Johnson County Resources for Researching Vital Statistics
This page was last updated 30 Sep 2010 

Check here for the availability of records at the
Iowa State Department of Health

Originally printed in the March, April, and August 1996 issues of the ICGS Newsletter  

1.    All of the old vital statistics books are located in the Recorder’s office at 913 South Dubuque Street, Iowa City.  The microfilms and computers are also there.  Your record may or may not be there.  

2.    The guide books say that Iowa has been recording its vital statistics (birth, marriage and death) since 1 July 1880.  That statement is partially true.  

3.    Even though registrations date from 1 July 1880, it wasn’t until the last half of 1921 that Iowa law mandated that vital records were to be registered.  

4.    Prior to 1921, about 50% of the records were filed, and the earlier the record date, fewer records are on file.  Those early records that were filed are to be found in the county courthouse as well as in the Department of Health in Des Moines.  Most of them are now on microfilm.  

5.    Records including 1922 to the present are to be computerized and will be on file in the Department of Health in Des Moines.  They will be available from any courthouse in Iowa after 1 July 1997.   

6.    Hospitals (Mercy and University) now send all birth records directly to Des Moines to the Department of Health electronically.  They also make a paper printout of the data they send, and it is sent to the Recorder’s office.  The recorder’s office keeps the paper copies as back up in case something happens to the computerized records.  

7.    Adoption records have been closed to the public for many years.  They can only be accessed by an order from a judge.  

8.    When a baby is born at home it is the responsibility of the parents to report the birth to the courthouse, otherwise the child would not be able to get a birth certificate when needed in later years.  

9.    Birth records have been computerized since July 1992.  From that date until July 1993 (one year), there are no paper documents in the courthouse.  All this information went directly to Des Moines, and the paper printouts were not saved.  However, there is an index for births for that year.  

10.    At the present time, birth records contain the name of the child, sex, number of child born to this mother, date and place of birth, name of father, age and place of his birth, maiden name of mother, age and place of her birth, place of residence, occupation of father.  

11.    In order to obtain a copy of the birth record, you will need the name of the child, date of birth and names of the father and mother.  At the present time the cost is $10 and is effective at the courthouse and at the Department of Health in Des Moines.  If you ask for a copy and a search is made, but the particular record is not located, the price is still $10.  

12.    Are there other places to obtain copies of these records?  Try the State Historical Society library at 402 Iowa Avenue. There are boxes of microfilm there, and some of them might contain the very records you want to find.  

13.    You can look for this material for yourself.  And when you find the right record, it can be printed directly from the film.  It’s not a certified copy, but it will be an actual copy made from the page from the book from the courthouse.  

14.    In the section of cabinets that holds the microfilms of the vital statistics of the various counties, you will find six boxes of Johnson county births and deaths, as follows:  

Box 1


1903, 1909-1914

Box 2


1880 – 1910

Box 3


1915 – 1917

Box 3


1918 – 1931 A-K

Box 3


1918 – 1931 O-Z

Box 4

Births Index

1880 – 1908

Box 4


1880 – 1899

Box 4

Delayed Births

1870 – 1940

Box 4


1888 – 1902

Box 5


1907 – 1919 cont.

Box 6


1928 – 1932 cont

Box 6


1907 – 1919 cont.


15.    The funeral home is in charge of obtaining from the family of the deceased the information to be found on the death certificate.  This includes all the data to be found on the official certificate as well as the information to be printed in the newspaper obituary.  

16.    People at the funeral home will prepare the certificate.  They will return the paper to the doctor, who will fill in the time and date of death, the cause of death and sign it as certifier.  When the certificate is complete, it is sent to the appropriate Clerk’s office.  From there the information is sent to Des Moines to the Department of Public Health.  Copies can be obtained from the local courthouse or from Des Moines.  Remember that brothers and sisters have the same parents, so if you don’t find your ancestor listed, perhaps his/her sibling will be on file.  Also, you will search for her using her married name.  Another clue, deaths are recorded by the county where the death occurred even though that person may have lived in another county and/or is buried in another county.  

17.    Our early settlers felt that it was important to keep the records of marriages that took place in the county, so you will find that the courthouse will have records of marriages from the beginning of settlement in the county.  At the state level, however, marriages are filed starting in 1880.  

18.    It appears that marriage records will continue to be recorded at the county level since the prospective bride and groom must appear in person to obtain their license.   

19.    Again you can find Johnson county marriage records on microfilm at the State Historical Society library.  These films are filed under the call number Mf 230.   There are nine rolls of films.  Following are the box numbers and contents, from the labels:

Box 1

Undated, 1841-1851

Box 2


Box 3


Box 4

1872 thru C-1877 thru L

Box 5

1877 Mc-1882 thru E

Box 6

1882 F-1883 thru B

Box 7

Box 7 – 1883 C-1886 thru E

Box 8

Box 8 – 1886 F- 1890 thru D

Box 9

Box 9 – 1890 E-1900


20.    State law requires that all records of vital statistics (births, deaths and marriages) recorded at the state level must be 75 years or older before they are made available for public use.  This restriction does not apply to the same records at the county level.  

