Historical Facts of Iowa Counties

Iowa County records can vary widely from county to county both in quality and also quantity. Some happen to have been very carefully preserved while some have been much misused and uncared for. A number of Iowa records have purely vanished. For genealogists doing research in Iowa there is no valuable replace for an on-site research of county courthouse records. For Definitions of all court terms see the Genealogy Encyclopedia.

Iowa is divided into 99  counties. One of the most significant days in Iowa county history was January 15, 1851, on which 49 counties were created. Iowa State Government is located in Des Moines.

Iowa Counties

Iowa county governments recorded few vital statistics earlier than 1880. Marriage record registration began in many areas with the organization of the county. It is estimated that between 1880 and 1921, only about fifty percent of the births and deaths were registered. Birth, marriage, death, and probate records are usually found in the office of the clerk of courts at the county seat. Land transactions are in the county recorder’s office.

The FHL online catalog was used to compile most record state dates. Researchers are encouraged to contact the courthouse or local genealogical society in the county of interest.

The links in the table below link to county and city government offices and is limited to government-maintained websites. If you know of a Iowa county that has an official government web site but is not linked, or if the link is in error, please contact us so we may edit our database.

County Date Formed Parent County County Seat
Adair January 15, 1851 Cass County Greenfield
Adams January 15, 1851 Taylor County Corning
Allamakee February 20, 1847 Clayton County Waukon
Appanoose February 17, 1843 Davis County Centerville
Audubon January 15, 1851 Pottawattamie County and Unorganized Land Audubon
Benton December 21, 1837 Native American lands and Wisconsin Territory Vinton
Black Hawk February 17, 1843 Delaware County Waterloo
Boone January 13, 1846 Polk County Boone
Bremer January 15, 1851 Native American lands andWinnebago County Waverly
Buchanan December 21, 1837 Delaware County and Wisconsin Territory Independence
Buena Vista January 15, 1851 Clay County and Sac County Storm Lake
Butler January 15, 1851 Black_Hawk County and Buchanan County Allison
Calhoun January 15, 1851 Fox County (renamed) Rockwell City
Carroll January 15, 1851 Guthrie County Carroll
Cass January 15, 1851 Pottawattamie County Atlantic
Cedar December 21, 1837 Wisconsin Territory Tipton
Cerro Gordo January 15, 1851 Floyd County Mason City
Cherokee January 15, 1851 Crawford County Cherokee
Chickasaw January 15, 1851 Fayette County New Hampton
Clarke January 13, 1846 Lucas County Osceola
Clay January 15, 1851 Native American lands Spencer
Clayton December 21, 1837 Dubuque County and Wisconsin Territory Elkader
Clinton December 21, 1837 Dubuque County and Wisconsin Territory Clinton
Crawford January 15, 1851 Shelby County Denison
Dallas January 13, 1846 Polk County Adel
Davis February 17, 1843 Van_Buren County Bloomfield
Decatur January 13, 1846 Appanoose County Leon
Delaware December 21, 1837 Dubuque County and Wisconsin Territory Manchester
Des Moines September 6, 1834 Michigan Territory and Wisconsin Territory Burlington
Dickinson January 15, 1851 Kossuth County Spirit Lake
Dubuque September 6, 1834 Michigan Territory and Wisconsin Territory Dubuque
Emmet January 15, 1851 Dickinson County and Kossuth County Estherville
Fayette December 21, 1837 Clayton County and Wisconsin Territory West Union
