This document is designed to compliment the current Stearns County web site. It is intended to be a helpful guide on your Stearns research. I’m sure both rookies and veterans of the county can benefit from the Guide. I’d encourage you to become familiar with the rest of the Stearns County web site at some point
Stearns History Museum
The Research Center at the Stearns History Museum is quite possibly the first thing a new Stearns County researcher must visit. The Research Center is uniquely positioned because it offers a wide array of resources. You will not find another place that has both the quality and quantity of Stearns County-specific genealogical information under one roof. The Research Center contains maps, newspapers, oral histories, and photographs (400,000!). You will find 16,000 family histories, files on most County immigrants, all of the Stearns Federal and State census records, all the Stearns newspapers, many township and county records, the Luxemburger Gazette, a complete “Germans to America” set, and a variety of other interesting resources.
The Research Center is staffed with numerous people dedicated to helping with genealogical work. Its staff is able to read Germanic typescript and are extremely knowledgeable of the resources they have and how best to use them. Consider using the Research Center to start or enrich your work on your Stearns County family history.
The Stearns History Museum Library Catalog allows you to search their library holdings by author, title, subject, contents and keyword.
Conduct interviews in person, on the phone or via email with relatives. If you are compelled, even tape record or videotape your interview. Ask them everything under the sun. You never know what type of information they will yield. It hopefully will provide new information and directions for research. Before concluding your interview, ask the person who among their relatives conducts family history research. There’s no need to reinvent the wheel if the work has been done. It is also a good idea to find out if your various lines have held reunions.
Stearns mailing list
Subscribe to the Stearns County mailing list. There is a good chance that either someone there is researching the same surname, or they’ve seen it before and can direct you further. The odds are also good that other researchers are familiar with the county and the various resources available. Tap this resource.
Be aware that there are researchers that have access to resources and may be willing to volunteer their time and energy toward helping you conduct your research. Please adhere to the request specifications as outlined on their volunteer page and be patient.
What resources are available?
Find out where the various historical societies, chapters, and local organizations are located. Make a point to check some of them out and see what they have in their inventory. Those resources are likely to include passenger lists, books, newspapers, plat books and photographs among others.
Other recommended resources include:
- Specific books that relate to Stearns County will be helpful in your research.
- Most small towns — and most of us come from small towns originally — have newspaper sources. If the place is very small, chances are it would be serviced by the closest larger town on perhaps a weekly basis. Births, marriages (often include photos) and deaths (often include everyone attending that is related) are almost always covered. If your ancestor was famous or infamous papers will have information — not always accurate but interesting nonetheless. If your ancestor had a business you may find an advertisement. If your ancestor was in an accident or special event, that too will be written up. Obituaries (see St. Cloud Times Index) yield some of the best information. The newspaper is the closest we can get to the local view of our ancestors. Please be careful reading small town newspapers — you’re liable to be reading far longer than you anticipate — they are terrific to window into the past.
- For your Stearns County German ancestors, the popular series, “Germans to America”, is certainly something you should take a look at if you’ve traced far enough back through your ancestors.
- Minnesota County Historical Societies, Chapters, & Local Organizations — is a generous statewide list provided by the Minnesota Historical Society and Minnesota Genealogical Society is always there for your additional genealogy needs.
- Find your closest Family History Center and discover their vast collection of resources.
Become a contributor or supporter of one or some of the historical societies, chapters, or local organizations. Donate your time, energy, money or your family research. Whether you realize it or not, your part of the fabric of history. Share your information with the resources that have been so helpful in your research.
Evidence is a must and there is no better source than what the federal, state or local goverment have in their files. Birth, marriage, death and adoption are among the possibilities.
The general breakdown is something like:
- Court Administrator has divorce, probate and civil court records from 1870.
- County Recorder has land records.
- License Center has birth, marriage and death records.
Minnesota State Vital Records Office
Minnesota Department of Health
Birth and Death Records
717 Delaware Street, SE
P.O. Box 9441
Minneapolis, MN 55440
$14.00 for birth records since 1900
$8.00 for marriage records since Jan 1958
$11.00 for death records since Jan 1908
Make check or money order payable to MN Dept. of Health. Copies of earlier records may be obtained from the Local Registrar in the county where the event occurred or from the St. Paul Health Department if the event occurred in St. Paul. Fees vary.
Stearns County Vital Records Office
Room 125 Administration Center
705 Courthouse Square
St. Cloud, MN 56303
Head to their web site to check their hours and costs associcated with obtaining certified vital records.
Recommended sites for further details:
Before you rush off to order up these documents, you should know that Stearns County births, deaths, and marriages records, with indexes, up to 1915 are available on microfilm from Family History Centers. There is no need to go to the office in St. Cloud or (send off money for a single document until you find all the ones you need). You cannot peruse the birth books (after 1915) in the office because of privacy rules, although if you want to see a specific record you can ask to see it. There’s nothing like being able to look at everything to find people you didn’t know existed.
Bringing the Federal Census to the online world is currently in progress. A direct link to the respective census records will be provided once they are available. You may see the progress being made on the statewide effort to bring these documents online.
