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Iowa court records have been kept since 1827. The names of many Iowa residents are listed in civil court records, where information exists about property disputes, divorce, estate settlements and other disputes. These courts also handled criminal matters. Court order books and case files may list a person's age, residence, occupation, and family relationships. Sometimes friends and neighbors gave depositions as witnesses of events that occurred.
Major Iowa courts that kept records of genealogical value were:
County courts, 1851–1868: These county–wide courts had jurisdiction over lesser civil and criminal matters, such as probates, marriage licenses, and liquor permits. In 1868 the circuit court took over the duties from the county court. Many of these records are on microfilm at the Family History Library.
Circuit courts, 1868–1887: These county–wide courts had jurisdiction over juvenile, criminal, and civil cases. From about 1869 to 1887 this court handled probate cases. Circuit courts were abolished in 1887 and their jurisdiction was given to district courts. Many circuit court records are on microfilm at the Family History Library.
District courts, 1836–present: These courts have district–wide jurisdiction over probate, criminal, and civil cases. The records include chancery, trespass, debt, and assault cases. Many district court records are on microfilm at the Family History Library.
Municipal courts, primarily 1900s: These courts have city–wide jurisdiction, concurrent with district courts, over misdemeanors and minor civil matters. The Family History Library does not have these records.
Justice of the peace courts, 1839-present: These courts have district–wide jurisdiction over minor misdemeanors, search warrants, and town or city ordinance violations. Some of these records are on microfilm at the Family History Library.
Supreme Court, 1838-present: This is Iowa’s highest court, and is also a court of appeals. The Family History Library does not have these records.
You can also obtain copies of court records by contacting the appropriate clerk’s office.
To learn more about courts and their records, study one of the Historical Records Survey county courthouse inventories, such as:
Inventory of the County Archives of Iowa, No. 18, Cherokee County (Cherokee). Des Moines, Iowa: Historical Records Survey, 1939. (FHL book 977.717 A3h; film 897358 item 2)
Court records can be found in the Locality Search of the Family History Library Catalog under:
IOWA - COURT RECORDS
IOWA, [COUNTY] - COURT RECORDS