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Iowa Records Details and Resources

By Family Tree Editors Premium


The first available US census for the state of Iowa is 1850. Subsequent federal censuses through 1930 are available, except 1890, which was destroyed by fire. Mortality schedules exist for 1850, 1860, 1870 and 1880. Many territorial and state censuses taken between 1836 and 1854 don’t give much detail; only a few counties’ records have survived. The same is true of state censuses taken between 1881 and 1893. But there are exceptions: The 1856, 1885, 1895, 1905, 1915 and 1925 Iowa state censuses list every household member. These are at the State Historical Society in Des Moines and, except for 1905, at the State Historical Society in Iowa City.

Iowa marriage records begin just after county formation, some as early as 1830. Birth and death registration became mandatory in 1880, with most counties complying by 1924. County birth, death, and marriage records are with the clerk of the district court. State birth and marriage records begin in July 1880; deaths, in January 1881. Request them from the Iowa Department of Public Health, Vital Records Bureau

The State Historical Society of Iowa has collections of cemetery transcriptions. Local cemetery, church, and funeral home records can provide clues not easily found elsewhere.

Iowa county-level courts are district courts, operating under that name as early as 1836. Other courts were also active: County courts (1851-1868) handled probate, marriage licenses, liquor permits, and other lesser civil and criminal cases. Circuit courts (1868-1887) had county-level jurisdiction over juvenile, criminal, civil, and probate cases. When circuit courts were abolished in 1887, district courts assumed their jurisdiction. The Family History Library (FHL) has microfilmed court records for many Iowa counties.

Divorce records are civil court cases recorded in the proceedings of each county’s district court. Starting in 1906, a copy of each divorce record was sent to the state. Many divorces from 1906 to the mid-1950s are at the FHL.

Land records are with the county recorder in each county. The FHL has microfilmed many counties’ deeds.

Probate courts were created in each county when Iowa Territory was organized, but were later discontinued. Some county and circuit courts handled probate matters until 1887.After that, probate matters normally go through district court. Many probate records are available on FHL microfilm.

Naturalization could be performed during most time periods in any court of law. Local district courts usually handled them; the records are available from the clerk of the district court. The FHL has microfilmed most Iowa county naturalizations. While most people used their local courthouse, some went to the federal courthouse. The FHL and the National Archives have microfilm of thousands of naturalizations processed in Federal District Court, including those for people in Illinois, Wisconsin, and 44 counties in Eastern Iowa. Many naturalization records are digitized on subscription sites and Footnote.

The State Historical Society of Iowa has collections including biographical indexes, Bible records, Iowa individuals in local histories, and other resources. The society has two locations: Iowa City and Des Moines. Some material is duplicated in the two facilities, but most is not. The largest collection of Iowa newspapers on microfilm is at the Iowa City location.

Usually dating to the creation of a county, County Board of Supervisors records document the functioning of county boards, whose responsibilities include roads; care of the poor, blind and elderly; levying taxes; and setting salaries for county officials. The FHL has some copies of such records.

School records for many Iowa school districts are on microfilm at the FHL. They often include school censuses that identify birth dates and places as well as parents. Coroner’s records for some counties are also on film at the FHL, some starting as early as 1855.

The Iowa Genealogical Society (IGS) has worked with local genealogical societies to publish records, such as tombstone transcriptions, courthouse record abstracts or index to local records. The publications are at the IGS library in downtown Des Moines.


  • Amsterdamse Emigranten: Onbekende Brieven uit de Prairie van Iowa, 1846-1873
  • by J. Stellingwerff (Buijten & Schipperheijn, 1975)
  • German Settlers of Iowa by Margaret Krug Palen (Heritage Books, ca. 2000)


  • Iowa, Public Land Disposal by Roscoe L. Lokken (State Historical Society of Iowa, ca. 1942)
  • Pioneers and Profits: Land Speculation on the Iowa Frontier by Robert P. Swierenga (Iowa State University Press, ca. 1968)


  • Abandoned Towns, Villages and Post Offices of Iowa by David C. Mott (J.W. Hoffman & S.L. Purington Publishing, 1973)
  • From Ackley to Zwingle: The Origins of Iowa Place Names by Harold E. Dilts (Iowa State University Press, ca. 1993)
  • Iowa Post Offices, 1833-1986 by Alan H. Patera (The Depot, ca. 1986)
  • Iowa State Gazetteer by James T. Hair (Bailey & Hair, 1865)
  • Postmarked Iowa: A List of Discontinued and Renamed Post Offices by Guy Reed Ramsey (J-B Publishing, ca. 1976)


  • Iowa in the Civil War by James J. Robertson Jr. (State Historical Society of Iowa, ca. 1970)
  • The Iowa Department of the Grand Army of the Republic by Jacob A. Swisher (State Historical Society of Iowa, ca. 1936)
  • List of Ex-Soldiers, Sailors and Marines Living in Iowa by William L. Alexander (Decorah Genealogy Association, 1997)
  • Roster and Record of Iowa Soldiers in the War of the Rebellion by the Iowa Adjutant General’s Office (E.H. English, 1908-1911)


  • Guide to Public Records of Iowa Counties by John P. Dolan Jr. (Connie Wimer, ca. 1986)
  • Guide to Public Vital Statistics Records in Iowa by the Historical Records Survey (Iowa Historical Records Survey, 1941)
  • Iowa Marriages Before Statehood, 1835-1846 by Shela S. Fretwell (1985)
  • Iowa Marriages, Early to 1850: A Research Tool by Liahona Research (Liahona Research, Inc., ca. 1990)

Return to the main Iowa page

From the Family Tree Sourcebook
Also available: the State Research Guide Book, State Research Guides CD and The Researcher’s Guide to American Genealogy.

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