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Metis Family History Research: Getting Started

Preliminary Research

Antoine Blanc Gingras, Metis Fur Trader and member of the Minnesota Territorial Legislature, 1852-1853.

Family history research involves finding names, locations, dates, and stories, beginning with you and working back through time.  Gather together the information you have, such as names, dates and places of birth, death, and marriage, before visiting the Library or going online.  Remember that while many records which assist researchers with family history are online, many others are only available in a variety of formats at libraries, including MNHS' Gale Family Library.

Research Tips:

Be prepared for variation in names and spelling.

Use a pedigree chart.

Do not focus just on Metis records; use everything available from the time period.  

Look at who is listed next to your ancestor or on the same page in many records--it might be another relative!

Biographical Collections

Dakota, Mixed Blood Indian, and White Biographical Files Notebook
Compiled by Alan Woolworth from the Minnesota Biographies Project, this notebook contains photocopies of biographical information.  Most entries include date and place of birth and death, a brief life narrative, and citations to newspaper articles or other sources.  Arranged alphabetically.  
MNHS call number: Reference desk F605.W86 1983 (Chaney Room); ask staff for help.

Historical Society Genealogical Cards, compiled by Virginia Rogers.
This collection includes 20,000 cards compiled by Virigina Rogers in 1976-1978.  These cards list important genealogical information for American Indians and Metis in Minnesota such as names of family members and birth and death dates (go back and get a comprehensive list together).  These cards also contain both English, Indian names and translations of Indian names.
MNHS call number: Microfilm 1849.

State Historical Society of North Dakota. Historical Data Project Pioneer Biography Files. French Indian Biographies, 1936-1940.
This microfilmed collection contains personal reminiscences and questionnaires completed by Native-Americans (mainly Metis/French Indians) as part of the Historical Data Project of the Works Progress Administration conducted by the State Historical Society of North Dakota between 1936 and 1940. Most of these forms are for settlers in Rolette County, but other counties are represented.  Most Pioneer Biography Files contain either a "Pioneer Data Form" or an "Old Settlers Questionnaire Form" which was completed by the pioneer or by a survey worker. The questionnaire, which includes the family history section of either a "Pioneer Data Form" or an "Old Settler Questionnaire," includes the name of the pioneer, birth and death dates, nationality, name of spouse, parents, children, and other relatives, date of marriage, occupation, date of immigration to the United States, date of migration to Dakota Territory, mode of transportation, education, religion, political affiliation, family history, etc. To show the precise homestead location, the form includes a small township map and indicates locations of schools, churches, neighbor's farms, post offices, villages, groves, cemeteries and other landmarks
MNHS call number:
 Microfilm 693

Census Records

Census Records for Minnesota:

The entire population of Minnesota was enumerated in two series of censuses: one by the U.S. Census Office/Bureau of the federal government, and another by the Territory and State of Minnesota.

Federal Census for Minnesota, 1850-1930
The federal census occurred in the years ending in “0” beginning with 1850. There was an additional territorial census taken by the federal government in 1857. Although Indian people were not supposed to be listed before 1875, some are listed in the 1850 census. Note: the 1900 census had a separate Indian census schedule.
MNHS call number: See the finding aid in the library (Microfilm); available online via 
Ancestry.com

Minnesota State Census, 1849-1905. 
The Minnesota state censuses were taken in 1865, 1875, 1885, 1895, and 1905. The territorial government also took a census in 1849, 1853, 1855, and 1857. Despite governmental instructions to the contrary in the early years, some Indian people are listed.  
MNHS call number: 
Online index, see the finding aid in the library (Microfilm).

Minnesota Territorial Census Schedules, 1849-1855.
Manuscript and published versions of population and nonpopulation census schedules for Minnesota Territory for the years 1849, 1850, 1853, and 1855, and related materials, compiled from the Minnesota Historical Society’s collections of government records, historical manuscripts, books, serials, and newspapers. Supplementary materials include gubernatorial orders, laws passed by the territory’s legislative assembly, annotated transcriptions of census returns, corrections to misspelled names, and a newspaper account of a local census.
MNHS call number: See the finding aid in the library (Microfilm)

Benton, Mahkahta, Wahnahta, and Pembina County Census Schedules, 1850.
MNHS call number: See the finding aid in the library (Microfilm for 1850 census, roll 1)

Corrections of names in the Minnesota territorial census schedules, Pembina District, 1850
Corrections of misspelled surnames appearing in the 1850 Minnesota territorial census schedules for Pembina District, prepared by Albert E. (Edward) Dease in 1966. There are also corrections for names in the 1874 Pembina County personal property assessment rolls and in unnamed Pembina County government records for 1873, as well as for other commonly misspelled or altered names of Pembina County residents. Names are listed as they appear in the records, with each name accompanied by Dease’s correction. Almost all of the corrections are for French names.
MNHS call number: P359

Additional Census Records

Indian Census Rolls, 1885-1940
Contains only records of Minnesota Indians and Indian groups in Wisconsin, North Dakota, and South Dakota with Minnesota connections. There is not a census for every reservation or group of Indians for every year. Only persons who maintained a formal affiliation with a tribe under federal supervision are listed.

Beginning in 1930 the rolls also show the degree of Indian blood, marital status, ward status, place of residence, and sometimes other information.  For certain years—usually 1935, 1936, 1938, and 1939—only supplemental rolls of additions and deductions were compiled.  The 1931 or 1932 census rolls often include separate lists that recapitulated births and deaths for the years after 1924. Most of the 1940 rolls have been retained by the Bureau of Indian Affairs and are not included in this microfilm publication.

Roll 96 may be of particular interest--it includes the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa.  Visit this detailed list for additional information on this microfilm roll.
MNHS call number:
 Digital Finding Aidavailable online via Ancestry.com

Canadian Census Records, 1881, 1891, 1901.
The 1901 Census of Canada, in particular, can be very useful for identifying the historical Métis population.  The 1901 Census includes a "Race" column. The use of "breed" and "half-breed" indicated a person of mixed Native and other background. Abbreviations were used.
MNHS call number: Available online via Ancestry.com

Getting Started 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