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Regional Geography: Iowa

Note: Information for off-campus students can be found on the Rod Library Distance Education page. Questions? You can also contact Library Distance Education directly via e-mail at

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To see if a library near you has materials that might be of interest to you, please go to WorldCat

Cartographic Resources

A.T. Andreas' Illustrated Historical Atlas of the State of Iowa
UNI Special Collections G1431.S1 A6 1875 and Map Ref G1430.S1 A6 1970
Has maps of all the counties, plans of most cities and towns, brief histories of the counties and the state, and views of buildings and farms. The copies in the Map Collection are the 1970 reprint which is two-thirds the size of the original and contains information about the making of the original.

David Rumsey Map Collection
The David Rumsey collection is a digitized collection of maps owned by a noted map collector. It focuses primarily on cartography of the Americas from the 18th and 19th centuries and has digitized the Andreas atlas.

Fire Insurance Maps From the Sanborn Map Company Archives, Late 19th Century to 1990
UNI Microfilm G4151.G475 S3 1993
Provides Sanborn maps for selected towns and cities in Iowa. Sanborn maps provide information on what (business, church, etc.) or who (resident) occupied a specific site or structure at various dates in history.
Digitized Sanborn Maps are available through the Iowa Library Services - State Library of Iowa.  You must have a State Library card.  Any resident of Iowa is eligible for one and can fill out the registration form.

Illustrated Review Showing Development of the State of Iowa
UNI Map Reference and Special Collections G1430 .R6 1915 
Has a brief history of the state and descriptions of the cities and towns in Iowa.

Iowa Geographic Map Server
The Iowa Geographic Map Server allows current information to be overlayed onto a orthophotoquad map. Works best with newer versions of most web browsers.

Iowa LiDAR Mapping Project

Plat Books
UNI Map Reference G1433 - most recent editions
UNI Special Collections - older editions

The library receives the plat book for every county in Iowa. Plat books map out the county and provide information on who owns specific pieces of land within the county. Special Collections has these dating back to the 1970s.  Note: Black Hawk County is available for 2 hour checkout at the Reference Desk.

Topographic Maps
UNI Map (no call number, arranged alphabetically)
Your local public library may have topographic maps available for use.  If not, check these online sources:
USGS Map Locator
Digital Topo Maps

Iowa Maps

Digital Iowa Geological resourceS (DIGS)

General Land Office (GLO) Survey Maps

Hixson Plat Map Atlases of Iowa

Iowa Aerial Photo Indices

Iowa Counties Historical Atlases

Climate Data

Climates of the States
UNI Stacks QC983 .C55
Published in 1978, it contains weather data from 1941-1970.

Climates of the States
UNI Stacks QC983 .U58 1974
Contains much the same data as the 1978 title.

National Climate Data Center
The National Climatic Data Center is the nation's active archive of weather data. The site is searchable by location, though not all locations have data available online.

Weather America
UNI Stacks QC983 .W385 2011 (Library Use Only)

Weather America
UNI Stacks QC983 .W385 2000
Contains data from 1970-1999.

Weather America
UNI Stacks QC983 .W385 1996
Contains data from 1965-1994.

Census Materials

  • Identifying Your Census Tract Number
    • Go to the Iowa State Data Center:
    • Select Census Tract Look-up
    • Enter specific address or zoom in on Iowa until you start to see the counties and census tract boundaries and numbers in blue
    • Identify which Census tract your square mile is located in.  You will see a number in blue – that is the census tract number.   Make a note of the census tract number.
  • Go to American Factfinder to find data on your census tract:
    • Select Advanced Search
      • Over on the left hand side of the screen, you will see five gray boxes.  Select the boxes titled “Geographies” first
      • Select “Census Tract – 140” as your geography type as well as the corresponding state (Iowa) and county
      • Then select you census tract number from the list and “Add to Your Selections”
      • Select “Topics” and select the tables you want to look at
      • Scroll to the bottom of the screen and select “View”
      • You should see a screen of data customized to your census tract area
        • Note that a majority of the data comes from either the decennial census or the American Community Survey (ACS).  The American Community Survey (ACS) is an ongoing statistical survey by the U.S. Census Bureau. It regularly gathers information previously contained only in the long form of the decennial census, such as ancestry, educational attainment, income, language proficiency, migration, disability, employment, and housing characteristics   

Census Overview Sources  
There are several additional census sources listed below.  A majority of them will only offer data down to the county level at best.  However, these resources will help to provide an overview of the county your square mile is located.

Historical Census Browser
Allows you to electronically produce customized data tables on a variety of topics down to the county level.

Historical Statistics of the United States, Colonial Times to 1970

Statistical Abstract of the United States (1878-2012)

ProQuest Statistical Abstract of the United States (2013-2015)
UNI Reference HA202.U58 
Online version

U.S. Census Bureau

2010 Census

2000 Census

Selected historical decennial census population and housing counts are available from the U.S. Census Bureau. Covering many different subjects areas and geographic levels, many key statistics can be located on this page.

The Census Bureau is adding digitized versions of historical census publications to its website for direct access by users. Working forward from 1790, the Census Bureau will eventually scan the population volumes from all decennial censuses, but not necessarily all volumes within each census. The files contain .pdf images of pages from census publications and are not searchable through adobe or web browsers. Users should refer to the finding guides available with each publication.

