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Family History Overview: Step 3: Determine record type

Step 3: Determine the type of record you need

Determine the kind of record you need and the authority that created it.  

The Minnesota Historical Society collections contain many types of documents and publications that can help in your search. These include various levels of government records (town, township, county, territory and state) within Minnesota, such as civil and criminal case files, tax  lists, school lists, etc.

Most of the state's newspapers are available on microfilm. Some newspapers are now also available online and more information on these resources can be found on our Newspaper Page

The censuses, both Federal and State, are available on and  Both of these databases have information on searching their vast resources. 

While the focus of our Library is on Minnesota and the Midwest, the early founders of the Minnesota Historical Society came from New England and other eastern states. They often left their papers and books to the Society, so the collection is also strong for eastern states and the original 13 colonies.

Other historical societies have different collection policies and practices. You will probably need to use several libraries and other sources to find the records you need.

Other Records

If you don't find the type of record that you need, or it doesn't provide the details that you want, what do you do next?  You will need to search other records that might provide these details.  For example,

If you need look for
birth data birth or death records, christening records, cemetery transcriptions and records, parents' church records, family Bibles, letters, censuses, obituaries
death data death certificates, burial records, cemetery transcriptions and records, church records, family Bibles, letters, census mortality schedules, Social Security Death Index
marriage data county records, family Bibles, letters, church records, wedding photos
naturalization data naturalization records from courts (local, county, state, and federal) in the area where they lived (some censuses tell if the person is naturalized)
locations historical maps, gazetteers, post office lists, published indexes, genealogical periodicals, surname files, compendia, censuses, obituaries
other relatives historical maps, gazetteers, other relative's biographies, published indexes, genealogical periodicals, surname files, compendia, censuses, obituaries

In some instances you may need to consult several resources to locate the piece of information that you are seeking. Check various spellings of the name you are researching since that can change over time.

Evaluate what you found.  What clues for further research have you found? 

Step 3 Links

MNHS Reference Staff

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Gale Family Library • Minnesota Historical Society • 345 W. Kellogg Blvd., St. Paul, MN 55102-1906 • 651-259-3300
Tuesday: 9am to 8pm • Wed. to Sat.: 9am to 4pm • Sunday & Monday: Closed • Holiday Hours