Minnesota Church Records
This entry was originally written by Carol L. Maki and Michael John Neill for Red Book: American State, County, and Town Sources.
Detailed background on Minnesota church history is found in numerous published denominational histories. The religion of the European settlers was first brought to Native Americans in what is now Minnesota by the Catholic missionaries and the French explorers. In 1656 Groseilliers and Radisson built a chapel at Prairie Island, near present-day Hastings. The Mission of St. Michael the Archangel was established at Fort Beauharnois on Lake Pepin (Mississippi River) in 1727.
In June of 1839, the Right Reverend Mathias Loras, first Bishop of Dubuque, Iowa, visited Mendota (then known as St. Peter’s), finding 185 Catholics among the French, English, and Sioux. Arrangements were made for the establishment of a parish. James Michael Reardon’s The Catholic Church in the Diocese of St. Paul, from Earliest Origin to Centennial Achievement (St. Paul: North Central Publishing Co., 1952) provides background on the development of this parish.
Sacramental records for all parishes within the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis are presently being microfilmed. The staff will provide limited research upon written request directed to Steven Granger, Archivist, Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, 226 Summit Ave., St. Paul, MN 55102.
For Catholic parishes in Minnesota (and North and South Dakota), there is the Minnesota Historical Society collection for the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis parish questionnaires and related papers. The questionnaires were from the 1930s and 1940s; however, additions were made through the 1970s when the collection was microfilmed.
During the 1850s the number of churches increased rapidly in the new territory with at least fifteen congregations in St. Paul, eight in Minneapolis, and seven in St. Anthony by 1859. Episcopal, Presbyterian, Methodist, Baptist, Congregational, and Catholic were the most prevalent at that time. Chisago Lakes and Vasa, both Scandinavian settlements, had Lutheran churches in the mid-1850s. Quakers were active in Minneapolis at this time, while the first Jewish service was held in St. Paul in 1856.
Numerous church records are deposited at the Minnesota Historical Society. Some are originals; some are microfilms. There are significant collections for Quakers, the Episcopal Church, and the United Church of Christ. Anne A. Hage’s Church Records in Minnesota: A Guide to Parish Records of Congregational, Evangelical, Reformed, and United Church of Christ Churches, 1851–1981 (Minneapolis: Minnesota Conference, United Church of Christ, 1983) helps in locating record sources.
Luther Seminary in St. Paul is the archives repository of the Region Three Archives of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and for some American-Lutheran Church records. The seminary is at 2481 Como Ave., St. Paul, MN 55108. An historical reference is Emeroy Johnson, A Church Is Planted: The Story of the Lutheran Minnesota Conference, 1851–1876 (Minneapolis: Lutheran Minnesota Conference, 1948).
Microfilmed records of the Minnesota Conference of the old Augustana Synod (Swedish-American) are at the American Swedish Institute in Minneapolis. Archives of the Minnesota South District of the Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod are at Concordia College in St. Paul. There are records of Swedish-American Lutheran Churches at Gustavus Adolphus College, College and Lutheran Church Archives, Folke Bernadotte Memorial Library, St. Peter, Minnesota with a listing of churches by Minnesota Conference and Red River Valley Conference.
The WPA Minnesota Papers “Historical Records Survey, Churches,” held by the Minnesota Historical Society, gives information on locations of individual church records in the 1930s and limited histories of the congregations. The papers are filed by county, name of community, and church.
The Minnesota Historical Society Research Center has guidebooks to the center’s Minnesota Historic Resources Survey completed between 1973 and 1979 and organized by county and 300 historic organizations on seven reels of microfilm. The guidebooks indicate location of church records in local historical societies or other manuscript repositories. The state archives section has secretary of state notebooks for articles of incorporation of churches and religious organizations.