The mystery of the missing county vital records

This is an update on an earlier post about the State-Level Death records that are available at the State Historical Society in Des Moines.

The State Historical Society of Iowa has been slowly adding counties to the index for those elusive death records that were not recorded by county clerks between 1920 and 1941— and it’s finally our turn!

The SHS index for Scott County covers the years 1918-1920 and 1932-1933. It includes name, birth date, birth place, death date, county, mother’s maiden name, record number, and the number of the carton in which it is stored at the Archives.  A direct link  to the index is here, and information on how to request copies is also on their website, along with the request form.

But, as usual, that wasn’t the end of it.  While we were gathering this information, we found this quote on a county clerk’s website:

“County registrars, however, do not have code authority to have on record:  single-parent births prior to July 1, 1995; adoptions; any record ordered seal by a court of law; or birth, death, and marriages between the years 1921 to 1941.”

 This got us thinking: were the county registrars simply “not required” to file vital records at the county level? Or were they actually prohibited by Iowa law?

So, we went digging around in our available copies of the Code of Iowa.

Chapter 11 of the Code for 1919 has this to say:

“The undertaker or the person in charge of the funeral of any person dying in the state of Iowa shall cause a certificate of death to be filled out, in original and duplicate, the original to be sent to the state registrar as hereinafter provided and the duplicate to be filed with the proper cemetery authorities where the body is buried for the cemetery’s record […]” (Chapter 11 Section 1365)

“It shall be the duty of the state registrar to furnish to the clerk of the district court of each county on or before the first day of April of each year, certified transcripts of the certificates of death filed with him from the respective counties, and the United States census bureau at Washington, D. C., shall have the privilege of making copies of said transcripts, but at the expense of the United States census bureau and not at the expense of the state, and to arrange by county, bind and deposit in the state historical building at Des Moines, the original death certificates; and transcripts sent to each county shall be bound at the expense of said county, and preserved for reference by the clerk of the district court.” (Chapter 11, Section 1367)

 In 1924, the Code of Iowa uses the term “Local registrars” and lists the duties of local registrars, which include:

“Make a complete and accurate copy of each birth and death certificate registered by him in a record book supplied by the state registrar, to be preserved permanently in his local office as the local record.” (Chapter 114, Section 2394, #7)

 But in 1946, well after county clerks were once again recording vital records,  the Code uses two separate terms, “county registrar” and “local registrar”:

“The clerk of the district court of each county shall be the county registrar” (Chapter 144.4).

“The county registrar shall with the approval of the board of supervisors, appoint as many local registrars as are, in his opinion, necessary to carry out the provisions of this chapter and shall assign each local registrar a definitive district, except that local registrars in cities having a population of thirty-five thousand or more, shall be appointed by the local board of health.” (Chapter 144.6)

The duties for the “local registrar” do not appear to have changed since 1924.

What does this mean?

Well, it appears to mean that county clerks might record births and deaths between 1920 and 1941, but it was really someone else’s job, to be done with someone else’s expensive ledger books.

We’re just grateful that the State Historical Society of Iowa is helping us make our jobs easier!


(posted by Cristina)

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