History & Facts of Minnesota Counties

Minnesota Counties  •  Minnesota Extinct Counties  •  Minnesota Burned Courthouses

Minnesota County records differ vastly from county to county in either quality as well as quantity. Some happen to have been carefully preserved while others have been much neglected and mistreated. Some Minnesota records have simply disappeared. For genealogists carrying out research in Minnesota you will find no effective replace to have an on-site research of county court house records.

On October 27, 1849 nine counties were established. Among them were Benton, Dahkotah, Itasca, Ramsey, Mahkahta, Pembina, Wabasha, Washington, and Wahnata. Of these Benton, Dakota, Itasca, Ramsey, Wabasha, and Washington still exist as their original names. With the foundation of Kittson County on March 9, 1878, Pembina County no longer existed. When Minnesota was organized as a state, 57 of the present 87 counties were established. The last county to be created was Lake of the Woods County in 1923.

The names of many of the counties pay tribute to the long history of exploration. Over ten counties names pay tribute to the state's various Native American groups that are resident in parts of what is now Minnesota. Another fifteen counties are named after physical geographic features, with the remainder being named after politicians.

Minnesota Counties

Minnesota is divided into 87 counties. There are several offices that are responsible for recording various types of county records for Minnesota's counties. The county recorder is responsible for land records, while the court administrator's office is responsible for vital records, including death, birth and marriage records. Probate files are found at the probate judge's office and the court administrator's office holds records from civil and criminal court cases. Note that death, birth and marriage records may not be entirely complete. Mortgage, deed and grantor-grantee indexes are also available, but the starting year doesn't necessarily include all the information from that year. Wills and probate files are among the earliest probate records that were recorded. Early criminal files may have been filed as part of civil court files, instead.