In which rolls do I look for Stearns County? Here is your answer.
Until the rolls are available online, they can be found at most State Historical Societies, the Family History Centers, Stearns History Museum and at some larger public libraries.
The Family History Centers have an excellent film collection of the various state probate, deed, mortgage, administration and guardianship papers. Many of these are indexed. Most of the wills — at least the early ones are abstracted (Name of Testator, date of making and probate, List of inheritors and relationship to deceased). These are an awesome source and sometimes give us a very real glimpse into the family (who is included and who is left out, whose husband or wife is limited access, etc.). For folks who didn’t have enough possessions to make a will, there still will probably be some sort of administratons and or guardianship papers.
If you are seeking some record from the federal goverment (Census Records, Immigration and Naturalization Records, Military Records, and others), I highly recommend going to the Genealogical Research at the National Archives page. You will find great starting points for finding most federal records. It’s a terrific resource.
Naturalization papers are supposed to be available from county courts.
There are also a variety of Social Security Death indices available online. I believe you can find them at any of your favorite resources found below (#6). These databases contain names, birth dates, death dates, Social Security numbers, and other useful information. They are presented in a number of different flavors depending on the site you employ to do your searching.
Where exactly am I?
Get a map of the county so you can better establish where your ancestors lived, where they might have gone and in what proximity to other places their daily lives revolved. Attempt to get the most detailed maps of the areas your ancestors came from. Plat maps are wonderful. You can begin to see why who married whom. You can track intermarriages on the plat maps and when combined with census and parish records, they give us a very real sense of the community our ancestors grew up in. It is also a good idea to keep a large map of the United State, North America, or the world even to trace migrations and family movement. Sometimes the physical activity can help locate people — Some did go back.
In addition to finding a map, you may find that the USGS Geography Information may suit your needs when it comes to finding something with Stearns County (like a lake or a cemetery). One last map-type resource is available and it is the U.S. Department of the Interior – Bureau Of Land Management. This site is useful for determining a variety of land ownership information. It’s really quite amazing what you can turn up.
Web starting points
RootsWeb provides a good jumping off point for researching your family history. In addition to RootsWeb, there are a handful of good starting points to connect with researchers that researching similiar names or areas.
Other recommended resources include:
- FamilySearch Internet Genealogy Service
- Family Tree Maker’s Genealogy Site
- Genealogy.com: The Leading Resource for Family History
Cemeteries and their churches
Cemetery lists are often on line. If you are lucky enough to know where your ancestors are buried email or snail mail for ALL persons buried in the same plot. Don’t ask for a single surname. Sometimes you find mothers, infants who died at birth who never made the family bible, or married daughters and their husbands all buried in the family plot. Remember to offer to pay for any information you receive and ALWAYS enclose SASE. I usually include a donation of $5.00 to the “improvement fund”. It works. Every request takes someone’s time.
The resource for Stearns County cemetery lists is the Index to gravestones of Stearns County, Minnesota, as of 1974-1976. It was compiled by St. Cloud Area Genealogists, Incorporated. This microfilm is a truly remarkable work. It can be found in a variety of locations.
Church records are perhaps the most important resource we have. Most of our ancestors were very closely associated with one church or another. The Family History Centers have filmed many church registers. The www.familysearch.org site includes the catalogue to the holdings of the LDS in the Salt Lake Library. You access information by State: County: Township. A complete listing of the church records for any particular locality will be listed along with the dates filmed. These can be ordered through the Family History Centers in your locality. These parish records include birth, marriage and deaths. It is possible to follow the family throughout their lives in each parish (The real trick is knowing which congregation to search.). If the churches in your locality aren’t listed above, the next search is for the town in question on the internet. Usually churches, funeral homes and cemeteries are listed on a town site. Then you can write or email the churches privately. I recommend writing, include $5.00 or $10.00 for copying (the remainder to go to the parish purse) and an SASE. Do not ask for more than one or two records at any one time. Most small churches have only one minister for several churches, he is a very busy man just tending the congregations. If you are really serious about wanting information then you must be willing to pay the cost of the search. It is not unreasonable to offer $15 – 25 for someone (else) in the church to make a search for you. It is much less than a trip to wherever in any case.
If you are having trouble locating a Catholic parish, you might want to consult the Diocese of St. Cloud.
Other helpful tips
When you hit a dead end — and we all do — Try “going in through the back door”. Check the information on your corollary lines. Often a sister or brother’s family have kept information your family has lost. Check all the possible surnames and variations for your family.
Everything must be proven one generation at a time. Indexes, lists, others research, even Family Bibles really just provide us with where to look for the “real” proof. If birth, marriage, death registers are not all available from the Church or State – you may need to use wills, census, land records, local histories, etc. to develop enough corroborating evidence to “prove” your point.
If you are stumped about what you might do for your genealogical research, you may wish to check out the RootsWeb’s Guide to Tracing Family Trees or have a look at the Park Genealogical Books monthly series, Minnesota Genealogy Research.
Special thanks to Jackie Sieben, Diane LaFontaine, Lil Heselton, Nancy Pundsack, Pauline Imdieke Eubanks and Thomas Steichen.