Floyd January 15, 1851 Chickasaw County Charles City
Franklin January 15, 1851 Chickasaw County Hampton
Fremont February 24, 1847 Pottawattamie County Sidney
Greene January 15, 1851 Dallas County Jefferson
Grundy January 15, 1851 Black_Hawk County Grundy Center
Guthrie July 8, 1851 Jackson County Guthrie Center
Hamilton December 22, 1856 Webster County Webster City
Hancock January 15, 1851 Wright County Garner
Hardin January 15, 1851 Black_Hawk County Eldora
Harrison January 15, 1851 Pottawattamie County Logan
Henry December 7, 1836 Wisconsin Territory Mount Pleasant
Howard January 15, 1851 Chickasaw County Cresco
Humboldt February 26, 1857 Webster County Dakota City
Ida January 15, 1851 Cherokee County Ida Grove
Iowa February 17, 1843 Washington County Marengo
Jackson December 21, 1837 Wisconsin Territory Maquoketa
Jasper January 13, 1846 Mahaska County Newton
Jefferson January 21, 1839 Native American lands Fairfield
Johnson December 21, 1837 Des Moines County and Wisconsin Territory Iowa City
Jones December 21, 1837 Wisconsin Territory Anamosa
Keokuk December 21, 1837 Washington County Sigourney
Kossuth January 15, 1851 Webster County Algona
Lee December 7, 1836 Des_Moines County Fort Madison & Keokuk
Linn December 21, 1837 Wisconsin Territory Cedar Rapids
Louisa December 7, 1836 Des_Moines County Wapello
Lucas January 13, 1846 Monroe County Chariton
Lyon January 15, 1851 Woodbury County Rock Rapids
Madison January 13, 1846 Polk County Winterset
Mahaska February 17, 1843 Fox and Sac Indian lands Oskaloosa
Marion June 10, 1845 Washington County Knoxville
Marshall January 13, 1846 Jasper County Marshalltown
Mills January 15, 1851 Pottawattamie County Glenwood
Mitchell January 15, 1851 Chickasaw County Osage
Monona January 15, 1851 Harrison County Onawa
Monroe February 17, 1843 Wapello County Albia
Montgomery January 15, 1851 Polk County Red Oak
Muscatine December 7, 1836 Des_Moines County Muscatine
O’Brien January 15, 1851 Cherokee County Primghar
Osceola January 15, 1851 Woodbury County Sibley
Palo Alto February 24, 1847 Pottawattamie County Emmetsburg
Page January 15, 1851 Kossuth County Clarinda
Plymouth January 15, 1851 Woodbury County Le Mars
Pocahontas January 15, 1851 Greene County and Humboldt County Pocahontas
Polk January 13, 1846 Native American lands Des Moines
Pottawattamie February 24, 1847 Native American lands Council Bluffs
Poweshiek February 17, 1843 Mesquakie Indian lands Montezuma
Ringgold February 24, 1847 Taylor County Mount Ayr
Sac January 15, 1851 Greene County Sac City
Scott December 21, 1837 Wisconsin Territory Davenport
Shelby January 15, 1851 Cass County Harlan
Sioux January 15, 1851 Plymouth County Orange City
Story January 13, 1846 Boone County, Jasper County, andPolk County Nevada
Tama February 17, 1843 Benton County and Boone County Toledo
Taylor February 24, 1847 Page County Bedford
Union January 15, 1851 Clarke County Creston
Van Buren December 7, 1836 Des_Moines County Keosauqua
Wapello February 17, 1843 Native American lands Ottumwa
Warren January 13, 1846 Polk County Indianola
Washington January 25, 1839 Wisconsin Territory Washington
Wayne January 13, 1846 Appanoose County Corydon
Webster January 12, 1853 Risley County and Yell County(defunct counties) Fort Dodge
Winnebago January 15, 1851 Kossuth County Forest City
Winneshiek February 20, 1847 Native American lands Decorah
Woodbury January 12, 1853 Polk County Sioux City
Worth January 15, 1851 Mitchell County Northwood
Wright January 15, 1851 Webster County and Kossuth County Clarion


