The “Land of 10,000 Lakes” actually has closer to 12,000 lakes that are more than 10 acres in size (11, 842 to be exact). There are also 6,564 natural rivers and streams that flow through 69,200 miles, and more than 10 million acres of wetlands. With all that water, it’s not surprising that there’s even water in its name. Minnesota got its name from the Dakota word for the Minnesota River—mnisota, the root of which—mni—means water.
Not surprisingly many of the place names within Minnesota also have to do with water—Minnetonka (big water), Minneista (white water), Minnewashta (good water), and my favorite, Minnehaha (laughing water), to name a few.
The waters were (and are) part of the lure of Minnesota. The Mississippi River allowed goods to be shipped all the way to the Gulf of Mexico, and its tributaries extended the reach of water travel, which was particularly important in the pre-railroad era. In addition, the state’s access to the Lake Superior facilitated travel by water throughout the Great Lakes.
Water propelled one of the state’s largest industries by allowing for the transport of large quantities of lumber. Steam provided extra power that fueled the industry in the 1870s. And when a small gold pocket was discovered on the shores of Lake Vermillion, miners not having luck finding gold, turned to iron ore and the mining industry took hold.
Both of these booming industries proved to be a lure for immigrants in the latter half of the 1800s, which saw the state grow from 6,077 residents in 1850 to 1,751,394 in 1900. Were your ancestors among them? Learn more about Minnesota’s rich history in our latest state research guide to the North Star State.
Not from Minnesota? Check out the rest of our U.S. state research guides. If it’s not there yet, stay tuned. It’s coming soon.
About Juliana Szucs
Juliana Szucs has been working for Ancestry.com for more than 16 years. She began her family history journey trolling through microfilms with her mother at the age of 11. She has written many articles for online and print genealogical publications and wrote the "Computers and Technology" chapter of The Source: A Guidebook of American Genealogy. Juliana holds a certificate from Boston University's Online Genealogical Research Program, and is currently on the clock working towards certification from the Board for Certification of Genealogists.