21.    It is still necessary to keep these important records open to the genealogists, so continue to remind these members of our state legislature that they should keep our interests in mind and protect us at all times.  

22.    Members of the Iowa City Genealogical Society have researched the newspapers and have compiled and transcribed records of vital statistics that as of 13 Feb 2005 have been entered on the IAGenWeb site which is sponsored by the ICGS. To view these records click here:  VitalStatsIndex

Delayed Birth Certificates

Many times an individual needs to file a delayed birth certificate.  Most of these are done many years after a person’s birth.  There is a statewide index to this series on microfiche.  These cover a period from 1848-1916.  This set of fiche is also available at the State Historical library.

Start with the name.  At the State Historical Society library you will find a set of microfiche that is an index for the delayed birth certificates.  Names from all over the state are printed in alphabetical order with the number of the certificate and the “blip” number on the film.  After you locate the name and numbers, you will go to the drawer with microfilms of the actual cards that are on file in Des Moines.  Find the box that has your certificate number on the label, put the film on the reader and turn to the blip number.  There you should find the filmed copy of the delayed certificate.  You can take the film to the printer to get a paper copy.

 Naturalization Records

The Clerk of Court’s office at the Johnson county courthouse has naturalization records.  There are twelve books; some contain Declaration of Intent to Become an American Citizen, others contain final naturalization records and some contain Oaths of Allegiance.  One book contains all three types of records.  Time period is 1852 through 1954.  The Clerks will let you check these records.  They have indexes to them, but they will not photocopy any of these records.  The Iowa City Genealogical Society has abstracted the two oldest books, and they have been published in a single book which can be purchased from the Iowa Genealogical Society.  These Declaration of Intent records are for the years 1852 through 1888.

School Records

City Schools:  The pupil’s records follow them from kindergarten through the grades to high school.  Upon graduation, the record is purged of all but grades.  The grades are kept in a folder at the high school’s archives.

University School:  This school, operated by The University of Iowa, opened in 1915 with elementary classes.  In 1916 the old Iowa City Academy merged with the University School and high school classes were begun, the first class graduating in 1917.  University School closed in 1972.  The State Historical Society library in Iowa City has class books and other school records in their archives.

Rural Johnson County:  These are the County Superintendent of School records.  They were microfilmed and deposited with the Grant Wood Area Education Agency.  Contact the Administrator at 4401 Sixth Street Road SW, Cedar Rapids, IA  52404

Alumni Records

University of Iowa Alumni Association

Records are available from 1849 to the present at 199 Alumni Center, Iowa City, IA  52242-1787; phone 319/335-3294.  Information available on individuals include degree earned, major field, graduation date, last known address and date of death if known.

Hospital Records

Hospitals in Iowa City are University of Iowa Hospital and Clinics, Veterans Administration Medical Center and Mercy Hospital.  Request for copies of personal medical records must be submitted in writing to the hospital.  The use of a “Consent to Release of Information” form is preferred by the hospitals to help facilitate processing.  If the request is for a deceased family member, additional information will be needed; proof of death must be provided.  Only direct next-of-kin may authorize this release and proof of relationship must also be documented.  Authorized  next-of-kin are listed in the following priority order: (1) spouse; (2) adult children; (3) parents and (4) adult siblings.  Contact the hospital for more specific instructions.  The Veterans Administration Medical Center keeps a record for five years after no action.  Then the records are turned over to a government depository.

Land Records

Recorder’s Office, 913 S Dubuque St, Iowa City

These records involve shelved volumes of deeds for land transactions in Johnson county from about 1840.  Copies are bound in book form, which are partially indexed.  The front of the index volume has the name of the grantor (seller), and the back lists names of the grantees (buyers).  Listings are in chronological order.  Index volumes list the names of grantor and grantee, date and the number of the book and page in the book where the deed is recorded.  If the approximate date is known, the search will be easier.  The deed may be copied on a photocopy machine in the Recorder’s office.

Auditor’s Office

913 S Dubuque St, Iowa City

If you have the legal description of a piece of land, you may trace it through a sequence of owners using material from this office.  From this data you can then go to the deed books in the Recorder’s office.

State Historical Society of Iowa Library

 402 Iowa Avenue, Iowa City

Holdings include microfilm records of atlases which include maps of the townships showing names of land owners.  Probate records will often include land descriptions.  These probate records have been filmed and are available in the Library with a printed index.  Booklets listing land owners in 1859 and 1870 are in booklet form on the shelves.  Some Iowa City directories include a listing of rural residents of the county by township.  Not all of these will be landowners, but their approximate dwelling place can be determined.  Johnson county histories contain some references to property owners, assembled by township.  Name indexes can be found for the 1883 History and Volumes 1 and 2 of Leading Events in Johnson County.

University of Iowa Library Map Room in the main library on campus

They have a large 1900 atlas showing land owners which is too fragile to photocopy but you can copy information from it.  Microfilm and microfiche maps of Iowa City streets; some show names of owners of individual houses.  There are also atlases showing townships and names of land owners, also on film.  

U.S. Geological Survey 

Topographic maps show land elevations by contour lines, some dwellings, schools, roads and rivers but no names.  These can be obtained from the Survey office for purchase at reasonable price.


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