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Genealogy Research Guide

This guide is intended to assist genealogists in knowing what resources are available in the ISU Library and through the Internet. It also includes some information on genealogy resources at Ames Public Library and the Iowa Genealogical Society Library.

Maps & Atlases

There are many types of map resources available.  Click on the tabs above for more options.

The ISU Library has many historical atlases covering a wide spectrum of geographic areas: the world, world regions, countries, and sometimes for states and provinces. These are useful for tracing changes in country boundaries, and tracing changes in boundaries and names of counties as well.

To find additional atlases in the ISU Library collections, look in Quick Search for: "Iowa history" AND atlas*

Maps often provide information on a variety of useful things within a geographic region such as location of cemeteries, names of land owners, etc. To see if the ISU Library owns maps of a specific county (in Iowa or elsewhere) - use the Quick Search box on the Library homepage.

  • Click on Advanced Search
  • Change "Any Field" to "Subject"
  • Search for the "county name" and the state and map*
    • e.g., "Allamakee County" AND Iowa AND map*
    • "Butler County" AND Kansas AND map*

You CAN limit the search to maps using the "Material Type" box in Advanced Search; however, this is not recommended for genealogy research because it will restrict the search to an actual fold out or flat map. It will eliminate atlases and other book type materials that contain maps.

According to Wikipedia, a plat "consists of a map, drawn to scale, showing the divisions of a piece of land." Genealogists find plat maps exceedingly useful in that they usually show who owned a particular plot of land during a given year. Plat maps can assist in locating nearby cemeteries, figuring out who were their neighbors (as they might be relatives) and determining how long a person owned the land.

At the ISU Library, plat maps of Iowa:

  • from the 1890's up through the 1940's are available in Special Collections
  • from the mid 1970's are available in the General Collection (on Floor 2) at call number: G 1433 - they are in order by county name
  • are also available in the Map Collection in the Media Center (Lower Level)

Fire insurance maps were prepared and updated by insurance companies from as early as 1870 and show the progression of urban growth in Iowa. The large scale maps distinguish between building materials and types of structure and sometimes include names of property owners.

NOTE: many fire insurance maps have warnings on them with restrictions on printing, copying, or scanning individual maps.

To find these maps in the ISU Library collections, look in Quick Search for: "fire insurance maps"

This will pull up information on maps owned by ISU as well as some books ABOUT fire insurance maps. The Parks Library Media Center has Iowa fire insurance maps available on microfiche, microfilm, and CD-ROM.

Your Librarian

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Lorrie Pellack
Head, Research & Instruction Services Dept.
150c Parks Library
Ames, IA 50011-2140
Phone: 515-294-5569

Topographic Maps

The Media Center has modern topographic maps, in various levels of detail, for the United States and the rest of the world. Older topographic maps are useful for locating towns that may no longer exist. The Media Center has older maps for some parts of the U.S., but does not have any of these for Europe.


Gazetteers are very handy. If you know the name of a place a gazetteer will tell you where that place is. We recommend the following gazetteers:

For the U.S. - Omni Gazetteer of the United States of America (E154 O45 1991 – in both Media and Reference).

For other countries - Official Standard Names Gazetteer (G103 Un3g and G103 Un3g1 - in the General Collection).