Thank you so much for your offer to help transcribe Iowa State Census records. Included in this manual should be answers to many of your questions. However, feel free to contact us ask questions directly.


You must provide your own census records to transcribe. 

LDS FAMILY HISTORY CENTERS -- For most people, this is one of the most inexpensive routes to go. Most LDS Family History Centers (FHC) have a selection of microfilms in stock, and almost any other film you might need is available from Salt Lake City. The cost for films borrowed from Salt Lake City is usually around $5.50 for a month's use (within the FHC).  If renewed twice more, the film will be kept at your local FHC permanently. There is no charge for in-stock films. Check your local phone book under "Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints" for your local Family History Center or visit
Public Libraries are often able to get films through inter-library loan for little or no cost.  See if your library can order them from the State Historical Society of Iowa in Des Moines. They have details and the address your library needs at their site.  Find more information here: State Historical Society of Iowa: Inter-library Loans. - This is a paid subscription site. Limited time free subscription offers are available, but often require a credit card should you go over the limit. Direct link: Iowa State Census Images (then choose "Browse this collection").


We offer spreadsheet templates to aid you in census transcription. These templates will work for both Excel and Open Office spreadsheet programs. You may also freely download the templates for you own use.

Q. Do I have to use your template or can I make my own?

A. We prefer that you use our templates, because they are laid out to fit our process of formatting the data. They make it much easier for us to process the transcription. If you do not see a template that fits the year and data you are transcribing, please let us know and we will work with you to provide a template for your use. However, if you are not comfortable with entering into a spreadsheet we'll certainly accept the data in other formats. Please talk with us first so that we can make sure we'll be able to process it. The goal is to get the census transcription posted online for all to benefit from!


Now that census material can be found online, you can transcribe directly from you computer screen into the spreadsheet program. Positioning the window with the census image on the upper half of your screen, while transcribing into the spreadsheet on the lower half, works well.

When transcribing from microfilm, there are several options to facilitate data entry.

The best options include taking your laptop to the location where the microfilm is held and transcribing directily into your spreadsheet. Or, if you are lucky enough to have a library with microfilm viewers that can save digital images to a CD, you will be able to take the CD home and transcribe from the images at your leasure.

It may be necessary to write entries on paper while viewing the film then enter it into the computer later at home. There are "blank" census forms online that you can print out and then fill in with your data. Or, you can work with your spreadsheet program and print out some usable blank pages.

A variation on this is to photocopy from the microfilm at the library, then
enter it into your computer at home, but you must take special care to double check hard-to-read entries. Making notes on the back of the photocopy regarding hard to read entries is a good idea.

You can also use a voice recorder, but it may be difficult to use without disturbing other visitors at the library.

A good general guideline for transcribing documents can be found on the Board for Certification of Genealogists website: Skillbuilding: Transcribing Source Materials. Be sure to read the FAQ as well.

Q. When do I start sending in my files?

A. Please send a sample of your work when you get a page or two full 0f lines entered. This allows us to critique your work and offer suggestions before continuing.

When you finish a township or town, please send the file.
Q. Sall I type ditto marks as written or what the ditto marks represent?

A. Please type in what the ditto marks represent.

Q. Do I have to enter page & line numbers too?

A. If these numbers exist in the census, please transcribe them. If
they do not exist, you will need to assign these yourself. The template will have columns for these. A note would then be made in the transcript that the transcriber assigned the page and line numbers.

Page and line numbers, as well as dwelling and family numbers, help
maintain the enumeration order. At a future date, we may convert the
transcripts to a database and will want a way to keep this order, so that
you can find family members and neighbors living nearby.

Q. What if there is nothing on a line?

A. Leaving a line blank and putting "Blank Line" in the Transcribers Remarks field. If there are several blank lines or a blank page, also make a note.

Q. What do I do about names and other text I can't read?

A. If there are a few letters that you can read, use an asterisk
(*) for each illegible letter. If you can only make out one or
two letters at the beginning or end, use the question mark (?).
i.e.: J**nson or Joh?

If you think a letter could only be from among a few, it is best to enter the most likely guess and then enter the alternate possible names in the transcriber's remarks column. This way, when someone is doing a search, they will get a hit on the name or one of the alternates.


It is a very good idea to make a backup copy of your data. You never know when something might happen to your computer. It is best to regularly copy your files to a flash drive or backup hard drive. If you feel more comfortable periodically sending the spreadsheet to us via email, please do so. We'll have the snapshot for you in case something happens before you complete the transcription.


Please be very careful when transcribing documents. Make sure you don't skip any lines. Having someone to proofread for you can be very helpful. If you have a proofreader, please let me know. Do indicate in the spreadsheet that the transcript has been proofread and by whom.

Proofreading is not currently required by a second volunteer. We are very happy to have volunteer transcribers and do not want to discourage that! If you can find a proofreader (or second transcriber) for your work, it would be most welcome! Proofreading is an important job, which raises the accuracy level of the transcript and marks it as fully validated.


When you are finished with your transcription a copy will be added to the
IAGenWeb State Census site on the appropriate county page and included in the search engine. We also encourage the specific county coordinator, within the IAGenWeb project, to put the data on their county pages. We want your contribution to be found by either searching the state census site or the county site.

You are more than welcome and encouraged to send a copy to the genealogical, and/or historical, societies and libraries in the county for which you transcribed census records. You could also donate a copy to your local Family History Library. The data is yours to do with as you like. It will always be available for free access from the IAGenWeb project and we hope you will share your work with other interested groups.


We cannot even begin to thank you enough for your hard work and dedication to this project. Your help with this project is greatly appreciated, not only by the IAGenWeb Project, but by all the visitors to our site who will be helped and able to further their research thanks to your effort.

Steve Williams


Questions, comments, suggestions welcome. Please email the State Census Coordinator.