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State of Iowa
Court Records Research

Iowa Court records cover a wide range of genealogy topics that can help you in your research, including land ownership, courts, taxes, and naturalizations. Since Iowa court records cover such a wide variety of subjects, they can help you in many different ways. For example, they may help you locate ancestors' residences, determine occupations, find financial information, establish citizenship status, or clarify relationships between people. It all depends on the type of court records that your ancestors" names appear in. For Definitions of all court trems see the Genealogy Encyclopedia.

Iowa Court Records

The Miners' Compact of 1830 is believed to be the first form of government in the area. In 1838, three district courts were established and stayed established until the 1846 addition of Iowa to the union as a state. At that point, they were merged into one. Then, in 1849, there were again divided into three, known as the southern, northern and middle divisions.

The entire area was reorganized and redivided many times up until 1907. There are files on record at the National Archives/Central Plains Region for the years 1845-1882 for the District of Iowa, 1850-1959 for the Northern District and 1842-1959 for the Southern District.

County clerks hold civil and criminal county court records. Some of the state's court records are being moved to the Des Moines State Archives office. The Order Books for the Supreme Court of Iowa, which are four volumes covering 1838 to 1858, are of particular interest to genealogical researchers. For example, twenty-one naturalizations are listed in Order Book A and span the years of 1840 through 1851.

Iowa Land Records

The principal meridian in Iowa was originally established in 1815 in Arkansas. Iowa began as a state of public-domain. The land was originally distributed and controlled by agents of the federal government. The first two districts formed in 1838 and were called Dubuque and Burlington. Later, seven more districts were established.

Many Iowa settlers, more than 20,000 of them, had no legal entitlement to the lands that they settled on. They settled the area before they were legally allowed to. So, in order to prevent their lands from being sold at auctions, they banded together to rid the auctions according to who settled the lands first. They did that by forming "claims clubs."

The Eastern States Office of the Bureau of Land Management can supply records of plats, patents and tract books. Military warrant abstracts are included within the National Archives/Central Plains Region land records. In fact, there were more of such warrants used in the state of Iowa than in any other state in the union. In fact, an estimated 50% of the state was purchased using those authorizations (warrants). The warrants for 1843 to 1855 are for the following district offices: Chariton, Kanesville, Council Bluffs, Decorah, Osage, Des Moines, Fort Des Moines, Dubuque, Marion, Burlington, Fairfield, Fort Dodge, Iowa City and Sioux City

Several other receiver and register records for those counties are also available. Homesteads certificates and other entries and receipts are available for Sioux City, Fort Dodge and Des Moines as well.

After land was federally disbursed in the state, the county recorder for each county handled all land sales and purchases for that county.

The Iowa State Archives includes many items of genealogical interest, including original land survey plats from 1835 to 1860. They are in twelve volumes and show an in-depth look at the entire state, including pioneer homes, Indian villages and old roads and trails. The State Historical Society of Iowa and the Genealogical Society of Utah have combined their efforts in order to preserve almost every county's land conveyances. The research library at the Historical Society of Iowa's Des Moines holds those records.

Iowa Probate Records

Matters of probate, including wills, administrator or executor bonds, inventories, and guardianships, are kept by the clerk of the county district court. The Genealogical Society of Utah and the State Historical Society of Iowa are jointly microfilming probate records at the county level. In the case of Scott County probate file packets include record books of the court. The research library in Des Moines has a complete list of which records are available for which counties.

Iowa Tax Records

Both real estate and personal property tax rolls were kept by each county's treasurer or auditor. The State Historical Society of Iowa has some of the records are available on microfilm. However, each county's original tax rolls are not typically transferred to microfilm.

Genealogical researchers whoa re doing research into Iowa's history may be able to take advantage of records for old age pension taxes in the state. In 1934, an old age assistance tax was collected from anyone over twenty-one years old. The practice was stopped in 1936, but the tax lists included valuable information, including name, date and place of birth, address, gender, parent names and other information. The FHL can supply copies of many of those lists on microfilm.

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