Background Sources for Iowa

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This entry was originally written by Carol L. Maki and Michael John Neill for Red Book: American State, County, and Town Sources.

This article is part of
Iowa sil.png
the Iowa Family History Research series.
History of Iowa
Iowa Vital Records
Census Records for Iowa
Background Sources for Iowa
Iowa Maps
Iowa Land Records
Iowa Probate Records
Iowa Court Records
Iowa Tax Records
Iowa Cemetery Records
Iowa Church Records
Iowa Military Records
Iowa Periodicals, Newspapers, and Manuscript Collections
Iowa Archives, Libraries, and Societies
Ethnic Groups of Iowa
Iowa County Resources
Map of Iowa

Regional historical sources are most frequently found through local groups or individuals who have a working knowledge of the town or county records. It is possible to contact these people through historical or genealogical societies in the area, or to use the query columns in their periodicals or through the appropriate county genealogy mailing list at

Many of the local chapters of the Iowa Genealogical Society have reprinted county histories, some with indexes. Most of them must be ordered directly through the local chapter. In addition, the following material includes useful background on Iowa history and its residents:

  • Dawson, Patricia, and David Hudson, comps. Iowa History and Culture: A Bibliography of Materials Published Between 1952 and 1986. Ames, Iowa: State Historical Society of Iowa in association with Iowa State University Press, 1989. Professional librarians spent more than ten years surveying Iowa's printed and unpublished dissertations and papers of historical accounts for this bibliography for the state of Iowa. Although family histories are not included, genealogical information may be located in the county, town, and church histories, in the biographies, and through the extensive name and subject indexes. Items in the Table of Contents such as 'claim clubs,' 'pioneer life,' and 'defunct schools' could be helpful in developing an understanding of the historical context surrounding individuals and families.
  • Eckhardt, Patricia, comp. Historical Organizations in Iowa, Iowa History Sources No. 2. Iowa City: Iowa Historical Department, Division of the State Historical Society, 1982.
  • Iowa Genealogical Society. Surname Index. 5 vols. Des Moines: Iowa Genealogical Society, 1972'90. Includes a total of 149,000 surnames being researched by society members.
  • Morford, Charles. Biographical Index to the County Histories of Iowa. Vol. 1. Baltimore: Gateway Press, 1979. Provides surname indexes to numerous county histories.
  • Peterson, William, J. Iowa History Reference Guide. Iowa City: State Historical Society, 1952.
  • Sopp, Elsie L. Personal Name Index to the 1856 City Directories of Iowa. Gale Genealogy and Local History Series. Vol. 13. Detroit: Gale Research Co., 1980.

Suggested references regarding migration to Iowa and its settlement include:

  • Bogue, Allan G. From Prairie to Cornbelt: Farming on the Illinois and Iowa Prairies in the 19th Century. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1963.
  • Riley, Glenda. Frontierswomen: The Iowa Experience. Ames, Iowa: Iowa State University Press, 1983.