County Date Formed Parent County County Seat
Aitkin May 23, 1857 Pine and  Ramsey Counties Aitkin
Anoka May 23, 1857 Ramsey County Anoka
Becker March 18, 1858 Cass and Pembina Counties Detroit Lakes
Beltrami February 28, 1866 Unorganized Territory, Itasca, Pembina and Polk Counties Bemidji
Benton October 27, 1849 One of nine original counties; formed from residual St. Croix County, Wisconsin Territory. Foley
Big Stone February 20, 1862 Pierce County Ortonville
Blue Earth March 5, 1853 Unorganized Territory and Dakota County Mankato
Brown February 20, 1855 Blue Earth County New Ulm
Carlton May 23, 1857 Pine and St. Louis Counties Carlton
Carver February 20, 1855 Hennepin and Sibley Counties Chaska
Cass March 31, 1851 Dakota, Pembina, Mankahto and Wahnata Counties Walker
Chippewa February 20, 1862 Pierce and Davis Counties Montevideo
Chisago March 31, 1851 Washington and Ramsey Counties Center City
Clay March 18, 1858 Pembina County Moorhead
Clearwater December 20, 1902 Beltrami County Bagley
Cook November 3, 1874 Lake County Grand Marais
Cottonwood February 20, 1855 Brown County Windom
Crow Wing May 23, 1857 Ramsey County Brainerd
Dakota October 27, 1849 One of nine original counties. Hastings
Dodge February 20, 1855 Rice County and Unorganized Territory Mantorville
Douglas March 8, 1858 Cass and Pembina Counties Alexandria
Faribault February 20, 1855 Blue Earth County Blue Earth
Fillmore March 5, 1853 Wabasha County Preston
Freeborn February 20, 1855 Blue Earth and Rice Counties Albert Lea
Goodhue March 5, 1853 Wabasha and Dakota Counties Red Wing
Grant March 6, 1868 Stevens, Wilkin and Traverse Counties Elbow Lake
Hennepin March 6, 1852 Dakota County Minneapolis
Houston April 4, 1854 Fillmore County Caledonia
Hubbard February 26, 1883 Cass County Park Rapids
Isanti February 13, 1857 Ramsey County Cambridge
Itasca October 27, 1849 One of nine original counties; formed from residual La Pointe County, Wisconsin Territory. Grand Rapids
Jackson May 23, 1857 Brown County Jackson
Kanabec October 12, 1858 Pine County Mora
Kandiyohi March 20, 1858 Meeker, Renville, Pierce, Davis and Stearns Counties Willmar
Kittson February 25, 1879 Pembina County Hallock
Koochiching December 19, 1906 Itasca County International Falls
Lac qui Parle November 7, 1871 Redwood County Madison
Lake March 1, 1856 Itasca County Two Harbors
Lake of the Woods November 28, 1922 Beltrami County Baudette
Le Sueur March 5, 1853 Dakota County Le Center
LIncoln November 4, 1873 Lyon County Ivanhoe
Lyon November 2, 1869 Redwood County Marshall
McLeod March 1, 1856 Carver and Sibley Counties Glencoe
Mahnomen December 27, 1906 Norman County Mahnomen
Marshall February 25, 1879 Kittson County Warren
Martin May 23, 1857 Faribault and Brown Counties Fairmont
Meeker February 23, 1856 Davis County Litchfield
Mille Lacs May 23, 1857 Ramsey County Milaca
Morrison February 25, 1856 Benton County Little Falls
Mower February 20, 1855 Rice County Austin
Murray May 23, 1857 Brown County Slayton
Nicollet March 5, 1853 Dakota County St. Peter
Nobles May 23, 1857 Brown County Worthington
Norman November 8, 1881 Polk County Ada
Olmstead February 20, 1855 Fillmore, Wabasha and Rice Counties Rochester
Otter Tail March 18, 1858 Pembina and Cass Counties Fergus Falls
Pennington November 23, 1910 Red Lake County Thief River Falls
Pine March 1, 1856 Chisago and Ramsey Counties Pine City
Pipestone May 23, 1857 Brown County Pipestone
Polk July 20, 1858 Pembina County Crookston
Pope February 20, 1862 Pierce, Cass Counties and Unorganized Territory Glenwood
Ramsey October 27, 1849 One of nine original counties; formed from residual St. Croix County, Wisconsin Territory. Saint Paul
Red Lake December 24, 1896 Polk County Red Lake Falls
Redwood November 4, 1862 Brown County Redwood Falls
Renville February 20, 1855 Nicollet, Pierce and Sibley Counties Olivia
Rice March 5, 1853 Dakota and Wabasha Counties Faribault
Rock May 23, 1857 Brown County Luverne
Roseau February 28, 1894 Kittson and Beltrami Counties Roseau
Scott March 5, 1853 Dakota County Shakopee
Sherburne February 25, 1856 Benton County Elk River
Sibley March 5, 1853 Dakota County Gaylord
St. Louis March 1, 1856 Itasca and Newton Counties Duluth
Stearns February 20, 1855 Cass, Nicollet, Pierce and Sibley Counties St. Cloud
Steele February 20, 1855 Rice, Blue Earth County and  Le_Sueur Counties Owatonna
Stevens February 20, 1862 Pierce County and Unorganized Territory Morris
Swift February 18, 1870 Chippewa County Benson
Todd February 20, 1855 Cass County Long Prairie
Traverse February 20, 1862 Pierce County and Unorganized Territory Wheaton
Wabasha October 27, 1849 One of nine original counties. Wabasha
Wadena June 11, 1858 Cass and  Todd Counties Wadena
Waseca February 27, 1857 Steele County Waseca
Washington October 27, 1849 One of nine original counties; formed from residual St. Croix County, Wisconsin Territory. Stillwater
Watonwan November 6, 1860 Brown County St. James
Wilkin March 18, 1858 Cass and  Pembina Counties Breckenridge
Winona April 4, 1854 Fillmore and Wabasha Counties Winona
Wright February 20, 1855 Cass and Sibley Counties Buffalo
Yellow Medicine November 7, 1871 Redwood County Granite Falls

Minnesota Extinct Counties

Minnesota contains counties that no longer exist. They were recognized by the state, provincial, or territorial governing administration. Many of these counties were established and disbanded in the 19th century; county boundaries have altered very little since 1900 in the vast most of states. These counties need to be looked at when you are performing family history and genealogy research. Pay close attention where the courthouse records went to if the county was eliminated or merged with a different county.

