Family Farm Research

Farm/Building Records

Farm buildings, 1920

The following list of State Archives resources contains information on family farms across the state. If your farm qualifies as a Bonanza or Century property, check the boxes listed at the bottom of this page.


Drought Relief Applications, 1933
Application forms note the relief being requested (number of bushels of corn, oats, and barley, tons of hay, other commodities, especially fuel for farm equipment); kinds and amounts of various crops raised; size of farm, and mortgage status and/or rental terms; kind, amount, and value of personal property (various kinds of livestock, automobile, machinery, cash on hand, and money due); hay and grain in stock; debts; average monthly cream check; other income; and farmer’s age, marital status, and number of family members living at home. The forms generally note the amount and type of relief granted. These records are arranged alphabetically by county; counties with large numbers of applicants may be subdivided by township.
MNHS call number: See the finding aid in the library(filed under Executive Council).

Hailstorm Relief Applications, 1930-1934
Applications for livestock feed and/or funds for building repair or other farm needs as a result of damage from hailstorms that struck a number of Minnesota counties in the summers of 1930 and 1932-1934.  The application forms note amount and type of crops destroyed; other damage; amount of hailstorm insurance; farm acreage and mortgage status and/or rental acreage and terms; enumeration of livestock, crops, and other assets; chattel mortgage and other debts; number of family members at home; and income. Most forms note in some fashion the amount of relief granted.
MNHS call number: See the finding aid in the Library (filed under Executive Council).

Farm Crop and Labor Reports, 1918
Data collected during a statewide farm census conducted by the Public Safety Commission in order to determine the adequacy of Minnesota's food supply during World War I. There are report forms for individual farms, and for statistical summaries.  The report for each farm gives the name and ethnicity of the farmer; kind and acreage of each crop planted, kind and number of livestock raised, and number of silos erected in 1917 and 1918; and information on the need for additional farm labor, including the number, gender, and nationality desired time period, and for what type of work.
MNHS call number: Digital Finding Aid

Department of Rural Credit, Contract for Deed Files, 1920s-1995
Information includes correspondence between the buyer and department, real estate appraisal report to the department with photos of the property, rural credit contract for deed, sales worksheet, property history sheet, farm rental application, financial statement, and operating report, delinquent loan report, buyer's financial declaration, purchase offer, crop payment contract record, report on buyer and property, and other loan papers. The files are for property state-wide, but primarily in central and northwestern Minnesota. Many files are missing. Each folder is labeled with the buyer's name and address; on some folders there is more than one name, because another person assumed the contract.
MNHS call number: Digital Finding Aid

Department of Rural Credit, Financial and Loan Records, 1925-1960
Records of mortgage loans and loan payments (1925-ca. 1960), leases for property in Pennington and Red Lake counties (ca. 1930-ca. 1942), crop sales journals (1938-1947), office expense ledgers (1925-1943), a cash received journal (1930-1935), and state numerical index of loan and real estate (1936).
MNHS call numberDigital Finding Aid

State-Federal Crop and Livestock Reporting Service, State Farm Census Township Summaries, 1922-1972
County & township summaries of numbers of acres planted to various crops, numbers of livestock, total number of farms, number of farms reporting in each category, and total number of people on farms. 
MNHS call number:  See finding aid in the library (filed under Agriculture Department: State-Federal Crop and Livestock Reporting Service.)

State-Federal Crop and Livestock Reporting Service, Press Releases, 1945-1967
The releases report on or forecast crop and livestock production, including eggs, dairy, pigs, cattle, calves, chickens, turkey, sheep & lambs, honey & beeswax, corn, various types of clover, alfalfa, flax, soybeans, potatoes, barley, timothy, grain in general, winter wheat, rye, truck crops & commercial vegetables, shorn wool, and livestock slaughter. 
MNHS call number: Digital Finding Aid

Family Farm Security Program, Summary of Reports of Corporations, 1978 - ongoing

Annual reports summarizing total acres of MN farmland owned or leased by various types of corporations, numbers of corporations, & total acreage owned & leased, by county; lists, by county of individual corporations, noting type of corporation & acreage owned & leased; and lists of landholding aliens, giving name & address, acres owned, date acquired, citizenship, & type of ownership. 
MNHS library call number: See finding aid in the library (filed under Agriculture Department: Family Farm Security Program)

