Directories have been published for various Iowa cities and counties since the early 1800s, though they may not exist for every year. Some directories focus on the businesses or occupations of an area, while others include heads of households, landowners, and voters.
City and county directories are similar to present-day telephone books and are useful records for locating people. They were often published annually, listing heads of households and employed household members, their occupations, and their addresses. They can be used with census records or as substitutes for them.
Directories are particularly helpful for research in large cities, where a high percentage of the people were renters, new arrivals, or temporary residents. In fact, a directory may be the only source to list an ancestor if he or she was not registered to vote and did not own property. Most households were included because the directories were created for salesmen, merchants, and others interested in contacting residents of an area.
Directories have other clues that may require careful study to discover. For example, people in similar or related occupations were often relatives, in-laws, or friends. A year-by-year study of directories may reveal the movements of ancestors and relatives within the city and sometimes to or from other cities.
- City Directories list for the years 1861 to 1960 on microfilm.
- Fold3.com ($) has Des Moines City Directories 1881-1913 (2 yrs. missing) and miscellaneous years going back to 1866 available online.
- Ancestry.com ($) has Iowa directories available online in its U.S. City Directories collection.
Some statewide directories also list names:
- Farmers of Iowa: A List of Farmers of Each County with Postoffice 
The seven metropolitan areas of Iowa published name directories in 1856. An index for them is:
- Elsie L. Sopp, Personal Name Index to the 1856 City Directories of Iowa 
- Iowa (state) Directories 
Heads of Households
Directories of heads of households have been published for major cities in Iowa. The Family History Library has microfilm copies of Des Moines City direcotries for:
Many groups have created directories of their organizational structure and members or personnel. Companies may create directories of their subscribers. The directories that were published for public distribution are the ones most likely to find their way into libraries and archives. Typical examples of directories that may be found in an archive are city directories, telephone directories, church directories, occupational directories, farmers directories, or rosters of society members. These directories may range in scope from local to international. Often the most recent edition of a directory is the only one an archive will have available.
Current telephone directories can also be found on the Internet and may help you find living relatives. The Family History Library has compact discs that incorporate telephone directories for most of the United States. See the "Directories" page for more detailed information on these directories.
Family History Library
To find directories, consult the Keyword Search feature on catalog drop down menu of the FamilySearch Catalog to find more records under:
- IOWA- DIRECTORIES
- IOWA, [COUNTY]- DIRECTORIES
- IOWA, [COUNTY], [TOWN]- DIRECTORIES
- Distantcousin Iowa Cities
- US City Directories This web site identifies printed, microfilmed, and online directories and their repositories.
Sources and Footnotes
- 'Farmers of Iowa: A List of Farmers of Each County with Postoffice (n.p.:1892; FHL film 1024846 item 4
- Personal Name Index to the 1856 City Directories of Iowa (Detroit: Gale Research Co., 1980; Family History Library FHL book 977.7 D42s.
- Iowa (state) Directories Woodridge, Connecticut : Research Publications, c1980-1984. Family History Library Film
- 1866 to 1901 (Family History Library films 1,376,808-817)
- 1942, 1960, 1965, etc (Family History Library book 977.758 E4pd)