Iowa History

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Local history books for Iowa’s counties, cities, and towns contain biographical and historical information. Some have information on families back to the 1600s. The information about individuals may include age, birth date, birthplace, county origins and boundaries, death information, divorce, ethnicity, historical background, immigration date, names of living relatives, wife’s maiden name, marriage information, naturalization information, occupation, parents’ names, childrens’ names, names of other family members, place of previous residence, religion, and information about social activities.

The following important events in the history of Iowa affected political jurisdictions, record-keeping, and family movements.

1673:  French explorers, Jolliet and Marquette, were in the region of Iowa.

1762:  The land was ceded to Spain.

1788:  The first white settlement (for lead mining) was established in Iowa, but it was abandoned in 1810.

1800:  The land was returned to France.

1803:  The United States acquired the area from France as part of the Louisiana Purchase.

1803–32:  The Iowa area remained Indian land and was not open to legal settlement.

1808:  Fort Madison was built by the United States Army. Iowa’s area was included in the Illinois Territory in 1808 and in the Missouri Territory in 1812 through 1821. It was not under any territorial government from 1821 to 1834.

1831:  The Sauk and Fox Indian tribes moved to Iowa from Illinois.

1832:  The Black Hawk War took place.

1833:  The first permanent white settlements were made in eastern Iowa. Between 1833 and 1851 a series of treaties extinguished Indian claims to the land.

1834:  Congress attached the area to the Michigan Territory.

1836:  Iowa was transferred to the Wisconsin Territory.

1838:  The Iowa Territory was established. It included all of present-day Iowa, Minnesota, and parts of North and South Dakota.

1846:  Iowa, with its present boundaries, became a state.

1850–60:  The population of Iowa nearly tripled as immigrants poured in from the older midwestern states and Europe.

1861–65:  Over 75,000 Iowans served in the Union armed forces during the Civil War.

1867:  The first railroad was built from the Mississippi River to Council Bluffs.

1873:  Iowa, known as the Hawkeye State and the Corn

1893–1930s:  State experienced financial depressions.

An especially helpful history of Iowa is:

Gue, Benjamin F. History of Iowa from the Earliest Times to the Beginning of the Twentieth Century. 4 vols. New York, NY: Century History Co., 1903. (FHL book 977.7 H2g; film 1036164 items 1–4)

An important bibliography that mentions books and articles about every major aspect of Iowa’s history is:

Petersen, William John. Iowa History Reference Guide. (Cited fully in the "For Further Reading" section of this outline.)

A bibliography of Iowa county histories is at the beginning of the following book:

Morford, Charles. Biographical Index to the County Histories of Iowa. Baltimore, Maryland: Gateway Press, 1979. (FHL book 977.7 D32m)

There is an unusual set of records dealing with Iowa’s history from 1827 to 1857:

United States. Department of State. Territorial Papers of Iowa, 1838–1852. Washington, DC: The National Archives, 1988. (FHL films 1601629–730) Many aspects of Iowa’s state, local, and family histories are treated in these records. For example: military pension applications, military academy cadet applications, court records (1827-1845), land office records, Virginia warrant scrip, muster rolls giving enlistment town or city (1837-1857), military post records listing sick, wounded, and dead, Bureau of Indian Affairs records, Indian treaties, commissions for judges, marshals, attorneys, surveyors, and postmasters.

For two helpful bibliographies about Iowa historical topics, see the books by William Petersen and Patricia Dawson and David Hudson mentioned in the "For Further Reading" section of this outline.

To find Iowa local histories, see the Locality Search of the Family History Library Catalog under: