Reports of Estimates and Appraisals of the Timber Commissioners Board, Minnesota, 1895-1905: Image Format

This page last updated: 11/13/2015
Metadata created using Minnesota Geographic Metadata Guidelines

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1. Overview
2. Data Quality
3. Data Organization
4. Coordinate System
5. Attributes
6. Distribution - Get Data
7. Metadata Reference

Section 1 Overview
Originator Minnesota Geospatial Information Office (MnGeo)
Title Reports of Estimates and Appraisals of the Timber Commissioners Board, Minnesota, 1895-1905: Image Format
Abstract This image format data set was created from surveys of state-owned timber conducted by the Minnesota Board of Timber Commissioners between 1895-1905. The surveys were conducted for a number of public land survey (PLS) sections scattered throughout the forested northern half of Minnesota, mostly comprising school, indemnity school and swamp lands.

The paper records consist of approximately 2,500 pages, with plat maps and assessments indicating the extent, value and condition of timber resources for each section. Each page has a map of one PLS section accompanied by text answers to 13 standard questions about timber species, product volumes, access and susceptibility to fire. The surveyors were instructed to trace swamps, roads and lakes on the section map; occasionally, they also made supplemental text notes directly on the maps. In addition to information about tree species and volume, the surveyors often noted the location of cultural features such as sawmills. Some sections were resurveyed several times as different tree species became commercially important or as surveyors needed to assess damage from natural or human causes. The amount of detail and completeness varies from survey to survey since they were conducted by a number of people over a period of time. In addition, the resurveys often noted only what had changed and thus did not include a map or complete answers to the 13 questions.

The information on the paper records has been captured in several digital formats: 1. non-georeferenced scans; 2. geo-referenced scans; 3. vector files of the polygons, lines and points on the maps; and 4. a database of the text information accompanying the maps. This metadata record applies to both the non-georeferenced and georeferenced scanned images.
Purpose Purpose of the Original Surveys:

The original paper surveys were undertaken to provide the Board of Timber Commissioners with information it needed to manage timber on state lands. The Board was created by the Minnesota state legislature in 1895 and was composed of the governor, the state auditor and state treasurer. Its overall charge was the care, conservation and sale of state timber. Most of this timber was situated on school, indemnity school and swamp lands. It accomplished these functions by issuing permits to cut timber on state lands, receiving settlements for other types of authorized timber cutting, determining and penalizing instances of illegal cutting (timber trespass), and coordinating with the Surveyor General of Logs and Lumber to appraise the logs actually harvested. The law required a current (within three years) estimate and appraisal of timber prior to the issuance of a cutting permit and specified the information that was to be recorded. Timber estimators were to personally enter their reports of these examinations into a book kept by the land commissioner, to be known as the record of appraisals and to constitute 'the original record of such examinations, estimates and appraisals.'

These paper records reflect the difficulties government faced in the oversight of disparate and scattered parcels of land, as well as the haphazard nature of 19th century record keeping. Within that context, the Reports of Estimates and Appraisals of the Timber Commissioners Board represent the most coherent, accurate and broadest data set available. As such, they can serve as a benchmark against which to measure other collections. Ideally, as other data sets are identified and digitized, they can together establish a critical mass of information that will allow the comparative analysis of the environment in Minnesota across time, from the 1850s to the present.

Purpose of the Digital Data

The digital data sets were created in several formats in order to make the paper information accessible to a wide range of applications. The original non-georeferenced scans are available as records of exactly what the surveyor recorded and for use as illustration. The georeferenced scans can also be used as illustration or as a backdrop to other georeferenced data. The vector and database information can be used in geographic information systems, and the database information can also be analyzed with database or spreadsheet software.

