Photo of the Iowa Capitol from the State Historical Society Archives.

You can now access the past via your computer through the State Historical Society of Iowa’s online catalog.

State Archivist, Anthony Jahn says there are some 200 million pieces of history. “For decades we’ve been collecting Iowa’s past — its history. Through the books in our collection, other published materials, through things, items Iowans have donated to us — whether they be photographs or what we call manuscripts collections, they can be books, journals, personal papers,” Jahn says.

Jahn says the online catalog puts it at your fingertips without leaving home. “For decades the only way people could access those materials was by coming in and visiting our research center, our research libraries in Iowa City and Des Moines. Or seeing things that we made available to the public through online exhibits and so forth,” according to Jahn.

He says making the catalog available is one of the key duties of the Historical Society. “These collections that we have here at the State Historical Society of Iowa, they’re the peoples’ collections. We’ve been tasked by the government of the State of Iowa to not only collect these materials from Iowans of from the government to organize them and make them available for the people,” Jahn says. “And so this is really a fulfillment of our task in Iowa law and kind of our rules of an organization to help people better connect with their past.”

October is Family History Month. “This is a great month to think about family history and what better place to learn about your family’s history than to come to the State Historical Society and look up marriage records, birth records, probate records, all these records that we have available within our institution,” Jahn says.

He says the online catalog is easy to use. “Go to IowaCulture.Gov, and on the website there is a whole section dealing with history. And within that history section, there is a section call research. And if they click into that they can see more detail on our collection catalog,” he says.

Jahn says they hear from a lot of people doing research for projects or their personal information. “We average about 18-19,000 questions a year. It’s gone up actually a little bit since the pandemic,” Jahn says. The project aligns with the department’s ongoing efforts to increase access to historical research materials, both online and at the State Historical Society of Iowa Research Centers in Des Moines and Iowa City.

The society recently expanded visiting hours at both research centers to 9 a.m. until noon and 1-4 p.m. Wednesday through Friday by appointment.