State Historical Library and Archives Collections

The State Historical Library and Archives offers access to on public computers located at the Des Moines library. is the world's largest online family history resource home to billions of historical records, millions of family trees and much more.

Birth, Marriage and Death Records

Records of vital statistics are excellent sources of genealogical information. Prior to July 1880, only marriages were recorded in public records, and then only at the county level. In 1880, legislation was enacted creating the Department of Public Health and requiring births, deaths and marriages to be recorded at both the county and state levels. Current state law requires that all records of vital statistics must be 75 years old to be made available to the public by the State Historical Society of Iowa. State law also requires that all records of illegitimate births and stillborns be closed to public inspection.

Books and Periodicals

General history books on Iowa and other states; city and county histories; city directories; plat maps; cemetery surveys; trade and academic catalogs; biographies and memoirs; school yearbooks; selected government documents; and extensive genealogy resources are available in the libraries.  The reading rooms offer many periodicals including general genealogy journals and the publications of various out of state genealogical organizations; historical magazines from many states; and newsletters from numerous organizations. Each reading room features complete runs of the Society’s own periodical publications:  The Palimpsest, Iowa Heritage Illustrated, The Goldfinch, The Annals of Iowa, The Iowa Historical Record and The Iowa Journal of History and Politics.


Both reading rooms offer the federal census records for Iowa from 1840 through 1930 as well as Iowa state census records for 1856, 1885, 1895, 1905, 1915 and 1925 and special census records for 1838, 1844, 1846-1847, 1849, and 1851-1854.  Mortality, agricultural, industrial, and social census records are available for selected years. Federal records for some states other than Iowa are also held. Contact the libraries for specific holdings.

We have partnered with to post the indexes and images to the 1885 and 1895 Iowa State Censuses.

County Government Records

In conjunction with the Genealogical Society of Utah, the State Historical Society of Iowa has aided county governments in the preservation of their historical records including birth, marriage and death records, naturalization papers and land deeds. Microfilm copies of many of these county records are available in the libraries’ reading rooms. Contact the libraries for specific holdings.

Manuscript, Audio-Visual and Map Collections

Our extensive manuscript collections contain original source materials documenting Iowa’s development as a state and the experiences of its citizens. These collections feature personal papers; records of organizations such as schools, churches, clubs, businesses, and labor unions; diaries; letters; account and minute books; scrapbooks; personal reminiscences; collections of broadsides, sheet music, advertisements and other ephemera. The Des Moines and Iowa City locations both feature extensive photograph collections as well as audio, film, video, and oral history collections.  The map collections feature published maps as well as many one-of-a-kind hand drawn manuscript maps. Fire insurance maps and pre-1940 Iowa county plat maps are available on microfilm.


Hundreds of communities from all of Iowa’s 99 counties are represented in the Des Moines and Iowa City newspaper collections, spanning the period from 1836 to the present. The collection features several foreign language and special interest newspapers published in Iowa. Visitors to our reading rooms have free access to NewspaperARCHIVE, an archive of millions of online historical newspaper pages dating back to 1700.

Photo Collections

Our collections contain nearly half a million photographs representing a wide range of Iowa subject matter and communities, and includes specimens of photography in all of its historic forms, from daguerreotype to digital.

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