Historical timber information can be used to build an understanding of presettlement vegetation. The volumes of forest products, i.e., board feet, logs, post and ties, can provide valuable quantitative information. When this data is used with other sources, such as bearing trees, a picture of the landscape can emerge. In addition, this data provides information on infrastructure features such as houses, saw mills and roads.
Time Period of Content Date 1900
Currentness Reference 1895 - 1905
Progress Complete
Maintenance and Update Frequency None Planned
Spatial Extent of Data The northeast forested area of MN. Counties containing at least one surveyed section: Aitkin, Becker, Beltrami, Carlton, Cass, Clearwater, Cook, Crow Wing, Hubbard, Itasca, Kanabec, Koochiching, Lake, Mille Lacs, Morrison, Pine, St. Louis, Todd and Wadena.
Bounding Coordinates -95.7
Place Keywords Minnesota, MN, Aitkin, Becker, Beltrami, Carlton, Cass, Clearwater, Cook, Crow Wing, Hubbard, Itasca, Kanabec, Koochiching, Lake, Mille Lacs, Morrison, Pine, St. Louis, Todd, Wadena.
Theme Keywords biota, Timber, Timberland, Lumber, Logs, Forest, Trees, Presettlement Vegetation, Historical Vegetation, Land Cover
Theme Keyword Thesaurus ISO 19115 Topic Category
Access Constraints None
Use Constraints Redistribution Conditions: In obtaining this data, it is understood that you and/or your organization have the right to use it for any purpose. If you modify it, you are encouraged to apply responsible best practices by documenting those changes in a metadata record. If you transmit or provide the data to another user, it is your responsibility to provide appropriate content, limitation, warranty and liability information as you see fit.
Contact Person Information Norman Anderson, Senior Research Analyst
Minnesota Geospatial Information Office (MnGeo)
658 Cedar Street, Room 300
St. Paul, MN  55155
Phone: 651-201-2483
Browse Graphic Click to view a data sample.
Sample scan of Township 47N, Range 25W, Section 36 in Aitkin County
Associated Data Sets 1. Vector files digitized from the timber record maps:

2. A database of the information from the timber record:

3. The original paper records of the timber surveys are held at the State Archives Department, Minnesota Historical Society.

Minnesota Board of Timber Commissioners. Reports of Estimates and Appraisals, 1895-1905. Minnesota Historical Society. State Archives Microfilm 271.

Minnesota Historical Society
345 Kellogg Blvd. W
St. Paul, MN 55102

4. Control Point Generated PLS: The Department of Natural Resources (DNR) 1:24,000-scale public land survey layer detailed to the quarter-quarter PLS section and government lot level. See

5. Bearing Trees: a point database showing bearing trees used as references or landmarks during the original Minnesota Public Land Survey.

6. Presettlement Vegetation of Minnesota: a data set based on Marschner's original analysis of Public Land Survey notes and landscape patterns. See

Section 2 Data Quality
Attribute Accuracy The surveyors did not use symbology consistently to identify features. A single surveyor might even have changed his symbology through time.

Some unlabelled areas can be confusing. In many cases, the surveyor reviewed only the quarter-quarter section that he was required to survey, and thus the unlabelled area would likely be 'undefined'. In other cases, it was clear that the surveyor reviewed the entire section by identifying lowland, lakes and rivers; the unlabelled area would likely be 'upland'. A significant number of the maps were somewhere in between and the surveyor's intent is not clear. In the initial survey of a section, any area that does not have a polygon can be considered undefined in most cases.
Logical Consistency N/A
Completeness About half the images did not contain point, line or polygon data. Usually these were resurveys done when property conditions changed, for example, due to fire or logging; some sections were surveyed up to five times in the time period of the report. Re-surveys generally only noted what had changed and typically contained text information written in the map area, such as timber product volumes or land ownership, as well as varying amounts of text information from questions 1 - 13 on the report form.
Horizontal Positional Accuracy 1. All georeferenced images that contained point, line or polygon information were in the background of a check print used to proof the vector data for positional errors and for missing information; DNR Control Point PLS data was also printed in the background.

2. A 5% random sample of georeferenced files, whether or not they had vector data, were checked on-screen to verify that the clipped image fit within the DNR Control Point PLS data.

3. The file sizes of the remaining georeferenced images (those without vector data that had not been reviewed in check #2) were examined to ensure that they fell within an acceptable range. A file size of zero indicated an empty image; a file size far larger than usual indicated a problem with the image. Any images outside the acceptable range were checked and fixed.

