MN 55102



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FAQ - State Census


About MN State Census Records Online

Q: How can I search for MN State Census Records online?
Use either PeopleFinder or Search MNHS Research Materials to search a variety of records.   To search just State Census Records in either system, there are two options:

Search First:

  1. Enter your search term in the "New Search" box at the top of the page and click search.
  2. Click on the arrow next to "Narrow by Collection" in the left-hand column of filters.  
  3. Then, click on the plus sign next to State Census Index.   

Filter First:

  1. Click on the arrow next to "Narrow by Collection" in the left-hand column of filters.  
  2. Click on the plus sign next to State Census Index.  
  3. Enter your search term in Term box, located under the "Your Search" heading in the left-hand column
  4. Click on the Search button
Note: To stop using a filter, click the grey x next to the filter name.  If you want to start a completely fresh search--one with no filters--just click the xs next to all the active filters OR click on the "Start a New Search" button.
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 Census records can be viewed online for free.  Just click on the name in your search results list.  This will take you to the individual record's page, which includes a viewer that will allow you to navigate around 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 federal census?
The main differences are that the MN state census asked fewer questions and was held in a different year.  The US Federal Census is taken every ten years on years that end in a 0.  A census was taken several times when Minnesota was still a territory. Beginning in 1865 and ending in 1905, the state coducted 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 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)the 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.

Census Records Search Tips

Visit our Search Help: People Finder page for general search tips and then try these special hints that apply to Census Records: 
  • To limit your results to just Census, select the State Census Index filter under Narrow by Collection.  
  • To search in a specific year's records or to exclude one or more years, use the filters under Narrow by Year. 
  • Try alternate spellings. Names may have been spelled differently, or this name may have simply been transcribed or entered incorrectly into the index.
  • Try searching without a first (given) name specified or filtered.  Some people did not give their first names, or used initials or nicknames
  • Family members living in the same household are listed together on the original records, but you should search for a name individually.   
  • 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.  
  • If a family has a common last name, but has a member with an unusual first name, try filtering for that under Narrow by Given Name.  
  • If you know the exact county of residence, use the Narrow by Place filters to specify the county. 
  • Filtering by county first will leave a list of cities/townships in that county under Narrow by Place, that can further narrow your search.  
  • Make full use of options like SoundEx and wildcards (? and *).  
  • Notice that your results are sorted by "Closest Match" by default.  You can switch to two different chronological sorts (oldest first or newest first) and this can make browsing easier.  
Q: What is SoundEx?
Soundex is an indexing system based on how a surname sounds rather than how it is spelled, so it enables one-step searching for variant spellings of a names.  For example, using Soundex on Anderson would return results like Andreson, Andersen, Anderstrom, Andreason, Anderton.  SoundEx is based on the first letter of the last name, so it is crucial that this letter is known and has been correctly transcribed from documents. 
Q: How do I use SoundEx?
Our search systems have SoundEx filtering capability, but it is important to note that this is NOT the same as a straight-forward SoundEx search in other systems. 
To search using SoundEx on a last name:
  • Search for a name--first, last, or full--in the main search box. 
  • Click on in the left-hand column.  
  • If you do not see the name you are seeking, click on Show More under the short list of names.       
  • Find the last name from the list and click the  button next to it.  
  • If you used a last or full name for your search, erase the last name from the "Term" box in the Your Search area at the top of the left-hand column. Then click the search button.

  • You can now add other filters, search terms, etc. in the left-hand column.  As long as there is a "Family Name Soundex" filter listed in the "Your Search" area, the SoundEx filter will be applied.
  • To remove the SoundEx filter, click the x next to it.  


Usual 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 certificate itself), please leave a user comment describing the problem.  MNHS staff will look at the comment and original record, and make the 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 Census record that I know should be there?
  •  Enumerators (census takers) 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 inadvertantly skipped some names.  If you suspect an error, please see "What should I do if I find an error in the index?"