Iowa History and Research Overview

By Family Tree Editors Premium


Early French explorers who traveled through Iowa in the late 1600s encountered the Fox, Sauk, and Pottawatomie Indians. Julien Dubuque began mining lead in 1798. Though his fellow French-Canadians abandoned the settlement upon Dubuque’s 1810 death, a city bearing his name would rise there.


The United States acquired the land in 1803 as part of the Louisiana Purchase. In 1808, Iowa became part of Illinois Territory; in 1812, it became part of Missouri Territory. From 1821 to 1834, Iowa was not attached to any territory.

The Black Hawk War broke out in 1832. When it was over, the Fox and Sauk Indians were forced to relocate to Kansas, leaving Iowa open for legal settlement. The first settlements were in Eastern Iowa in 1833. After Indian claims to the land were extinguished in 1851, settlers poured into the area. The southern part of the state saw arrivals mostly from Kentucky and Tennessee. Settlers in the north were primarily from New England and the Mid- Atlantic, Ohio, Indiana and Illinois.

Iowa became part of Michigan Territory in 1834 and Wisconsin Territory in 1836. In 1838, Iowa Territory was formed; it included what would become Minnesota and parts of the Dakotas. In 1846, Iowa was the 29th state with Iowa City as its capital. In 1857, Des Moines became the capital.

During the 1850s, more people moved into Iowa from Ohio and Indiana, and many immigrants from Germany, Britain, and Ireland arrived. Iowa’s population tripled. The Amana colonists settled in Iowa. The last part of the 19th century saw heavy immigration from the Scandinavian countries.

(click to enlarge)
Iowa state map with county outlines


  • Birth, death, and marriage records are with the district court clerk in the county where they were created.
  • The Iowa Genealogical Society Library in Des Moines has published local record abstracts, transcriptions and indexes.
  • Indexes and collections of Bible records, individuals in local histories, and other resources are available from the State Historical Society of Iowa.


  • Federal census: 1850, 1860, 1870, 1880, 1900, 1910 and 1920
  • Mortality schedules: 1850, 1860, 1870, and 1880
  • Territorial and state censuses: 1836 and 1838 (as part of Wisconsin Territory), 1844 (Keokuk), 1846 (Louisa, Polk, Wapello), 1847, 1849, 1851, 1852, 1853 (part of Warren County), 1854, 1856, 1859, 1863 and 1869 (Henry County), 1881 and 1882 (fragments), 1885, 1888, 1889, 1891-1893 (fragments), 1895-1897 (fragments), 1905, 1915, 1925



  • A Bibliography of Iowa Newspapers, 1836-1976 (Iowa State Historical Dept., Division of the State Historical Society, 1979)
  • Biographical Index to the County Histories of Iowa by Charles Morford (Gateway Press, ca. 1979)
  • Biographies and Portraits of the Progressive Men of Iowa by B.F. Gue and Benjamin Franklin Shambaugh (Conaway & Shaw, 1899)
  • The First Century of Congregationalism in Iowa, 1840-1940 by P. Adelstein Johnson (Congregational Christian Conference of Iowa, ca. 1945)
  • German Settlers of Iowa by Margaret Krug Palen (Heritage Books, ca. 2000)
  • Guide to Depositories of Manuscript Collections in the United States, Iowa by the Historical Records Survey (Iowa Historical Records Survey, 1940)
  • Guide to Manuscripts by Katherine Harris (State Historical Society of Iowa, 1973)
  • A History of the Danes in Iowa by Thomas Peter Christensen (Arno Press, 1979)
  • History of Iowa from the Earliest Times to the Beginning of the Twentieth Century by Benjamin F. Gue (Century History Co., ca. 1903)
  • History of Western Iowa: Its Settlement and Growth (W.C. Cox, 1974)
  • Iowa Biographical Dictionary (Somerset, ca. 1996)
  • Iowa County Records Manual by Becki Peterson (State Historical Society of Iowa, ca. 1987)
  • Iowa History and Culture: A Bibliography of Materials Published between 1952 and 1986 by Patricia Dawson (Iowa State University Press, ca. 1989)
  • Iowa History Reference Guide by William J. Petersen (State Historical Society of Iowa, ca. 1952)
  • Iowa Research Outline by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (online at
  • A Memorial and Biographical Record of Iowa by Merrill D. Anthony (Walsworth Publishing Co., 1978)
  • The Mennonites in Iowa by Melvin Gingerich (State Historical Society of Iowa, 1939)
  • A Narrative History of the People of Iowa by Edgar Rubey Harlan (W.C. Cox, 1974)
  • Personal Name Index to the 1856 City Directories of Iowa by Elsie L. Sopp (Gale Research Co., 1980)
  • The Story of Iowa: The Progress of an American State by William John Petersen (Lewis Historical Publishing Co., 1952)
  • Swedish Settlements in Iowa and Western Illinois by Norma Goedeke and Shirley Graham (Knox County Genealogical Society, 1992)
  • Upper Midwest German Biographical Index by Don Heinrich Tolzmann (Heritage Books, ca. 1993)
  • The William Wade Hinshaw Index to Iowa Quaker Meeting Records by William Wade Hinshaw (Selby Publishing and Print., ca. 1990

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