  • Andy Johnson County: See Toombs County below. Toombs County was renamed Andy Johnson County after President Andrew Johnson and to disassociate with Mr. Toombs. The county again changed its name to Wilkin County in March 6, 1868.
  • Big Sioux County: Created in December, 1857 from Brown County. County was disbanded in 1859 and land became part of North Dakota
  • Breckenridge County: Created on March 18, 1858. Iit was named for John C. Breckenridge, Vice President of the United States from 1857-1861. After the Civil War started, Breckenridge joined the army of the south. Pressure by Minnesota residents resulted in the State Legislature of Minnesota passing a bill on March 6, 1862, rescinding the name of Breckenridge. The county was then renamed Clay County for Henry Clay (1777-1852). Clay was known as a statesman and orator, and called "The Great Pacificator".
  • Buchanan County: Created on May 23, 1857. It comprised the 24 northern townships, now forming the northern half of Pine County, Minnesota. The Buchanan County seat was Sandstone. The county disbanded and merged into Pine County in 1861. Brown County was attached to Chisago and St. Louis Counties for county and or judicial purposes. Some early records may be found there.
  • Davis County: Created in 1855 from Cass, Nicollet, Pierce and Sibley Counties. In 1862 the county was disbanded and what was left was merged into Chippewa and Lac qui Parle Counties. Davis County was attached to Stearns and Lac qui Parle Counties for county and or judicial purposes. Some early records may be found there.
  • Doty County: Created on February 20, 1855 from Itasca County. The name changed to Newton County on March 3, 1855. Lac Qui Parle (old) County: Created in 1862 from Davis and Pierce Counties. In 1868 the county was disbanded and merged into Stevens and Chippewa Counties. Lac Qui Parle County was attached to Renville County for county and or judicial purposes. Some early records may be found there.
  • Lincoln (old) County: Created in 1861 from Renville County. In 1868 the county was disbanded and merged back into Renville County. Lincoln County was attached to McLeod County for county and or judicial purposes. Some early records may be found there.
  • Mahkahto County: Created on October 27, 1849 from Unorganized Territory. The county was disbanded in 1851 and the land became part of Pembina and Cass Counties. Mahkahto County was attached to Ramsey County for county and or judicial purposes. Some early records may be found there.
  • Manomin County: Created on May 23, 1857 when it was split from Ramsey County. The name Manomin is a variant spelling of manoomin, the Ojibwe word for wild rice, a staple of their diet. The county seat was Manomin (present-day Fridley).The land shifted hands among three other counties for the next decade. When it was formed, it was the smallest county in the United States at roughly 18 square miles. It was deorganized in 1858 and administratively attached to St. Louis, Minnesota. Two years later in 1860 it was attached to Anoka County. At the time, the area's population was 136. In 1863, it was attached to Hennepin County, but it was finally merged into Anoka County and eliminated in 1869.
  • Monongalia County: Monongalia County is a former county in the U.S. state of Minnesota. It was identified in 1858, although the Dakota War of 1862 delayed its organization until 1861. The county seat was at New London.In 1870 the state legislature ordered it merged with Kandiyohi County, its southern neighbor. Neither county had been able up till then to raise enough money to build a courthouse. In February of 1871, they finally agreed to make Willmar the new county seat.Newton County: Doty County was renamed Newton County on March 3, 1855. On March 1, 1856, St. Louis County to the east became Lake County while Newton County was renamed St. Louis County.
  • Pembina County: Created on October 27, 1849 from Unorganized Territory. County was organized in 1852 then deorganized in 1853. Name was changed to Kittson County in 1878. At some point Pembina County was attached to Morrison, Crow Wing, Douglas, Becker and Clay Counties for county and or judicial purposes. Some early records may be found there.
  • Pierce County: ?
  • St. Croix County: ?
  • St. Louis (old) County: ?
  • Superior County: ?
  • Toombs County: Created on March 8, 1858, named after Robert Toombs (1810-85) of Georgia, who had been a member of Congress, 1845-53, and was U.S. senator, 1853-61. Mr. Toombs became a leading disunionist, then a Confederate secretary of state in 1861, and later was a Confederate general. In 1863, the county was renamed Andy Johnson County (see above). Toombs County was formed from Pembina County. It is the parental county for Traverse County, and now are parts of Clay, Otter Tail, Grant, Stevens, Douglas and Pope Counties.
  • Wahnata County: ?

Minnesota Counties with Burned Courthouses

The destruction to Minnesota courthouses tremendously has a affect on genealogists in just about every way. Not only are these types of historic structures torn from our lifetimes, so are the files they kept: marriage, wills, probate, land records, as well as others. Once destroyed they're gone permanently. Despite the fact that they have been put on mircofilm, computers and film burn as well. The most sad aspect of this is the reason why virtually all of our courthouses are destroyed from arsonist. However, you cannot assume all records were destroyed. A number of Minnesota counties have dealt with a loss of records due to courthouse fires, floods, and theft.

  • Big Stone County Courthouse was destroyed by fire in 1885.
  • Hubbard County Courthouse was partially destroyed by fire a few years after 1889. No records were destroyed
  • Kanabec County Courthouse was destroyed by fire. Some records were destroyed in March 1894.
  • Lake County Courthouse burned to the ground in 1904. most county records were rescued.
  • Pine County Courthouse burned in 1870. most all records were destroyed. The 1886 frame courthouse was struck by lightning and burned in 1952. Records were saved.
  • Red Lake County Courthouse (the original wooden courthouse) burned to the ground in April 1909. No records were destroyed
  • St. Louis County Courthouse had a Record loss in 1869-70 due to unkown cause
  • Sibley County's first courthouse, built in the then county seat of Henderson, burned in 1863 along with all of the early county records.
  • Waseca County Courthouse burned in 1865 in the village of Wilton, the county seat in 1857.
  • Watonwan County Courthouse burned before 1895. Some records were destroyed.
  • Wilkin County Courthouse burned in 1883 destroying most early records. The courthouse burned again in 1924 with no record loss.
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