An Inventory of the Public Land Survey Records for Minnesota

Principal Investigator(s):

Roderick Squires, Former Associate Professor, Geography

Project summary:

During the federal government's land surveying efforts in Minnesota in the second half of the nineteenth century, a variety of paper records, correspondence, printed circulars, transcribed field notes, and hand-drafted maps (plats), were produced, all of which have historical value. A portion of these records contains detailed instructions given to the deputies who actually carried out the surveys, which is valuable for understanding the surveying process and the outcome (the physical evidence on the ground, and the plats), which together comprised the first legal descriptions. Without these instructions, the field notes on which the plats are based do not make sense. The instructions provide the basis for modern legal descriptions and have irreplaceable value for present surveyors, including those employed by the Minnesota Department of Transportation, who follow in the footsteps of the original surveyors. Most of the surveying records (including those containing instructions) are inaccessible because they have never been inventoried in detail and because they are stored in various locations. This project consisted of two goals: 1) compile an inventory of the records and acquire illustrative samples of the instructions; and 2) assess their suitability for digital recording. The inventory was necessary should the State wish to provide greater access to, and greater use of, these records while at the same time preserving them. The report makes a preliminary inventory of these records, particularly those housed in the correspondence files kept by the following individuals: the Surveyors General of Wisconsin and Iowa, which are now housed in the Iowa State Archives in Dubuque, Iowa; the Surveyors General of Minnesota, which are now housed in the Minnesota State Archives in the Minnesota History Center in St Paul; and the Commissioners of the General Land Office, which are now housed in the National Archives, Washington D.C. The report also makes recommendations regarding future efforts to make such records widely available in an electronic format.

Project details:

  • Project number: 2007001
  • Start date: 07/2006
  • Project status: Completed
  • Research area: Environment and Energy
  • Topics: Planning