Tracing Your Roots

tracing your roots

Genealogy Information at the Central Library

Interested in genealogy? The Des Moines Public Library has a wide selection of free resources that can help you discover more about your roots! This page includes a listing of the many free resources you may find helpful. Access our many online resources from home via the Internet or stop by one of the six library locations to use a public computer. In addition to online resources, the Special Collection at the Central Library offers access to many historical resources, including city directories, old phone books, Des Moines Public Schools year books, and more. Our librarians are happy to assist you at the Second Floor Information Desk.

Records And Indexes

City Directories:
City of Des Moines:

  • 1866-1909 on microfilm
  • 1910 to date bound volumes
  • 1866-1922 available atwww.archive.org
  • (Not owned:1918,1945,1948,1950-52,1956,1993)

Des Moines North Suburban:1973 to date (Not owned:1975, 1985, 1997)

  • Des Moines Suburban:1966
  • Polk County:1963 to 1965
  • West Des Moines Area:1998 to date

Des Moines Phone Books 1957 to date

Des Moines high School yearbooks Roosevelt, Lincoln, East, North,Hoover, Des Moines Tech (various years)

Men and Women of Iowa Biographies.1909 to 1962,1963,1972 to date

Iowa County histories (various counties)

Biographical Index to the County Histories of Iowa, Vol. 1.

Iowa Gravestone Records: Polk County, Vols. 1, 3-5.(vol. 2H-L not owned)

Surname Index. Iowa Genealogical Society. c1977

Passenger and Immigration Lists Index, First edition, Vols. 1 to 3.

Soldiers of the Great War, Vols. 1 to 3.

Abandoned Towns, Villages and Post Offices of Iowa. 

Buried in Woodland: Woodland-St. Ambrose-Emanuel-Odd Fellows Cemetery

Pioneers of Polk County, Iowa and Reminiscences of Early Days. Andrews, Lorenzo.

African Americans of Des Moines and Polk County. Parker, Honesty.

Newspapers

The Central Library has indexes to the Des Moines Register and Des Moines Tribune dating back to the 1940s in card form.

Des Moines Newspaper and Obituary Index >

What is Indexed: Des Moines, Polk County and Iowa news, editorials and opinion articles, movie, theater,  music, and restaurant reviews, company news, about Iowa, people, Des Moines and Polk County ordinances, and obituaries. 

What is not Indexed: Birth, marriage, and divorce announcements, national news, letters to the editor,  syndicated columnists, classified ads, sports scores.

Online Index:

  • Des Moines Register 1986 - date (obituaries 1960 - date)
  • Des Moines Tribune 1907 - 1944 (obituaries 1960-1982)
  • Des Moines Business Record 1982 - date 
  • Cityview 1992 - date 
  • Des Moines Skywalker 1986 -1992
  • Iowa Bystander 1894 - 1921, 1927 - 1935, 1949 - 1951
  • The Iowan (magazine) 2007 - date

Library Physical Holdings:

  • Des Moines Register: 1871 - date
  • Des Moines Tribune: 1907 - 1982
  • Des Moines Business Record: 1983 - date 
  • Cityview: 1992 - date 
  • Des Moines Skywalker: 1986 -1992
  • Iowa Bystander 1894 - 1921, 1927 - June 1985 (microfilm), 1949 - 1986, 1987 (February and March), 1996 - 2002
  • The Iowan (magazine) 2007 - date

Genealogy Guide Books

Other sources may be found by entering ‘genealogy’ as a subject or keyword search in our online catalog.

The Genealogist’s Companion and Sourcebook. Emily Anne Croom.

Genealogy Online, Ninth Edition. Elizabeth Powell Crowe.

Family History Detective: A step-by-step guide to investigating your family history. Desmond Walls Allen.

Mastering Online Genealogy. W. Daniel Quillen.

Crash Course in Genealogy. David R. Dowell.

The Family Tree Problem Solver: Tried-and-True Tactics for Tracing Elusive Ancestors. Marsha Hoffman Rising.

Secrets of tracing your ancestors. W. Daniel Quillen.

DMPL Online Resources

Heritage Quest Online

With this database, you can find:

  • U.S. Federal Census, 1790-1930
  • Genealogy and Local History Book Collection
  • PERSI (Periodical Source Index) which contains a subject index to 1.7 million articles from genealogy and history periodicals
  • Revolutionary War Pension Applications

Digital Sanborn Maps

Sanborn maps are valuable historical tools for researchers to learn about the history, growth, and development of American cities, towns, and neighborhoods. The maps give street names, street and sidewalk widths, property boundaries, building use, and house and block numbers of properties in Iowa.

Iowa Oral History Collection

Voices from the Past – 97 Interviews relating to the history of Iowa at www.archive.org

Websites

Afrigeneas | www.afrigeneas.com
An African American genealogy site including a surname index, discussion boards, slave data, marriage and death indexes, and more.

Cyndi’s List | www.CyndisList.com
A collection of more than 41,000 links that have been organized and cross-referenced in over 70 categories.

Genealogy.com | www.genealogy.com
This website has quick start guides, genealogical charts, a learning center, message boards, and more.

American Indian Ancestry | http://www.bia.gov/FOIA/Genealogy/index.htm
Guide to Tracing Your Indian Ancestry, which provides general information on the process.

JewishGen | www.jewishgen.org
This is a free Jewish genealogy website with numerous databases covering general and country specific information, including burial registries, family trees, and special interest groups.

National Archives and Records Administration | www.archives.gov
The National Archives website provides information to genealogists on how to start your family search, access and obtain the records they hold, and how to care for them.

Rootsweb | www.rootsweb.com
A free genealogy community that uses online forums, mailing lists, and other resources to help people research their family history.

USGenWeb Project | www.usgenweb.org
Free genealogy websites for genealogical research in every county and every state of the United States. Includes census records, grave records, and volunteer submitted records.

Find A Grave | www.findagrave.com
Find graves of ancestors, create virtual memorials; add a note to a loved one's grave and more.

Ellis Island | www.ellisisland.org
Find your ancestor in this archive of more than 25 million arrival records.

Local Resources

Sources of genealogical material in Iowa

Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints Family History Center
3301 Ashworth Rd., West Des Moines, IA 50265
515-225-3261 | www.familysearch.org

Iowa Genealogical Society Library (Usage fee for non-members.)
628 E. Grand Ave. Des Moines, IA 50309 
515-276-0287 | www.iowagenealogy.org

Iowa Gold Star Military Museum - Camp Dodge
7105 NW 70th Ave, Johnston, IA 50131
515-252-4531 | http://www.iowanationalguard.com/History/Museum/Pages/home.aspx

Polk County Vital Records (Birth, Death, and Marriage Records)
111 Court Ave, Des Moines, IA 50309
515-286-3781 | www.polkrecorder.com

State Department of Vital Records
Lucas State Office Building, 1st Floor
E. 12th and Walnut, Des Moines, 50319
515-281-4944 | www.iowa.gov 

State Historical Society of Iowa Library and Archives
600 E. Locust St. Des Moines, IA 50319
515-281-6200 | www.iowahistory.org