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Maps at MNHS: Public Land Survey

A guide to accessing maps and other geospatial resources at MNHS.

About the Public Land Survey of Minnesota

These are the first official records of land boundaries in Minnesota.  According to the Bureau of Land Management, surveying defines, retraces or re-establishes the boundaries and subdivisions of Federal Lands of the United States.  It is also the art and science of measuring the land to locate the limits of an owner's interest.  

The Public Land Survey (1848-1907) divided public lands into a grid of townships that were each six miles square.  The Office of Surveyor General of Minnesota, which was established in 1857, was tasked with managing the original government survey in the state of Minnesota. The Public Land Survey of Minnesota was completed in 1907. The real estate boundaries we use today stem from these original survey divisions.

 

Resources Related to Land Ownership & the Public Land Survey

If you are interested in finding the Original Land Survey Notes and the Original Land Survey Plat Maps for Minnesota, they have been digitized and are available from the Minnesota Geospatial Information Office, findable through a mapping interface.  

For Minnesota survey notes and plat maps outside the state of Minnesota visit the Bureau of Land Management.  Select surveys on the left side of the screen.  Also available through this website, are the land patent documents, the legal transfer of parcels of land from the U.S. Government to individuals.  A patent will include the date, legal description of land, patent number, and office that issued the patent.

Field notes, plat maps and patents are unavailable for viewing in their paper form due to conservation issues.  Detailed inventories of these records can be found in the General Land Office State Archives records at the library.

The Original Entry Tract Books created by the U.S. General Land Office are not digitized, but they are available on microfilm at the library.  These records provide a consolidated record of the initial transfer of title from the United States to private parties or to the state.  The price of the parcel of land, original purchaser, number of the homestead certificate or other authorizing document, date the final patent was issued, name of patentee, and citation to the entry in the land patent records in the U.S. General Land Office records in the National Archives are included in this resource.
MNHS call number: SAM 46

Relevant Books

A Guide to the Records of Minnesota's Public Lands, by Gregory Kinney & Lydia Lucas.
St. Paul, Minn.: Minnesota Historical Society, 1985.
MNHS call number: HD 243.M6 K5 1985

Measuring America, by Andrew Linklater.
New York, NY: Walker and Company, 2002.
MNHS call number: E 161.3.L46 2002

Minnesota on the Map: A Historical Atlas, by David A. Lanegran
St. Paul, Minn.: Minnesota Historical Society, 2008.
MNHS call number: G1426.S1 L3 2008

Public Land Survey 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