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In the 1700s and early 1800s, the area that is now Iowa was under the control of France, then Spain, and again France. Many of the private land claims for that period have been published in the American State Papers. (See the references near the end of this section.)
In 1834 the area that is now Iowa was attached to the Michigan Territory, and in 1836 it was transferred to the Wisconsin Territory. The Iowa Territory was established in 1838. It included all of present-day Iowa, Minnesota, and parts of North and South Dakota. In 1846 Iowa, with its present boundaries, became a state.
Land records may supply the names and occupations of the seller and buyer, a description of the piece of land, the cost, witnesses’ names, date of signing and recording, and names of persons who may be relatives. In homestead records, you may also find naturalization information. Other information may include:
A deed often took the place of a will. A parent may have sold land to the children or to brothers or sisters. Brothers and sisters may all have signed a deed giving up their claim to property received from their parents.
Deeds of sale often give the first name of the wife.
The first deed in a new place may mention the previous county and town of residence.
If a person has moved, the deed for their previous property may tell the new county of residence.
Deeds often give the names of adjacent property owners, who might be family members.
Land was often given to soldiers or their widows for military service.
Land Office Records
Iowa land office records began in 1838, when Iowa became a territory and land offices were established. Iowa was a public domain state in which land was surveyed and distributed to private owners through land offices. The federal government granted land through cash sales (entries), homesteads, and military bounty land warrants.
The private land claim records of Iowa (originally part of the Louisiana Purchase) are at the National Archives. Time periods and genealogical information vary. (For more information, refer to the heading Early Private Land Claims, 1700s–1837 later in this section.)
The Bureau of Land Management has an online index to land patents in Iowa at http://www.glorecords.blm.gov/PatentSearch/ for patents before 1908. The patent search usually also provides a digital image of the original patent.
Abstracts of lands that were registered or sold at land offices from the late 1840s to 1859 are found in:
Iowa. Land Department. Abstract of Lands in Iowa Counties which were Entered or Sold at the Land Offices. Salt Lake City, Utah: Genealogical Society of Utah, 1978 (Family History Library films 1023903–907). The original records are at the State Historical Society in Des Moines. These abstracts give the township, range, section, part of section, number of acres and name of purchaser. They also sometimes give the date and county of residence. These abstracts are listed by county. There is no index on these films. (See the United States Research Outline for more information on federal land records.)
Many Iowa residents applied for homestead grants from 1862 to about 1910. Homestead records may contain a person’s age, the previous place of residence, description of the land and cost. If the person was born abroad, the records may also contain a copy of naturalization proceedings and possibly a copy of a Union veteran's military discharge papers. The records may also mention the places the family has lived. See the United States Research Outline to learn how to obtain copies of these records.
The Family History Library has a card file on microfilm that indexes many pre-1908 land patents issued in Iowa:
United States, Bureau of Land Management. Card Files. Washington, DC: Bureau of Land Management, [19–]. (Family History Library films 1501522-681) See also the online index above.
The Bureau of Land Management is also preparing a compact disc which indexes pre-1908 land patents for Iowa.
Iowa. Land Department. Tract Books of Iowa Land Districts, 1838 to 1910. Salt Lake City, Utah: Genealogical Society of Utah, 1977. (Family History Library films 1011597–641). These records list the name of the purchaser, the date of purchase, the name of the person who patented the land, the patent date, and the number of acres. To use these records, you need to know the township, range and section where your ancestor’s land was located. This information can be found in deed records or land ownership maps. (For more information, see the "Maps" section of this outline.)
Other Iowa Land Records
The Secretary of State’s office in Des Moines has the following records, which are available on microfilm at the Family History Library:
Iowa. Land Department. Des Moines River Lands, 1847 to 1904. Salt Lake City, Utah: Genealogical Society of Utah, 1977. (Family History Library films 1011643 item 3–1011661)
Iowa. Land Department. Swamp Land Records, 1859 to 1921. Salt Lake City, Utah: Genealogical Society of Utah, 1977. (Family History Library films 1011642 and 1011664)
Iowa. Land Department. School Land Grants, 1849 to 1917. Salt Lake City, Utah: Genealogical Society of Utah, 1977. (Family History Library films 1012735 items 2-3, 1011643 item 4, 1011644 items 1–2, 1011645 items 2-3, 1011646-56, 1011662-3)
Iowa. Land Department. Miscellaneous Land Records, 1839 to 1930. Salt Lake City, Utah: Genealogical Society of Utah, 1977. (Family History Library films 1011643–44, 1011665–67, and 1011671)
For further information about Iowa land records, the following publications are helpful:
Lokken, Roscoe L. Iowa: Public Land Disposal. Iowa City: State Historical Society of Iowa, 1942. (Family History Library book 977.7 R2L; film 1036183 item 2)
Swierenga, Robert P. Pioneers and Profits: Land Speculation on the Iowa Frontier. Ames, Iowa: Iowa State University Press, 1968. (Family History Library book 977.7 R21s)
For information about Virginia warrant scrip from 1831 to 1842, see the "History" section of this outline for the Territorial Papers of Iowa, 1838–1852.
After land was transferred from the government to private individuals, subsequent land transactions were usually recorded by the county recorder. The Family History Library has microfilm copies of many counties’ deeds and indexes, some homestead and mortgage records, and a few original entries. For example, from Polk County, the library has 112 microfilms of deeds and mortgages, dating from 1846 to 1910.
There is a valuable biographical collection about farm owners in Iowa whose farms remained within a family for 100 years or more:
Iowa American Revolution Bicentennial Commission, Century Farm Applications. (Cited fully in the "Genealogy" section of this outline.)
Early Private Land Claims, 1700s–1837
If your ancestor lived in the area that is now Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, Missouri, or Louisiana before 1837, you might find land claims in the following volumes:
United States. Congress. American State Papers: Documents, Legislative and Executive of the Congress of the United States. La Crosse, Wisconsin: Brookhaven Press, 1959. 38 vols. (On 29 Family History Library films beginning with 1631827; classes 8 and 9 are also on films 899878–85). Volumes for classes 8 and 9 deal with public lands and claims for 1789 to 1837 and may name siblings or heirs of original claimants. Classes 8 and 9 have been republished in:
United States. Congress. American State Papers, Class 8: Public Lands; Class 9: Claims: Documents, Legislative and Executive, of the Congress of the United States. (FHL book 973R2ag 1994). This source and its accompanying index are cited fully in the "Land and Property" section of the United States Research Outline.
Territorial Papers of Iowa, 1838–1852
For information about the Territorial Papers of Iowa, 1838-1852, see the end of the "History" section in this outline.
For more land records, see the Locality Search of the Family History Library Catalog under:
IOWA - LAND AND PROPERTY
IOWA, [COUNTY] - LAND AND PROPERTY
Iowa Research Outline. Salt Lake City, Utah: Intellectual Reserve, Inc., Family History Department, 1998, 2001.