Census Records for Iowa
This entry was originally written by Carol L. Maki and Michael John Neill for Red Book: American State, County, and Town Sources.
• Indexed—1840, 1850, 1860, 1870, 1880. 1900, 1910, 1920, 1930
• Soundex—1880, 1900, 1920 1930
Industry and Agriculture Schedules
• 1850, 1860, 1870, 1880
• 1850, 1860, 1870, 1880
The State Archives at the State Historical Society of Iowa does hold, in addition to the above-mentioned census records, the manuscript state copies of the 1850, 1860, and 1870 federal censuses for Iowa, but they are only available for use on microfilm. The microfilmed state copies, however, make it possible to compare the microfilm edition of the federal copy from the National Archives for handwriting, spelling errors, completeness of the copy, or other problems suspected from the entry. Federal censuses for Iowa have been indexed through 1930, either in print, CD-ROM format, or online subscription services (see pages 3 and 17).
Ancestry.com has digitized images of the entire U.S. Federal Census Schedules 1790-1930 and created searchable indexes for the images. This collection can be accessed at U.S. Federal Census Collection.
Territorial and State
In Iowa History Sources: Census Data for Iowa, No. 1 (Iowa City: State Historical Society of Iowa, 1973), author Loren N. Horton states, “Iowa is rich in the number of censuses taken, probably because legislative apportionment was based upon them during the nineteenth century. This was a period of rapid migration into the area and rapid disposal of public lands; therefore it was thought necessary to have a census taken almost every election in order to maintain fairness in distributing legislative seats.”
Although Iowa did indeed enumerate its population frequently both in special and regular censuses, not all counties complied each time. Some enumerations are only for specific cities. Also, many of the censuses that were actually completed no longer exist. Because of this complexity, any research in these records should be preceded by obtaining the aforementioned publication by Loren N. Horton and the Iowa Special Census microfilm register from the research library of the State Historical Society of Iowa at Des Moines.
Taking into consideration that not all years include all counties, or all townships of a county, and that in fact some are very limited, the following census enumerations are available for Iowa.
The Wisconsin Territorial Census for 1836 includes the original counties of Dubuque and Des Moines, Iowa. This is indexed, printed, microfilmed, and available at the State Historical Society of Iowa. A microfilm copy of the territorial census of 1836 is also held by the National Archives—Central Plains Region and may also be found in “The Territorial Census for 1836,” Collections of the State Historical Society of Wisconsin, volume 13, edited by Reuben Gold Thwaites (Madison, Wisc.: Democrat Printing Co., State Printer, 1895: 247-70).
Most of the following heads of households census enumerations have been indexed in some form. They are held in manuscript form by the State Archives at the State Historical Society of Iowa and are available for research on microfilm. They are listed by year and county: 1838–Van Buren; 1844–Keokuk; 1846–Louisa, Polk, and Wapello; 1847–Boone, Clinton, Davis, Louisa, Marion, Polk, Scott, Van Buren, and Wapello; 1849–Benton, Boone, Clinton, Louisa, Madison, Poweshiek, Scott, Van Buren, and Washington; 1851–Cedar, Clinton, Decatur, Guthrie, Iowa, Johnson, Madison, Mahaska, Page, Pottawattamie, Poweshiek, Scott, and Washington; 1852–forty-five counties included; 1853–Warren County for Allen, Greenfield, Lynn, and Richland townships only; 1854–fifty-two counties included; 1859–Carroll and Sac.
For the 1847 Iowa state census, additional details are indicated for some members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The enumeration of its members in Pottawattamie includes the standard information but adds a count of wagons and guns; number of family members ill, aged, or infirm; and number oxen, cattle, and horses. It is thought that the extended census information was part of a preparation for moving these families westward.
Clinton in Clinton County is enumerated for 1887 in two bound volumes. The following are Iowa Special Censuses on microfilm: 1881–Mason City, Cerro Gordo County; 1888–Algona, Kossuth County; 1889–Cherokee, Cherokee County; 1889–North part of Des Moines, Polk County; 1891–Emmetsburg, Emmet County; 1891–Spencer, Clay County; 1891–Villisca, Montgomery County; 1892–Carroll, Carroll County; 1892–Eagle Grove, Wright County; 1892–Estherville, Emmet County; 1892–Jefferson, Greene County; 1892–Tama, Tama County; 1893–Mystic, Appanoose County; 1893–Hampton, Franklin County; 1893–Ames, Story County; 1893–Bloomfield, Davis County; 1893–Nevada, Story County; 1893–West Union, Fayette County; 1895–Independence, Buchanan County; 1896–Oelwein, Fayette County; 1897–New Hampton, Chickasaw County.
Although taken in 1863, 1869, 1873 and 1875, the returns are not known to be extant. Henry County Genealogical Society (P.O. Box 81, Mount Pleasant, IA 52641) has located and printed the 1863 and 1869 censuses for their county only.
The state censuses for 1856, 1885, 1895, 1905, 1915, and 1925 include name, age, sex, color, birthplace, and occupation (age sixteen and up) for each member of each household. Additional information, listed by year of enumeration, is also listed:
1856—voter; native/naturalized/alien; owner of land; years in state; marital status.
1885—marital status; house number and street in towns, smallest legal description if rural; county of birth if born in Iowa; nativity of parents; foreign/native; alien who has/has not taken out first papers.
1895—marital status; births and deaths in household in 1894; county of birth if born in Iowa; nativity of parents; foreign/native; naturalized; Civil War service, including company, regiment and state; Mexican War soldiers, including regiment and state.
1905 and 1915—marital status; birthplace of parents; owner of home or farm, with value; naturalized; years in United States/Iowa; military service in Civil, Mexican, or Spanish War.
1925—marital status; birthplace of parents; names of parents, including maiden name of mother, place of birth and marriage; age of parents, if living; house number and street in cities and towns; years in United States/Iowa; amount for which each listed property owner’s house was insured.
No statewide index exists for the censuses of 1856, 1885, 1895, 1905, 1915, or 1925. Indexes, however, for counties, portions of counties, and some towns are becoming available through individuals, chapters of the Iowa Genealogical Society, Hawkeye Heritage, or the staff of the State Historical Society of Iowa.
All extant state censuses have been microfilmed and are available for research and purchase at the State Historical Society of Iowa. Most years are available through interlibrary loan from the organization’s branch in Iowa City.
Ancestry.com also has a collection of Iowa state census collections including:
- Iowa State Census Collection, 1836-1925
- Iowa Census, 1838-70
- Iowa State Census 1885
- Iowa State Census, 1895
- Iowa Census Records - free up-to-date guide to accessing Iowa census records. Identifies federal, state, and territorial censuses, as well as substitute records (FamilySearch Research Wiki).