There were many different censuses taken in the state of Iowa. That may be due to the fact that the censuses of the nineteenth century were used to determine legislative apportionment. During that time period, public lands were quickly disposed of and many people were migrating to the area. So, it seemed necessary to keep legislative seat distribution fair by taking a census whenever there was an election.
It’s important to note that not all Iowa counties participated in every census taken in Iowa. Some censuses were specific to certain cities. Also, a large portion of the census records from that time period have not survived.
Iowa is rich in the number of censuses taken, probably because legislative apportionment was based upon them during the nineteenth century. This was a period of rapid migration into the area and rapid disposal of public lands, therefore it was thought necessary to have a census taken almost every election in order to maintain fairness in distributing legislative seats.
Although Iowa did indeed enumerate its population frequently both in special and regular censuses, not all counties complied each time. Some enumerations are for only specific cities. Also, many of the censuses that were actually completed no longer exist.
Most of the following “head of households” census enumerations have been indexed in some form. They are listed by year and county:
1836 – The Wisconsin Territorial Census includes the original counties of Dubuque and Des Moines, Iowa.
1846—Louisa, Polk, and Wapello
1847—Boone, Clinton, Davis, Louisa, Marion, Polk, Scott, Van Buren, and Wapello (additional details are indicated for some members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The enumeration of its members in Pottawattamie includes the standard information but adds a count of wagons and guns; number of family members ill, aged, or infirm; and number oxen, cattle, and horses. It is thought that the extended census information was part of a preparation for moving these families westward.)
1849—Benton, Boone, Clinton, Louisa, Madison, Poweshiek, Scott, Van Buren, and Washington
1851—Cedar, Clinton, Decatur, Guthrie, Iowa, Johnson, Madison, Mahaska, Page, Pottawattamie, Poweshiek, Scott, and Washington
1852—forty-five counties included
1853—Warren County for Allen, Greenfield, Lynn, and Richland townships only
1854—fifty-two counties included
1856—information include name, age, sex, color, birthplace, and occupation (age sixteen and up) for each member of each household, voter; native/naturalized/alien; owner of land; years in state; marital status.
1859—Carroll and Sac.
1863-missing (Henry County only)
1869-missing (Henry County only)
1885—information include name, age, sex, color, birthplace, and occupation (age sixteen and up) for each member of each household, marital status; house number and street in towns, smallest legal description if rural; county of birth if born in Iowa; nativity of parents; foreign/native; alien who has/has not taken out first papers.
1895—information include name, age, sex, color, birthplace, and occupation (age sixteen and up) for each member of each household, marital status; births and deaths in household in 1894; county of birth if born in Iowa; nativity of parents; foreign/native; naturalized; Civil War service, including company, regiment and state; Mexican War soldiers, including regiment and state.
1905 and 1915—information include name, age, sex, color, birthplace, and occupation (age sixteen and up) for each member of each household, marital status; birthplace of parents;owner of home or farm, with value; naturalized; years in United States/Iowa; military service in Civil, Mexican, or Spanish War.
1925—information include name, age, sex, color, birthplace, and occupation (age sixteen and up) for each member of each household, marital status; birthplace of parents; names of parents, including maiden name of Mother, place of birth and marriage; age of parents, if living; house number and street in cities and towns; years in United States/Iowa; amount for which each listed property owner’s house was insured.
Iowa Special Censuses
1887 – Clinton in Clinton County
1881—Mason City, Cerro Gordo County
1888—Algona, Kossuth County
1889—Cherokee, Cherokee County
1889—North part of Des Moines, Polk County
1891—Emmetsburg, Emmet County
1891—Spencer, Clay County
1891—Villisca, Montgomery County
1892—Carroll, Carroll County
1892—Eagle Grove, Wright County
1892—Estherville, Emmet County
1892—Jefferson, Greene County
1892—Tama, Tama County
1893—Mystic, Appanoose County
1893—Hampton, Franklin Count
1893—Ames, Story County
1893—Bloomfield, Davis County
1893—Nevada, Story County
1893—West Union, Fayette County
1895—Independence, Buchanan County
1896—Oelwein, Fayette County
1897—New Hampton, Chickasaw County.
Searchable Iowa Census Databases and other Helpful Links