Century Farm Sources

A farm qualifies as a Century Farm if it's been in the same family for 100 or more years.  If the farm you are researching is a Century Farm, check the sources listed below:

Century Farm Applications, MN State Agricultural Society
Application forms filled out by residents who wished to have their farms declared century farms, signifying that the farm had been in the same family for 100 or more years. This was begun as a joint project between the State Fair and the Farmer magazine; later the Minnesota Farm Bureau Federation became the co-sponsor. Beginning in 2009, sesquicentennial (150 years) farms forms are also included. 
MNHS call numberDigital finding aid

Century Farms of Minnesota: One Hundred Years of Changing Life Styles on the Farm, 1985
This book, compiled and edited by Dorothy L. Wanless, serves as a comprehensive history of Minnesota Century Farms. It also provides detailed information about various century farms throughout the state.
MNHS call number: Reading Room FOLIO S451.M6 C46 1985

Bonanza Farms

Harrowing on a Red River bonanza farm, 1885.

Bonanza farms, huge acreages created from the sale of land by the Northern Pacific Railroad to its investors to cover its debts, covered thousands of acres and produced large wheat crops. The absentee landowners hired local managers to run the farms. Through the creation of bonanza farms, Minnesota and North Dakota — and the Red River Valley in particular — became one of the country's largest wheat producing areas. Between 1875 and 1890, bonanza farms became highly profitable through the use of new machinery and huge crews of cheap hired labor. Over time the land was exhausted and the great farms were no longer profitable. The investors sold or rented the land to smaller farmers until, by the 1920s, the last remnants of the bonanza period faded away.




"The Business of a Wheat Farm," by William Allen White.
In Scribner's Magazine, vol. 22, no. 5 (Nov. 1897): pp. 538-548.
MNHS call number: AP2 .S43

The Challenge of the Prairie: Life and Times of Red River Pioneers, by Hiram M. Drache.
Fargo, N.D.: North Dakota Institute for Regional Studies, 1970.
MNHS call number: F614.R36 D7.

The Checkered Years: A Bonanza Farm Diary, 1884-88, by Mary Dodge Woodward.
St. Paul, MN.: Minnesota Historical Society Press, 1989.
MNHS call number: F636 .W66 1989, also available for purchase

The Day of the Bonanza: A History of Bonanza Farming in the Red River Valley of the North, by Hiram M. Drache.
Fargo, N.D.: North Dakota Institute for Regional Studies, 1964.
MNHS call number: S451.N9 D7

"Indispensable Outcasts: Harvest Laborers in the Wheat Belt of the Middle West, 1890-1925," by Toby Higbie.
In Labor History, vol. 38, no. 4 (fall 1997): pp. 393-412.
MNHS call number: Microfiche 19

"Industrial History of the Valley of the Red River of the North," by John Lee Coulter.
In Collections of the State Historical Society of North Dakota, vol. 3 (1910): pp. 529-672.
MNHS call number: F631 .N86
Of particular interest for this topic are the subsections on "Bonanza Farms and the One Crop System of Agriculture," pp. 569-596, and "Cost of Producing Wheat in the Red River Valley," pp. 597-612.

Oliver Dalrymple: The Story of a Bonanza Farmer, by John Stewart Dalrymple.
Minneapolis, MN: 1960.
MNHS call number: S451.N8 D2

Fred S. Rutledge and Family Papers, 1888-1961
Rutledge's handwritten memoirs and articles on his life as a homesteader on a farm in the Red River Valley (1880s-1900s) and as an employee (1907-1931) of the Minneapolis Bedding Company, describing schools, weather, lumbering, agricultural machinery, railroads, steam boating, and other aspects of life in the Red River Valley and vicinity.
MNHS call number: See finding aid in the library (filed under A/.R981f)

Horace Goodhue and Family Papers, 1842-1923
Diary and letters of Goodhue, a Carleton College professor, concerning agriculture and travel in Minnesota and North Dakota, with a description of the Oliver Dalrymple bonanza farm in the Red River Valley. Included also are speeches and other items of his son, Ralph B., relating to agriculture and dairying in west-central Minnesota.
MNHS call number: See finding aid in the library (filed under P1018)

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