Iowa Genealogy & History Guide

Iowa Genealogy Resources:





Iowa quick facts:

  • Statehood:
    December 28, 1846
  • State Capital:
    Des Moines
  • State Nickname:
    The Hawkeye State
  • State Bird:
    Eastern Goldfinch
  • State Song:
    The Song of Iowa
  • State Flower:
    Wild Rose
  • State Tree:
    Oak Tree
  • State Motto:
    "Our liberties we prize and our rights we will maintain"

Iowa Genealogy Research Guide:

Iowa Census Records:

Iowa was first included in Federal census records in 1840 and censuses were taken every 10 years thereafter.  Census records after 1930 are not available to the public due to the 72 year privacy act.  1850 was the first Federal census year to include the names of all members in a household.  The following census chart tells you at a glance what census is available for Iowa through the years.

Iowa Federal Census Years:

  • 1840 Census  - This is the first federal census which included Iowa state.
  • 1850 Census
  • 1860 Census
  • 1870 Census
  • 1880 Census - The 1880 soundex index is available on microfilm.
  • 1890 Census records were completely lost in a warehouse fire.
  • 1900 Census  - The 1900 soundex index is available on microfilm.
  • 1910 Census  - No soundex index for this census year.
  • 1920 Census  - The 1920 soundex index is available on microfilm.
  • 1930 Census  - No soundex index for this census year.

Other Iowa census schedules besides the regular population schedules we are familiar with include:

  • 1836 & 1838 Territorial Censuses of Wisconsin included Iowa.
  • Mortality Schedules 1850-1880 (people who died during the census year)
  • Agricultural Schedules (farms 1850-1880)
  • Industry Schedules (1850-1880)
  • Social Statistics Schedules (1850-1870)
  • Dependent, Defective, and Delinquent Schedules (1880)
  • 1838-1870 Iowa Census at Ancestry

Iowa took state census enumerations frequently beginning with the 1840 Iowa Territorial Census and running through 1925.  Many of these are available online.  Keep in mind that you will only find heads of households listed in the early Iowa state census records.  1856 was the first Iowa census which listed all household members and can be a great help to the genealogist.  See: Iowa State Census Chart

Free Census Extraction Forms - Use these census extraction forms to record information in the same format as the census year it was taken.

Iowa Military Records:

US Military service records can be obtained from the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA).

The State Historical Society of Iowa Archives holds military records for Iowa.  View their holdings to learn what is available.

Iowa Civil War soldiers records can be searched online at the Civil War Soldiers and Sailors System but don't  consider this a definitive source.  The records held at NARA are more comprehensive.

The Iowa Civil War Project offers "Roster and Record of Iowa Troops In the Rebellion, Volume I through Volume IV" published by Guy E. Logan.  This is a great resource to help you find your Iowa Civil War ancestors.  Search these records.

Iowa Vital Records:

Iowa began officially recording birth records, death records and marriage records on July 1, 1880.  They are on file in the Iowa Department of Health, Bureau of Vital Statistics.  They can provide copies, however, these records are not open to the general public to search.  At the county level, vital records occurring in that county with the exception of fetal death, adoption records and births out of wedlock prior to July 1, 1995 are open to the general public.  Proof of relationship must be provided to obtain certified copies. 

Divorces have been recorded in Iowa since 1906 and are on file in the office of the Clerk of District Court in the county were the divorce was granted.

  • For information on how and where to obtain both old or recent vital records see: Iowa Vital Records.

Iowa Genealogy Subscriptions Online:

Many websites with genealogy resources for Iowa are available online. Some offer free IA genealogy databases and other information for the online researcher, but the fee based subscription websites hold a more consistent amount of quality data and offer free trials to that data, giving you a chance to try it out.

1. Iowa Genealogy Databases at Ancestry

          Get the Free Trial when you register!

2. offers genealogy databases, a library and U.S. Census Collection.

         FREE TRIAL of


Iowa Wild Rose / Wild Prairie RoseCondensed History of IowaIowa Wild Rose / Wild Prairie Rose

In 1673, French explorers landed on the lush, green, fertile shores of what is today known as Iowa.  The land called Iowa was home to many different Indian tribes including: Ioway, Potawatomi, Mesquaki, Sauk and later the Fox.  Battles through the years forced most Native Americans out of Iowa.  Today the only Indians left in Iowa reside in Tama County on the Mesquaki Settlement.

In 1682, although not occupied by the explorers or white settlers, the land called Iowa was claimed by France.

In 1762, during the Seven Years War, the land was claimed by the King of Spain.

1788 brought the first white settlers to Iowa.  Among them was Julien Dubuque, a Frenchman from Canada.  Julien Dubuque obtained permission from the Fox Indians to mine the lead found in the area of Catfish Creek near today's town of Peosta.  Dubuque, Iowa is named for the early settler and today, a monument stands at his gravesite.  Although there were white settlers in Iowa at this time, they were few and sparse.  The lands were bandied back and forth between the Spanish and French until the Louisiana Purchase in 1803.

Native Americans were forced to cede their lands over the years and in 1833 after the Black Hawk War, Iowa land was opened up for settlement.  Families from the states of Indiana, Kentucky, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Virginia began to arrive in Iowa.  Many made it their homes while others stayed a while before moving on into Nebraska, the Dakotas and Montana.  The further into the northwest the settlers pushed, the more they found that Iowa was different from the lands they were used to.  In the Northwest section, there was a lack of trees which prompted the building of "soddies".  Sod houses were cheap to build and the materials were readily available.  Lack of wood also caused these pioneers to look for other sources of fuel.  Awful as it may sound, these other fuel sources included corn cobs and cow chips.  Many of these were burned for heat.

Farming and agriculture were the primary interest in Iowa and today the state is still well-known for the crops grown.  Prior to 1850, most settlers used the Mississippi River to ship their crops to market so the railroad was eagerly anticipated.  With the railroad, came many changes for Iowa people.  The state of the economy grew by leaps and bounds and along with it the population began to boom, creating an era of prosperity for Iowans.  Today, Iowa is still primarily an agricultural state but it has diversified greatly through industry and manufactures.

IOWA HISTORY FACT: The word seems to be a Dakota word, meaning "sleepy ones".  Some say it is an Ioway Indian word meaning "beautiful land" or "this is the place".

IOWA HISTORY FACT: The oldest city in Iowa is Dubuque.

IOWA HISTORY FACT: John Wayne, legendary movie star, was born May 26, 1907 in Winterset, Iowa.

IOWA HISTORY FACT: Glenn Miller, renowned orchestra leader, was born in Clarinda, Iowa.

Iowa History Resources Online:

Iowa History Book Online:


Wild Rose courtesy of Santa Lady