Iowa Land Records

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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
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


Iowa is a Public-Domain State.

Iowa was a public-domain state with one principal meridian, which was established in Arkansas in 1815. Original land disposition was made by the federal government and its agents. There were nine land districts in Iowa, the first two with offices at Burlington and Dubuque in 1838.

However, over 20,000 settlers were in Iowa prior to the first land sales and thus had no legal title to their claims. To prevent speculators and latecomers from buying such improved lands at land office auctions, the settlers and speculators formed claims clubs to rig the auctions on grounds of first settlement.

Patents, tract books, and township plats are available at the Bureau of Land Management Eastern States Office (see page 6). Holdings for Iowa land records at the National Archives—Central Plains Region include abstracts of military warrants. More federal military bounty land warrants were used in Iowa than any other state. It is estimated that half of Iowa was purchased with these authorizations. Locations on warrants for some or all acts from 1842 to 1855 are for the district offices of Chariton, Kanesville, Council Bluffs, Decorah, Osage, Des Moines, Fort Des Moines, Dubuque, Marion, Burlington, Fairfield, Fort Dodge, Iowa City, and Sioux City. Other records of the register and receiver are held for these same counties. Records of homesteads including certificates, receipts, and entries, are held for Des Moines, Fort Dodge, and Sioux City.

Following the federal disbursement of land in Iowa, land purchases and sales were handled by the recorder of the respective county government, beginning with the establishment of that particular county.

Acquisitions of the Iowa State Archives that should be of great interest to the genealogist include land office copies of plats (in color) based on original land surveys (ca. 1835–60). These twelve volumes, transferred from the secretary of state’s vault, cover the entire state and include notes on Native American villages and trails, old roads, and pioneer dwellings. The “Auditor of State Abstracts of Original Land Entries” (1847–59) has been microfilmed and is available to researchers. The cooperative microfilming project of the Genealogical Society of Utah and the State Historical Society of Iowa have provided the preservation of land conveyances for almost every county; these records are available at the State Historical Society of Iowa’s Des Moines research library. Numerous tract books, receipt books, series of county plat books, etc., are available for genealogical research in Iowa. Other references include:

  • Bogue, Allan G. “The Iowa Claims Clubs: Symbols and Substance,” Mississippi Valley Historical Revue 45 (1958): 231-35.
  • Lokken, Roscoe L. Iowa Public Land Disposal. Iowa City: State Historical Society of Iowa, 1942.
  • Shambaugh, Benjamin F., ed. Constitution and Records of the Claim Association of Johnson County, Iowa. Iowa City: University of Iowa Press, 1894.
  • Snedden, Howard E. “Auditor’s Transfer Books: A Valuable Iowa Land Research Tool,” Hawkeye Heritage 24 (Autumn 1989): 141-45. The Transfer Books, created in 1866, are sources of property transfers, arranged by land description instead of by grantor or grantee. The entries include the names of the parties involved and the transaction dates, and reference either deed books or plat books, which will vary with county. The Transfer Books are currently being microfilmed as well.
  • Swierenga, Robert P. Pioneers and Profits: Land Speculation on the Iowa Frontier. Ames, Iowa: Iowa University Press, 1968.

Federal land patents in Iowa can be searched via the Bureau of Land Management’s website at www.dot.state.ia.us/sitemap.htm.

Following the federal disposal of land in Iowa, land purchases and sales were handled by the recorder of the respective county government, beginning with the establishment of that particular county. The State Historical Society of Iowa lends pre-1940 county plat (landownership) maps on microfilm. Map holdings vary greatly by county.

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