Interactive Map of Iowa Counties Formation

(Iowa maps made with the use AniMap Plus 3.0 & with the Permission of the Goldbug Company)

Iowa Extinct Counties

Iowa seems to have counties that no longer exist. They were set up by the state, provincial, or territorial governing administration. Most of these counties were established and disbanded in the 19th century; county boundaries have modified little since Nineteen hundred in the great number of states. These counties needs to be looked at when you are performing genealogy and family tree research. Pay attention where the courthouse records went to if the county was eliminated or joined with another county.

  • Bancroft County: Was created by act of the Legislature in 1851 from a portion of old Fayette and embraced the twelve northern townships of what is now Kossuth County, extending to the Minnesota line, making an area of four hundred four square miles. The county was named in honor of George Bancroft, the historian. In January, 1853, it was attached to Boone County for election, revenue and judicial purposes. In 1855 by act of the General Assembly it was made a part of Kossuth and Bancroft County ceased to exist. The county was one vast level prairie through which the east fork of the Des Moines River flowed and its lands in early times were considered too wet for profitable cultivation but in later years the soil has been found to be exceedingly productive and has been converted into fine farms of increasing value. No county-seat was established during the brief period that Bancroft had an existence and no organization of a county government was performed.
  • Belknap County: Was created by act of General Assembly in 1874, embracing townships seventy-four, seventy-five, seventy-six and seventy-seven in ranges thirty-eight, thirty-nine and forty in the eastern portion of Pottawattamie County. In compliance with the Constitution of the proposition to establish this county was submitted to a vote of the electors residing in the county of Pottawattamie which it proposed to divide and at this election was rejected so that Belknap County ceased to exist. The name was given in honor of General William W. Belknap, a distinguished Iowa officer in the Civil War and afterwards Secretary of War in the Cabinet of President U.S. Grant.
  • Buncombe County: Was established in 1851 and named for an officer in the War of the Revolution. It was the extreme northwestern county in the State. While bearing this name there were no permanent settlers within its limits but for eleven years it appeared on the map of Iowa as Buncombe County until at the extra session of the Ninth General Assembly in September, 1862, it was changed to Lyon.
  • Cook County: Was established from territory originally embraced in Demoine County, on the 7th of December, 1836. It included a portion of Scott County and other territory not clearly defined. The county was never organized and the following year the territory was divided among other counties created by act of the legislature of December 21, 1837. The origin of the name given is not known.
  • Crocker County: Was created by an act of the Legislature of 1870, embracing the northern part of Kossuth County which had at one time made the county of Bancroft. It was named for General M. M. Crocker of Iowa, a distinguished officer of the Civil War. The county-seat was located at Greenwood and the organization was completed in October, 1870, by the election of the following officers: George V. Davis, auditor; Cyrus Hawks, clerk; william Gibbon, treasurer; A.J. Garfield, recorder; J.H. Coffin, sheriff; Sarah A. Littlefield, superintendent of schools. In December, 1871, the Supreme Court of Iowa declared the act creating this county a violation of the constitution, which in article eleven declares that no new county shall be created which contains less than four hundred thirty two square miles. Crocker County ceased to exist from and after the rendition of that decision and its territory reverted to Kossuth.
  • Fox County: Was created by act of the General Assembly in 1851 and named for the Fox Indians. It was attached to Polk County but never organized under that name. In January, 1853, the name was changed to Calhoun.
  • Grimes County: Was created by act of the Sixteenth General Assembly in 1876, embracing twelve townships lying in ranges thirty-eight, thirty-nine and forty of Pottawattamie County. The act provided in compliance with a provision of the Constitution, that the proposition should be submitted to a vote of the electors of 1876. The division of the county was defeated at that election and the new county was never organized. It was named for Ex-Governor James W. Grimes, for many years a distinguished member of the United States Senate.
  • Kishkekosh County: Was create in February, 1843, and named for a famous Fox Indian chief. It was organized in July, 1845, when E.S. Rand, Israel Kister and J.A. Galligher were appointed commissioners to locate the county-seat. They chose a site where Albia now stands, and a town was laid out named Princeton. On the 1st of August, 1846, the name of the county was changed to Monroe and the county of Kishkekosh ceased to exist.
  • Risley County: Was created in 1851 and embraced the territory now constituting the county of Hamilton. It was attached to Polk and afterwards to Boone for election, revenue and judicial purposes. In the same month, by an act of the Legislature, the county of Webster was created embracing the territory of both Risley and Yell counties by which act these two ceased to exist. An act of the same session which took affect before the union of these two counties, changed the name of Risley to Webster, so that for a period of five months and nine days the former county of Risley (now Hamilton) was Webster County. This came from the fact that the act changing the name of Risley to Webster took affect upon publication January 22, 1853, while the act consolidating Yell and Risley did not become a law until the first of July following.
  • Slaughter County: Was created in January, 1838, and embraced a portion of the territory now included in the counties of Louisa, Muscatine and Henry. It was named for William B. Slaughter, Secretary of the Territory of Wisconsin. The county-seat was located at Astoria where the first courts were held in 1837 by Judges Irwin and Williams. the citizens of the county were dissatisfied with the name which had been secured through the manipulations of the obscure official whose name it bore and, upon petition the Legislature relieved them by changing the boundaries of the county and naming it Washington.
  • Wahkaw County: Was created in 1851 by act of the Legislature from the territory originally embrace in Benton when that county extended to the Missouri River. The bill which created this county when reported to the Senate gave the name of “Floyd” in memory of Sergeant Floyd of the Lewis and Clark expedition who died in camp in 1804 and was buried on the east side of the Missouri River south of Sioux City. The Senate passed the bill as introduced but it was amended in the House by striking out “Floyd” and inserting “Wahkaw,” an Indian name. An act of the Legislature approved January 12, 1853, provided for the organization of the county and selected commissioners to locate the county-seat, the name of which should be Sergeant’s Bluff. A later act of the same Legislature changed the name of the county to Woodbury, and on 22d of January, 1853, Wahkaw County ceased to exist.
  • Yell County: Was created by an act of the General Assembly in 1851 and embraced all of the present territory of Webster except the north tier of congressional townships. It was named for the second Governor of Arkansas, Colonel Archibald Yell, who was killed at the Battle of Buena Vista in the Mexican War. The county had never been organized up to 1853, when by act of the Legislature it was incorporated with the new county of Webster. This county was formed by uniting the former county of Webster, which had first been named Risley, with Yell County, making thirty-two congressional townships, to which the name of Webster was given. By this act the county of Yell ceased to exist.

