A common question we receive is, “How far back do the records posted online go?” The serious answer is “It depends on whether records are in the form of electronic documents.” Electronic Services System policy provides that “A county shall transfer to the county land record information system all recorded document information which is archived in an electronic format.” In other words, if a county has a document in electronic format, which includes the index information and a digitized image of the document, they are required to transfer it to Iowa Land Records.

The question then becomes, “How far back do electronic records go in each county?” Again, that depends. In 85 of the 99 counties, more than 99% of the known records from 2005 (when the website was first launched) forward have been transferred to Iowa Land Records and are available on the website. Six of the remaining 14 have less than 80% of their 2005 records transferred, and of those, three counties do not appear to have electronic records for that year. But overall, from 2005 forward the records are nearly complete.

A number of counties have diligently worked to digitize their older records and made them available to the public. For example, there are 18 counties that have more than 90% of their records in electronic format dating back to 1980. Some county records go back much further. Decisions to digitize older records, sometimes referred to as “backfile” documents, are made by individual counties. If older records are converted to an electronic format, then Iowa Land Records will readily accept them, redact them if necessary and post them online for public access.

Professionals in the real estate industry, especially financial institutions, mortgage companies and most real estate attorneys have expressed support for making more records online. Surveyors have also expressed support for efforts to digitize older plats and post them online.

Not all groups have supported this. While many abstract and title company professionals frequently search Iowa Land Records, some have expressed the belief that the Iowa Land Records database has diminished the value of their title plants. Most stakeholders seem to think that more records online is a good thing, and it is clearly a part of the Iowa Land Records legislative mandate. There is no intent by Iowa Land Records to harm any abstract or title company. So how can these different views be balanced?

Some have suggested that the concerns of abstract and title company professionals could be mitigated by limiting online access to records to only documents recorded within the past decade, or by converting the land record search engine to a paid subscription service. These may be future topics for discussion.

Learn more about records available from each county by logging into iowalandrecords.org/portal using the “Search Tips” section of the application.