Some positional error may have been introduced during the onscreen registration and rectification process (see Lineage). Due to PLS surveying irregularities, such as extended lot lines, it was sometimes difficult to determine which reference point to use in the process of rectification. In addition, the task was repetitive and thus the accuracy of clicking on the control points likely varied. Checks #1 and #2 above caught most of this error; the files that did not undergo these checks may still contain some error.
Vertical Positional Accuracy Not applicable
Lineage The Timberland Survey Records data set was developed at the Land Management Information Center (LMIC) (now the Minnesota Geospatial Information Office or MnGeo) for the Minnesota Historical Society. Funding was provided by the Minnesota Future Resources Fund as recommended by the Legislative Commission on Minnesota Resources.

Original 'Processed' Images:

A total of 2,506 pages were scanned from the four volumes (A, B1, B2 & C) of the report by Perfect Image of Kirkland, WA. The approximately 12 inch x 18 inch pages were scanned at 800 ppi (pixels per inch) by a roll feed scanner. Each image is named after its volume and page.

Perfect Image then despeckled and rotated the images. Despeckling was done at a low level to produce a cleaner image by removing artifacts often introduced in the scanning process. When necessary, images were rotated to create a 'straight' page. An angle could be introduced in the images during the scanning process when each page was manually fed into the scanner.

All scanned images were printed and compared to the original paper record to verify that the scanning was of acceptable quality and that the files were named correctly.

Georeferenced Images:

LMIC created these images from the original 'processed' images. The processed images were georeferenced to the DNR PLS county data using ESRI's Arc/Info REGISTER and RECTIFY commands. Typically the section was georeferenced by matching the four image section corners to the corresponding corners in the PLS data. This is a visual process and the 'on screen' representation was maximized on the computer monitor to produce the best fit. Two products were created: 1. a geo-referenced full page and 2. a geo-referenced image of just the section map, i.e., a clipped full page.

Section 3 Spatial Data Organization (not used in this metadata)

Section 4 Coordinate System
Horizontal Coordinate Scheme Universal Transverse Mercator
UTM Zone Number 15E
Horizontal Datum NAD83
Horizontal Units meters

Section 5 Attributes
Overview MnGeo consulted with Dr. Rod Squires from the University of Minnesota Dept. of Geography to translate the following abbreviations and codes used on the maps (this may not be a comprehensive list):

c., ced = Cedar
cd, cds = Cord(s)
IS = Indemnity School
M = Thousand Board Feet
not pat = Not Patented
r.r. = Railroad
S, SW = Swamp Land
SCH = School Land
SI = State Institutional
t.t. = Tamarac(k) Ties
U = University Land
UM = ?? University of Minnesota

Note: The meaning of check marks that the surveyors put on the maps is not clear.
Detailed Citation
Table Detail:

Section 6 Distribution
Publisher Minnesota Historical Society
Publication Date 06/2001
Contact Person Information Charles Rodgers, Government Records Specialist
Minnesota Historical Society
State Archives
St. Paul, MN  55102-1906
Phone: 651-259-3266
Fax: 651-296-9961
Distributor's Data Set Identifier tmbr_img - Timber Inventory - Images (biota_timber_surveys_1900s_image)
Distribution Liability Check with the Minnesota Historical Society for their distribution liability policy
Ordering Instructions 1. Files are free online for download from the Minnesota Historical Society's website by clicking below on the 'I AGREE' link in the Online Linkage field.

2. A three CD set is available at no charge. Contact distributor.
Online Linkage I AGREE to the notice in "Distribution Liability" above. Clicking to agree will either begin the download process, link to a service, or provide more instructions. See "Ordering Instructions" above for details.

Section 7 Metadata Reference
Metadata Date 11/13/2015
Contact Person Information Nancy Rader, GIS Data Coordinator
Minnesota Geospatial Information Office (MnGeo)
658 Cedar Street, Room 300
St. Paul, MN  55155
Phone: 651-201-2489
Fax: 651-296-6398
Metadata Standard Name Minnesota Geographic Metadata Guidelines
Metadata Standard Version 1.2
Metadata Standard Online Linkage

This page last updated: 11/13/2015
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