The Iowa County Magazine  |  April 2018


From the time settlers began to arrive in Iowa, land ownership has been recorded. Initially, Iowa was a public-domain state where unclaimed land was surveyed, then granted or sold by the government through federal and state land offices. Once the land was owned, it became the job of the Recorder of Deeds to record and preserve land records for their county. Over time, Iowa County Recorders have accumulated thousands of land records.

For decades, researching land records was a time-consuming, manual process that required you to travel to each county’s office and sift through piles of documents and files. Recently, two Iowa Recorders have championed change and achieved great results by digitizing the records entrusted to their care.

When Dallas County Recorder Chad Airhart ran for office, he campaigned to modernize county records. Airhart understood the many benefits and cost savings the Recorder’s office could achieve by digitizing Dallas County land records. Since taking office, he has worked diligently to place the county’s records online and achieve his goal of having all records available online for free.

Airhart said, “As one of the fastest growing counties in the United States, it’s important that my office be as efficient as possible. As the workload increases, so do the challenges we face daily. Digitizing our records and making them available online allows people to find the information they need without having to leave their office. It really saves people a lot of time and hassle,” he said. This has also allowed the Recorder’s office to reduce staff by not filling a position when it came open. “We are able to get more done without increasing staff because our records management system is so efficient. As guardians of the tax dollars, I think this is crucial,” he said.

When Dubuque County Recorder, John Murphy, took office, he continued the county’s Historical Records Preservation effort started in 2012. Since that time, thousands of Dubuque County records have been placed online, with the final phase, digitizing aperture cards, to be completed this year. For Murphy, digitizing county records help him achieve his goal of providing exceptional customer service.

“This will provide 24/7 access to the information while also ensuring that the County's valuable records are preserved and backed up electronically,” said Murphy. "Getting this project complete is essential from a disaster preparedness standpoint. When we are done, everything will be available online. If our office were to burn down, for example, we could go set up a computer and scanner, and as long as we had internet access, we would be back in business. It will also drastically reduce the amount of traffic we have coming into the building to look at these records. People will be able to search on their home or office computers."

Although they are not required to put historical records online, Airhart and Murphy both feel that it’s a great service to offer their public.  “These are the public’s records,” said Airhart. “It’s important for us to make it as easy as possible for people to access the information they need,” Murphy added.

Through their efforts, over 100 years’ worth of information is now indexed and available online for both counties. Some records date back to the 1850’s. The volume of records is surprising: Dallas County has 2.5 million images online; Dubuque County has 2.2 million. Title searchers, law offices, local historians, and anyone else searching for land records can now do so more efficiently and far easier than before. All records are redacted, so any sensitive information is blocked from view.

Both offices took advantage of the Recorder’s Management Fund to kick-start their projects. As part of Iowa statute, $1.00 collected from each recorded transaction is set aside for the purpose of preserving and maintaining public records. Recorders may use the monies deposited in the fund to produce and maintain public records and to enhance the technological storage, retrieval, and transmission capabilities related to archival quality records. Dubuque County has funded all of their digitization efforts through this fund.

Dallas and Dubuque Counties worked with Cott Systems, Inc., a vendor who specializes in land and vital records management.  Airhart said, “Dallas County was able to complete digitization in 2 years with Cott, thanks to the many hours of hard work by our staff and Cott here onsite scanning documents. We wanted this project to be one that other counties in Iowa or even other states could look at and say ‘this is how we should be doing things.’ It’s a feather in our cap, for sure.”

Both offices also use Cott System’s Resolution3 Land Records Management Software to receive, record, store, and archive records on a daily basis as they fulfill requests from the public and manage the real estate documents for their counties. “We were looking for a solution that would help us to be more efficient, and we felt Cott was that,” said Airhart. Murphy added, “The ability to efficiently complete the work we are required to do is critical, and this advanced technology helps us do that.” Cott Systems, Inc. is a long-time preferred vendor, exhibitor, and supporter of ISAC educational events.

<< Return to In the News