Vernon Township Farm Ownership Maps


Family Inheritance of Farmland
Vernon Township, Dodge County, Minnesota

By Ivan Otterness

Have you ever wondered who originally settled a piece of land? At one time it was wild and home only to uncultivated plants and animals. Where did the pioneers come from? Did they stay on to tame the land and build a home – or was the work too hard so they sold out and left it for others to do? Or maybe they wanted to create larger farms elsewhere for themselves or their extended families.

And if they settled, how about their children? Did they inherit the land or did they too have wanderlust and move on to new, unsettled land? And if the children inherited the land, was it split between them? Or was it just given to the sons, or perhaps just to the eldest son? And what of the daughters?

And if they stayed on the land over the generations, did the farm size grow or shrink or stay the same?

If you have ever wondered about any of these questions, this site might have some answers. However, this site treats only one township, Vernon Township, out of the hundreds of townships that were settled as the the western lands were developed.

Each township had a unique settlement pattern. Initially people might arrive from a specific area in the US, or perhaps as a group of settlers from a foreign country. Commonly they would recruit additional settlers from the same area. Thus in Vernon Township, after an initial settlement with some Americans and a number of Norwegians, it became a magnet for Norwegians and soon became a collection of farms where Norwegian was the common language.

Was this representative? The majority of homesteaders were native born Americans from the East, and among them were many first-generation Americans. Settlement did not create a melting pot. A groups of immigrants coming from the same area tended to settle together. So settlement proceeded in patchwork quilt fashion. In southern Minnesota, where there were American, German, Irish, Norwegian, Swedish and Swiss areas. It was a melting pot only if you looked at a larger areas within which were patches of different nationalities.

In Vernon Township, you will see a microcosm of farm settlement and farm inheritance. You can see farm ownership and how it changes over more than a century. It should be of interest to the descendents of those first settlers and those who live in Vernon Township now. For anyone interested in these changes in farm ownership with time, I have compiled informational tables showing changes farm family ownership during the first century of settlement.

A little background
Signing of the Treaty of Traverse des Sioux Painting by Francis Millet (Minnesota Historical Society)

Signing of the Treaty of Traverse des Sioux
Painting by Francis Millet
(Minnesota Historical Society)

Southern Minnesota opened to settlement with the treaties signed at Traverse des Sioux in 1851. Congress approved the treaties in 1852 and the area was considered safe. Settlers began to stream in.

The pre-emption action of 1841 provided a means where settlers could make claims and legalize ownership at a land office by paying the official land price of $1.25 an acre. However, this could only be done on surveyed land. What was a early homesteader to do? They formed organizations to insure that who ever claimed the land got it when the land was offered for sale. Physical force and intimidation were sometimes used to insure that speculators didn’t get their land.

Surveying of Minnesota took place during the 1850’s and by 1857 land could be claimed in southern Minnesota at US government land office in Brownsville in Houston County. And as surveying progressed across southern Minnesota, land offices open later in Chatfield, then Winnebego City, Jackson, and finally Worthington. Not all land could be claimed. Some parcels were reserved for veterans of the wars (or their widows) and other land was given to Indian guides and scouts who helped during the wars. These tracts were typically sold immediately to settlers at the government price with the money going to widows or Indians. This was the case in Vernon Township.

In addition there were parcels allotted to railroad companies to fund the development of the rail roads through the state. These too were usually sold to settlers with the money going directly to the companies to fund construction of the rail lines.

To give an idea of the impact of immigration, Minnesota territory was estimated to have a population of 6077 in the 1850 census. By 1880, a mere 30 years later, its population was 780,000 with roughly a third (267,000) foreign born. More than a hundred thousand were Scandinavians with the majority 62,500 from Norway.

These immigrants cleared the land, built houses and barns and turned prairie into farms for themselves and their descendents.

Some Brief Instructions
  • Go to the Index of Vernon Township Farm Ownership Maps
  • Look over the names and find one of interest.
  • Click on a Name. This will open a Map of the first landowner’s farm in that family lineage.
  • From there you can explore:
    1. Click on a different Map Link to view farm holdings in successive time periods.
    2. Click on the Overview Link to view statistics on the family and visualize family persistence on the farm.
    3. On any Map, Click on any Farm Owner’s Name to Link to that person in the Genealogical Database. There you can peruse detailed person and family history.
How the site was generated.

The data in this web site is based on a series of plats (maps) showing the ownership of land in Vernon Township in the years 1876, 1894, 1905, 1916, 1928, 1937, 1951 and 1962. A township was normally laid out in a square, 6 miles on a side and Vernon was no exception. This nicely divided into 36 Sections, each Section being a parcel of land 1 mile square comprising 640 acres of land. A homesteaded farm might be a quarter section in size (160 acres), but the largest number of farms were smaller as there was no power equipment to plow, cultivate and harvest the land.

In the absence of a plat map showing the farms of the early settlers, the first map is derived from the land records with the following caveat: If the land went to a army or navy widow or an Indian guide or Railroad Company and was immediately sold, only the person who homesteaded is recorded.

From these maps, a general index of land owner’s names was constructed. Each name provides a link to the Maps in that person’s lineage. The link will connect you to the earliest ancestor who owned land in Vernon Township. Using the genealogical data at Norwegians of Dodge & Olmsted, Minnesota, land ownership was traced by family down the generations. For each family, a township map was generated showing the first and each subsequent generation’s farm(s). The farms were color coded to designate the generation and whether the farm passed through the son or the daughter. Overview statistics are generated on linked pages showing the number of children in each generation and the ones who held farmland in Vernon Township.

  • The Land Grant Map is constructed from Land Grant records.
  • All other maps are taken from published Plat Maps.
    • That means land will generally have been purchased before the year of first appearance and sold before the last year of appearance on the maps.

For more information –
Contact the Developer
of the
Vernon Township Farm Ownership Maps