From page 2 of the printed Heritage Songbook:
If you have just picked up this book, and want to go out and start singing — great. That’s how you keep songs alive. But we’ve tried to put the songs in context. Each of the several chapters in this book consists of three parts: A short introductory essay describing some aspect of Minnesota’s life or history, historical background on the songs, and the songs themselves. The essays are keyed to the songs by sidebars in the text showing which songs illustrate which general themes. The notes on the individual songs describe how the song came to be — e.g., if it is a work song, it describes what sort of work it was used for, and the source or sources used to compile this version.
The chapters, although loosely based on Minnesota history, are not intended to be chronological, and are not intended as a history of the state — rather, they are a “sidebar” to the history. The first few chapters are in historical order (and include most of the songs we can’t prove were sung in Minnesota), because they are intended to illustrate how Minnesota became a state. After all, this is a celebration of Minnesota statehood! But the later sections are organized more by theme — immigration, or work, or home life. The songs themselves are often preceded by a quotation intended to give some sort of feel for what they are about.
If you want to find songs about a particular topic (say, the Civil War), or of a particular type (e.g. Swedish songs, or logging songs), the Topical Index, found inside the back cover, is for you. You can look up a particular subject, such as “Civil War,” and then find the songs in the collection which are related to that subject.
A person reading the song notes with care will observe that I have “fiddled” with a lot of the songs. This is something folk song scholars quite properly disapprove of. But this is a songbook, not a dissertation. If a Minnesota text of a song has no tune, one must be supplied — from another version of that song if possible; from some other source if not. If a text is damaged beyond use, the missing material must be replaced. The source notes document all such changes, so the reader can find the original versions if needed.
COPYING THIS BOOK. This book is copyrighted (that’s Copyright © 2008 by Robert B. Waltz, to be official about it.) But we are reserving only one right: You may not sell copies of this book or charge for any portion of it. All songs in this book are public domain, and all arrangements are available for use at no charge. You may sing these songs freely, and you may make copies of any or all pages of this book. We ask only that you not charge for the book, except nominal fees for printing or copying. These songs came from the people, and we want the people still to be able to sing and enjoy them.