Federal Decennial Censuses
UNI Documents C3.
Federal censuses have been conducted every 10 years since 1790. Their purpose is to provide aggregated population and housing data for communities around the country. The scope and quantity of the data has grown and varied greatly over the years.

Iowa State Data Center
This center, an affiliate of the U.S. Census Bureau, provides statistical data tables for Iowa communities derived from federal Census data. Generally, the tables from the State Data Center are easier to retrieve, manipulate, and print than tables from the U.S. Census Bureau. Also, if you can't locate the statistics you need, you can contact the center and they will produce customized data tables for you.

Census of Iowa
UNI Reference and Stacks HA371 .I8
The state of Iowa collected and published its own state census periodically between the years 1836-1925. This provides aggregated rather than individual level data, but provides an interesting variety of information about counties and/or places.

Iowa's Counties: Selected Population Trends, Vital Statistics, and Socioeconomic Data
UNI Stacks HA375 .I69
This print publication contains statistical data for Iowa counties covering the years 1989-2001 and includes some unique data about child welfare and social problems. It was recently replaced by a CD-ROM product titled Iowa by the Numbers available in the Reference Desk Cabinet at HA375 .I68 (2004 and 2005 CD-ROMs available)

Decennial Census Rolls for Iowa
UNI Microfilm HA371.5 1930
Includes individual level data (names/households) collected through the decennial censuses for the state of Iowa. The library has these for 1840-1880 and 1900-1930. To access the census rolls for 1870 or 1910 see the indexes below, and for 1930 see For all other years use the title Using the Soundex Indexes to Iowa Census Materials & Index to Soundex Microfilm Reel Numbers located at UNI Reserve ZZ 23.

Iowa 1870 Census Index
UNI Reference HA371.5 1870 Index
Helps pinpoint where individual level census data can be found on the 1870 microfilm.

Iowa 1910 Census Index
UNI Reference HA371.5 1910 Index
Helps pinpoint where individual level census data can be found on the 1910 microfilm.

1940 Census (National Archives and Records Administration)
The 1940 census is made up of 3.8 million images, scanned from over 4,000 rolls of microfilm. This website is the official host of the 1940 census, designed to allow you to easily browse digital census images.
Getting Started:
Note: The 1940 Census information has not yet been indexed by name - although a process is currently underway to do so

Many public libraries have subscriptions to commercial census databases such as HeritageQuest Online and that will enable you to access census and geneaological data.

Reference Resources

A variety of books such as Abandoned Towns, Villages and Post Offices of Iowa and From Ackley to Zwingle, which focus on Iowa’s history and towns, are available in the Reference Collection in the F619 call number range.

Iowa History and Culture: A Bibliography of Materials Published Between 1952 and 1986
UNI Reference Desk and Reference Z1283 .D38 1989
Indexes articles and other resources that discuss topics relating to Iowa's history and culture.

Iowa History Reference Guide
UNI Stacks and Reference Z1283 .P46 1952
This guide also indexes articles and other resources that discuss topics relating to Iowa's history and culture.

Iowa Official Register (also known as the Redbook)
UNI Stacks JK6330 .I68
Online(1860-2014 with some gaps)

NewspaperARCHIVE, the largest historical newspaper database online, contains tens of millions of newspaper pages from 1607 to present. Every newspaper in the archive is fully searchable by keyword and date, making it easy for you to quickly explore historical content. 

Des Moines Register (ProQuest) 1999-current

Iowa Historical Newspapers
This guide is intended to help in locating older printed Iowa newspapers, either online, on microfilm, or in print.

Other Newspapers
Indexes for some Iowa newspapers are available in varying formats from 1965 forward. Ask at the reference desk for assistance. Many newspapers also offer free electronic access to some recent news stories through their web sites.  For some newspapers in Iowa you may need to contact the local public library, local historical society, or the newspaper itself for assistance.  Check with your local library for more information.

Additional Resources

Iowa Heritage Digital Collections

Iowa Digital Library

Iowa History Project

State Historical Society of Iowa

Iowa History Guide

Genealogical Information

Histories of Counties in Iowa
UNI Special Collections F627 (some copies may also be available in the Stacks collection)
Coverage varies by county, but most counties have histories published between 1880-1915. These provide first facts, such as the first church in the county, as well as information about local organizations, descriptions of the landscape when the area was settled, etc. Another group of histories for various Iowa counties was published in the 1970s.

Iowa County Soil Surveys
UNI Documents A 57.38
Web Soil Survey
Compiled by the USDA, these provide information on soil properties, crop yields, windbreaks, water management, etc. For instructions on how to use a soil survey, consult the Natural Resource Conservation Service's How to Use a Soil Survey website.

Polk City Directories
UNI Stacks F629.C25 A18 ( Cedar Falls)
UNI Stacks F629.W3 A18 ( Waterloo)

Created as a marketing tool for businesses, these directories provide residential and business listings with “reverse directory” features. For example, you can look up an address and find out who lives (or lived) at that location. You may need to consult the local historical society or public library in the area you are examining for other cities.

State and Local Government on the Net - Iowa State and Local Government
Provides links to the official web pages for towns and counties.

For reference-related questions, feel free to contact either Susan Moore, Maps Librarian at or Gretchen Gould, Government Documents Librarian at


GG/SMM September 2, 2015
Course Number: 
GEOG 4150/5150
Kirk Stufflebeam

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