Researching Your Home’s History in Des Moines

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This entry is part 1 of 7 in the series Researching Your Home's History

Researching houses in Des Moines is often a treasure hunt for clues. Juicy tidbits about a home’s history reside in resources such as city directories, county deeds, and old newspaper clippings.  This series of articles is adapted from a presentation co-hosted by the Des Moines Rehabbers Club and the Drake Neighborhood Association, prepared by Jennifer Irsfeld James and Steve Wilke-Shapiro.

Overview of the Research Process

  • Read the House – Look for clues in the house and surrounding context
  • Trace Ownership – Build a time line of who owned the house
  • Uncover Resident History – Research the people who lived in the house
  • Referenced Tangents – Dig up sources referenced in your prior research
  • Additional Resources – Look in periodicals around significant dates to the house

General Research Notes

Some things to keep in mind as you work through the research process:

  • Document EVERYTHING you do. Get copies when you can and take good notes.
  • Keep track of CITATIONS (source, date, and page number) when you make a note.
  • DON’T BELIEVE everything you read or see. There are often spelling errors, incorrect dates, and even false information. Part of your job is to sift through and find inconsistencies.

Unfortunately, you may not find what you are looking for right away (or at all). Historic research is a process. Don’t feel like you have to do everything in one sitting. Often a break or a little distance from the effort can help you refocus.

Don’t be afraid to ask for help from the people you meet along the way: librarians, genealogists, other researchers can all be helpful in directing you to new resources and helping you to understand the information you have.

Share Your Findings

The end result can be as simple as a vintage photograph of a house or as complex as a formal nomination to place the property in the National Register of Historic Places. In either case, pass on your findings to the next owners and donate copies to the neighborhood organization, historical society, or public library.

If you are interested in “publishing” your research on this website to assist other Des Moines residents in their own research work, please email us at


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