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Adoption Research: Orphanage & Institutional Records

Individuals' Records from Orphanages & Other Institutions

Evidence of individual adoptions can be found by searching the library catalog for government records from orphanages, maternity homes, Color postcard of State public school, Owatonna, approx. 1906. correctional facilities, and other institutions including: 

  • Owatonna State Public School Records (the State Orphanage)
    The school functioned as the state's public orphanage and adoption agency, starting when it opened in 1886.  For more information, see the Owatonna State Public School page in this guide.
  • Washburn Memorial Orphan Asylum Records, 1886-1949.

    Opened in Minneapolis in 1886, this institution was designed to serve orphaned children without regard to age, gender, race, or religion. Orphaned, half-orphaned, and other dependent and neglected children under the age of 15 were cared for until the orphanage closed in 1929. 
    MNHS call number: Digital Finding Aid

  • Minnesota Human Services Department: Adoption Unit: Maternity, Children, and Women's Homes Records, 1880-1968
    Records document patients' progress from admission to discharge, and often after discharge.  They contain personal health and familial histories, many with pregnancy, birth, and adoption information. Includes records of:
    • Bethany Home/Harriet Walker Maternity Hospital (Minneapolis)
    • Children's Home Society/Home for Children and Aged Women (Minneapolis)
    • Maternity Hospital/Ripley Hospital for Women (Minneapolis)
    • Women's Christian Home/Union Gospel Mission Home (St. Paul)
    MNHS call number: Digital Finding Aid
  • Minnesota Home School for Girls (Sauk Centre Home School) Records
    The school functioned as the state's juvenile detention facility for girls deemed delinquent or otherwise committed by the courts. For more information, see the Minnesota Home School for Girls at Sauk Centre page in the State Prisons: Historical Inmate Records research guide.
    Records with adoption/birth information include:
  • Health Department:  Hospital Services Division:  Maternity Hospital Records
    Records for various maternity hospitals located throughout Minnesota.
    MNHS call number: Digital Finding Aid


[Image: State public school, Owatonna. approximately 1906. ID # MS7.9 OW7.2 r20]

Other Orphanage and Institutional Materials

There are a variety of institutions represented in the collection for which we do not have records for individual children.  However, other types of records may provide interesting information about these institutions, their practices, and their policies.  Examples include:   

  • St. Paul Protestant Orphan Asylum Records, 1883-1931. 
    Materials documenting an institution organized in St. Paul in 1865 as a haven for destitute children awaiting adoption.
    MNHS call number: Digital Finding Aid  [Published annual reports (1868-1913) are cataloged separately in the book collection.]
    • Amherst H. Wilder Foundation records and family papers, 1864-2023. 
      Contains documentation of the Protestant Orphan Asylum's activities, including records of children admitted between 1865 and 1916.  
      MNHS call number: Digital Finding Aid  (See 149.I.15.10F--Box 61--for records related to children at the Asylum)
  • Babies’ Home Records--St Paul, 1890-1900.
    Organized in 1890 to care for destitute, abandoned, or orphaned children under two years of age. It continued its services for nearly ten years, closing in December 1900 because its work had been taken up by other organizations.  Records include articles of incorporation, minutes of meetings of the board of managers, a daily record of the official visitors, and lists of donations and accounts.   
    MNHS call number: See the finding aid in the library (BK1.1/.B114)​

How do I obtain an orphanage or other institutional record?

Note: Adoption record restrictions may apply to all these collections. 


Visit the Library

Researchers can search for and locate materials on-site, usually with assistance from Library staff. Photocopy orders may be placed for a fee at the Copy Services window. Please note that restricted or confidential records are often not available the same day they are requested, that researchers may have to formally apply to view these records, and that an application for access does not guaranteed approval.  In addition, some restricted records can only be viewed in a redacted form.  

For more details on visiting the library, please see our Using the Library guide.


Order Online

The Minnesota Historical Society Library offers a variety of research services.

To order a record from:

  • Owatonna State Public School: Fill out the order form on the Owatonna State Public School page in our online store. Please include any and all information you may have about the record you are seeking. NOTE: This service is currently unavailable.
  • Minnesota Home School for Girls: Fill out the order form on the State Correctional Institution page in our online store.  Please include any and all information you may have about the record you are seeking. NOTE: This service is currently unavailable.
  • Another orphanage or institution: We do not have a general research service, but we do offer a non-research Copy Request Service.  For this service, you must have an exact citation that includes the name of the institution, name/ID number/date on recordlocation number, and box or folder number.  Fill out the Copy Request Order Form on our Copy Request Service page. Please include any and all other information you have about the record you are seeking 

Orphanage Record Links

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