Iowa Counties with Burned Courthouses

The destruction to Iowa courthouses considerably has a affect on family historians in each and every way. Not only are these kinds of historic buildings ripped from each of our lifetimes, so are the archives they housed: marriage, wills, probate, land records, and others. Once destroyed they are lost forever. Even though they have already been placed on mircofilm, computers and film burn up too. The most sad side of this is the reason why virtually all of our courthouses are destroyed at the hands of arsonist. However, don’t assume all records were lost. Numerous Iowa counties have experienced a loss of records due to courthouse fires, floods, and theft.

  • Adair County Courthouse – Courthouse was destroyed by fire in 1889. Most Court Records were destroyed.
  • Adams County Courthouse – The Courthouse was destroyed by fire on February 1, 1888. Some early records were destroyed.
  • Benton County Courthouse – The Courthouse was destroyed by fire in 1853. The county records were rescued by three courageous men who were seriously burned and died from their injuries three months after the blaze.
  • Buena Vista County Courthouse – On January 1, 1877 the courthouse was destroyed by a fire. Most records were destroyed
  • Calhoun County Courthouse – The Courthouse was destroyed by fire in 1884.
  • Carroll County Courthouse – In 1886, this courthouse was damaged by a fire
  • Cass County Courthouse – In March 1932, a fire destroyed the courthouse, but the county records were saved
  • Chickasaw County Courthouse – The Courthouse was totally destroyed in a fire on March 26, 1880. Many irreplaceable documents were lost, but many more were saved with the help of the “Hook & Ladder Co.,” and concerned citizens.
  • Decatur County Courthouse – The Second Courthouse was destroyed by a windstorm before it could be finished. The 3rd Courthouse was destroyed by a fire on March 31, 1874 (One book from the auditor’s office and one book from the clerk’s office survived). The 4th Courthouse was blown up on April 1, 1877 destroying the entire west side of the courthouse.
  • Des Moines County Courthouse – The Courthouse, along with some of the county records, was destroyed by a fire in 1873.
  • Dickinson County Courthouse – The Courthouse was destroyed in a fire in November of 1871, some of the county records were destroyed.
  • Fayette County Courthouse – The Courthouse burned in 1872 when a prisoner set fire to the courthouse during and escape attempt.
  • Floyd County Courthouse – One June 7, 1874, a terrific thunderbolt struck the courthouse (The important county records were saved). The courthouse burned down in 1881, destroying nearly all county records.
  • Fremont County Courthouse – The 2nd Courthouse was damaged by a gunny sack full of dynamite in 1863. In 1888, vandals poured Coal oil throughout the building and set a fire (A steel vault saved most of the records).
  • Guthrie County Courthouse – In 1857, in the cabin of the county clerk, a keg of gunpowder blew all the county records to pieces. This Courthouse burned to the ground on March 3, 1882 (A heroic clerk saved most of the court records). In November of 1963 courthouse was destroyed by fire (some records were destroyed).
  • Hardin County Courthouse – The first courthouse was destroyed that same year by in 1856.
  • Harrison County Courthouse – The first courthouse was destroyed in a fire in September 1854, all of the county records were destroyed.
  • Howard County Courthouse – The courthouse at Cresco burned down on December 1, 1876. Few records survived.
  • Ida County Courthouse – On January 12, 1877, the courthouse burned, along with most of the county records.
  • Jones County Courthouse – The courthouse built in 1848 and vacated in 1864 was destroyed by fire in 1875.
  • Lee County Courthouse – In 1911, fire damaged the courthouse
  • Madison County Courthouse – In 1875, a fire destroyed the building in less than four hours.
  • Muscatine County Courthouse – The courthouse was destroyed by fire in 1864 (No records were lost in the fire, as far as can be determined).
  • Page County Courthouse – The Courthouse and the records were destroyed in an 1858 fire.
  • Ringgold County Courthouse – On June 8, 1858, a cyclone blew down the courthouse and many records disappeared.
  • Sac County Courthouse – The Courthouse burned down in 1888.
  • Story County Courthouse – The courthouse was destroyed by fire on New Year’s Day, 1864.
  • Union County Courthouse – The first courthouse was destroyed by fire in 1893.