Iowa Periodicals, Newspapers, and Manuscript Collections

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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


Periodicals

Iowa has several valuable historical periodicals. The State Historical Society of Iowa has published the Annals of Iowa, a scholarly quarterly in three series (1863–74, 1882–83, 1893-present); Iowa Historical Record (1885–1902); the Iowa Journal of History and Politics, renamed Iowa Journal of History (1903–61); and the Palimpsest, now titled the Iowa History Illustrated, a popular quarterly, published continuously since 1920. Volume and cumulative indexes are available. Hawkeye Heritage, the publication of the Iowa Genealogical Society, contains a wealth of local information from various parts of the state.

Newspapers

The Du Buque Visitor, Iowa’s first newspaper, was published in 1836 at Dubuque, followed a year later by The Western Adventurer at Montrose. The State Historical Society of Iowa has been collecting the newspapers of the state extensively for quite some time. Currently archived are over 22,000 reels of microfilm. Papers cataloged as part of the United States Newspaper Project are on the OCLC database and can be obtained through interlibrary loan from either the Des Moines or Iowa City facilities. Suggested references include the following:

  • Cheever, L. D., comp. Newspaper Collection of the State Historical Society of Iowa. Iowa City: State Historical Society of Iowa, 1969. An update file to this listing is available at the State Historical Library in Iowa City.
  • Iowa Pilot Project of the Organization of American Historians, The Library of Congress, United States Newspaper Project. A Bibliography of Iowa Newspapers, 1836–1976. Iowa City: Iowa State Historical Department, 1979.
  • Petersen, W. J. The Pageant of the Press, A Survey of 125 Years of Iowa Journalism. Iowa City: Iowa State Historical Society, 1962.
  • Pitman, Edward F. Index to Bound Newspapers in Iowa State Department of History and Archives. Des Moines: State of Iowa, 1947.

Available for purchase from the State Historical Society of Iowa Library (Iowa City) is the Bibliography of Iowa Newspapers, 1836–1976 (Iowa State Historical Department, 1979).

Manuscripts

Civil War diaries, a Bond of Proper Conduct, papers of an 1866 Indian agent, and a witness to a presidential assassination are just a few of the items found in the Manuscript Department of the State Historical Society of Iowa. In Guide to Manuscripts (Iowa City: State Historical Society of Iowa, 1973), compiler Katherine Harris lists numerous genealogical treasures in this collection. The book, which is very descriptive and well organized, is still only a sampling of the scope of the material available. A few examples are an 1840 bond of apprenticeship for Anne Brophy’s sixteen-year-old son as apprentice mariner for five years; the 1841 proper conduct papers that allowed Francis and Maria Reno to be free African Americans without paying a bond; three pages written by E. H. Sampson, a guard at Ford’s Theatre the night Abraham Lincoln was shot; fifty-three folders and nine packages of records from Grace Episcopal Church, Cedar Rapids (1850–1967); the papers of Leander Clark, special Indian agent for the Sac and Fox in Tama County (1866–74); and numerous Civil War diaries, many without names. The collection also includes various county government and court papers, vital records, property deeds, maps, photographs, and family genealogies.

Another large manuscript collection is located at the State Archives in Des Moines. Numerous finding aids exist for these manuscripts although a published guide does not. Included in the collection are early land records, manuscript Civil War records for Iowa (muster rolls, clothing books, regimental reports, correspondence, volunteer enlistment), and records of schools and other institutions. This repository also has papers of private and public individuals, photographs, diaries, and journals. The record books of the Iowa Service Star Legion, which include nearly 1,100 completed questionnaires and photographs of World War I servicemen from Iowa, are an excellent example of a unique source.

Excellent manuscript collections will also be found in the following libraries: University of Iowa, Iowa State University, Luther College, Loras College, Grinnell College, and Morningside College (see Iowa Archives, Libraries, and Societies).

In many cases, manuscript collections in adjacent states should also be seriously considered in tracing families. The James J. Hill papers, located at the James J. Hill Library, St. Paul, Minnesota, are an excellent example. Hill is most widely known as the “Empire Builder” who created the giant Great Northern system from the St. Paul and Pacific Railroad and controlled railroads and property in Iowa. There is considerable Iowa material within this collection, most of it in twenty-six archival boxes labeled “Iowa Properties Papers.” Because of the diversity of the Hill enterprises, there is a broad spectrum of original source material. The papers of the Lehigh Supply Company, for example, provide information on boarding houses and miners’ incomes and expenditures. Iowa Territorial Papers (1838–46) are held at the National Archives—Central Plains Region (see also Wisconsin Periodicals, Newspapers, and Manuscript Collections).

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