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School Records Research

How to find historic records from Minnesota public schools

How to Find School Records at MNHS

Keep in mind that records from elementary and secondary public schools in Minnesota are here as part of the Minnesota State Archives.  They can generally be found by searching the library and archives catalog

  • Use the name of the applicable town/township/county and the word "school" in the search box
  • After the initial search results appear, select "local government records" within the collections filter on the left side.  

  • Finding aids for school records can be found in the red, local government notebooks in the reading room, they are cataloged first by county and then numerically by school district number. 

Helpful Collections to Get Started

Minnesota Works Progress Administration.  Historical Records Survey.  School District Records.  1852-1944.  
Inventories of historical school records existing in each county in Minnesota, prepared by WPA workers.  Surveys are organized by school district and vary in their level of completion.  Information available includes: history of school buildings, references to any consolidations, historic attendance data, and firsts for the district (place first classes held, date first school house built, etc.).  
MNHS call number: Digital Finding Aid

Minnesota Department of Education.  Maps of School Districts.  1910-1940s.  
Maps showing boundaries of school districts. Most are undated. There is more than one map for many counties, showing school district boundaries at various times.
MNHS call number: See finding aid in the library (Education Department).  

Guides compiled by Reference Staff: 

School District Types & Numbering System

A school district's number is generally what drives how its associated finding aids are organized within the local government notebooks in the reading room.  Before 1957, the numbering of school districts was largely a county function and the practice varied greatly; from September 1957 to June 1971, the state mandated a master numbering system and the types of districts were reduced.  Since 1971, the types of school districts have increased and numbering systems have again become more varied.  

For example, to find school records associated with the school district in New Ulm, Minnesota:

  • Search [New Ulm school] in the library and archives catalog, then limit to "local government records" within the Collections filter. 
  • Narrowing your search to those records authored by "Minnesota. Independent School District No. 88 (New Ulm)" will result in three records, including an agency history record, grade and attendance record books, and general records. 
  • To find the proper location numbers for the associated records, you will need to consult the local government notebooks for Brown County School Records, where this district is identified as number "88" (the number assigned in 1968 following a merger with Hanska accoding to the agency history record).  

For more information on the organization and numbering of school districts in Minnesota see School District Numbering Guides

Preliminary Research

History of Public School Organization

1849 : Plans to establish a corporate school system in every township with five or more families

1854-1860 : Special school districts established for larger geographic areas, example: St. Paul, Minneapolis, and Rochester

1865: Independent school district concept is established.  Requires population of 500, and a town/village/city within its boundaries.  

1870 : Township schools changed to common school districts representing at least 4 sections of land with 12 or more pupils. 

1901: Consolidation is legalized.  New consolidated school districts are formed by mergers of any type.  Funding is provided by the state for transportation of resident pupils.  

1911: Holmberg Act revises tax laws to provide for construction of new school buildings with more aid to districts for both buildings and transportation.  

1934: 7,721 school districts exist in Minnesota

1937: Reorganization plan is proposed, stressing reorganization within county units.  

1947: County surveys of educational facilities and services conducted with intention of reorganization of school districts in counties.  

1957 -1971: New numbers assigned to school districts based on state-wide system, reflecting massive consolidations resulting in 436 school districts.  

2017: 515 school districts/local education agencies exist in Minnesota.  

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
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