Your Guide to Researching Washington Ancestors

State Capital: Olympia
Territory: 1848 incorporated into the newly formed Oregon Territory; 1853 created as a separate territory.
Admitted as the 42nd state in 1889
First mostly extant federal census: included in the 1850 Oregon Territory Census; 1860 Washington census.
Statewide birth and death registration: 1907+
Marriage records prior to 1968 are available from the county
Federal (Public) land state

Find What is Available at the Family History Library

First, bookmark or print out these FHL documents:

Use the catalog at the FHL to find out what has been filmed covering the Washington ; Click View Related Places in the upper right to find sources that have been filmed for the county you are researching and once there click View Related Places in the upper right to find sources that have been filmed for the township or city. You will want to check for resources in all three jurisdictions, although most people check the county holdings first, township next and state last.


State Sites : There are websites that try to provide free information for each state and each county of the state. Check to see what is available on each of these site; the USGenWeb site will have the most.

  • Washington USGen Web (use the county clickable map or scroll down to use an alphabetical list to find what's available for each of the counties in the state of Washington).

    The sites below will usually have substantially less information, but are worth checking:
  • ALHN Washington page; scroll down to see the variety of links at the statewide level before checking the list of what is available for the various counties.
  • AHGP Washington page.
  • Genealogy Trails Washington page

Visit and explore the websites of these libraries, archives and societies.

The Washington State Library Northwest and Genealogy collection

The Washington State Archives is starting to put records online and has a Historical Records Search engine to search that which is already there. This is a work in progress, so if you don't find something, it may mean it's not yet available online. The State Archives in Washington has a network of the State Archives in Olympia and five branch archives; the county records are held at the regional archives. For each of these you can view a listing of the records. You will have to take time to explore this; the records are displayed in a series of choices. First choose the area of interest, then below select a record group in the box below that. Double click that record group and scroll down for a listing of records in that record group. You can't tell what record groups will bring up useful choices, but one you will want to follow through is the record group [ whatever] county government. Then double click the sub group county clerk and read the listing of records that appears below. You can click on each record listed and a description of the record group will appear on screen. It is a great way to find out what records might be available, but you have to take the time to go through it to see what is there.

The Washington State Genealogical Society ; a nice feature on this site is a county by county resource guide. Also, visit the websites of other genealogical societies in Washington.

Washington is served by the Pacific Alaska Region (Seattle) of the National Archives

Visit the website of the public library in the city you are researching to see what they have available for family historians; also check the libraries of large cities that are in the county of or near that city.

Cemetery Records

  • Search online Washington Cemeteries at Cemetery Junction's Washington Page
  • Check, where you can find online Washington trascriptions by county.
  • See if the cemetery you need has been done by the Tombstone Transcription Project for Washington (scroll down)
  • ObituaryCentral's cemetery searches for Washington
  • If you can't find a cemetery online, perhaps there is a cemetery look-up volunteer in the area you need.
  • Check the Family History Library Catalog for Washington Counties to find transcriptions, but once in a county be sure to click the RELATED PLACES button and find the city or town you are researching. Often cemetery listings are there instead of at the county pages.


Land Records

Washington Land Records overview

Early settlerment was encouraged by the promise of land, offered through the donation land claim act.

Land Records at the National Archives Pacific Alaska Region (Seattle) describes the records relevant to the original distribution of land, which was granted by the federal government. These records have been filmed and the Donation Land claim records are available through the Family History Library. You will want to first use the Abstracts, which serve as an index to the Washington claims to get the certificate number. Then order the appropriate film from the original files.

This bibliography of donation land resources at the Washington State Library describes the various documents and provides a list of further sources for researching donation land claims.

An 1887 list of Washington claims has been digitized and made available by the Washington Secretary of State. (because this is handwritten it is not searchable and the advertised searchable transcription is a bad link; I've contacted the webmaster to see if they will correct this.)


Naturalizations prior to 1906 will be recorded in the courts at the county level. Some naturalization certificates of earlier settlers were filed with the donation land files, but are not included in the microfilmed records, although they are held at the National Archives.

Check the Family History Library topic Naturalization as well as the tone titled Naturalization indexes for statewide records. Check the topic Naturalization under the Washington County you are researching.

Some counties have been indexed and can be searched at the Washington State Archive's Digital Library. Select naturalization records from the record type drop down at the top to search only this record type.


The Washington State Library holds and extensive newspaper collection. and provides a searchable index to some historical Washington papers. This is an ongoing project, so will have to be rechecked at later dates.

WOW! Look at this offer! Free Obituary Lookup (in Washington papers.)

Search the WSL catalog for newspapers by city and county; if a newspaper has been microfilmed, it can probably be borrowed on interlibrary loan; ask at your local library.

Links to current Washington newspapers online.


Vital Records

There was no mandate to keep birth and death records until 1891. Records were kept by the coutnies, except the cities of Seattle, Spokane, Bellingham and Tocoma kept separate records. Marriage records were kept by the counties from the formation date, or very near that date.

To find what records are available from the Family History Library for each county in Washington, select the county of interest and open up the link for vital records. Check also the statewide vital records and indexes and see what is available at the city level, especially the larger cities.

The Washington State Archives is in the process of making birth, marriage and death records available online as part of their digital archives. You can search the whole digital archives, which includes many types of records, or select the record type you want to search, but the records from all counties are not yet available!

  • Birth records currently available online at the WSA Digital Archives.
  • Death records currently available online at the WSA Digital Archives.
  • Marriage records currently available online at the WSA Digital Archives.

Early eastern Washington marriage records are included in the Western States Historical Marriage Records Index. Note, you can use the state drop down to limit your search to marriages in Washington, but you may want to search the whole database.

Online Washington Death Records and Indexes

Any Black sheep in the family?

Look for any Washington Black Sheep Ancestors

Help! Queries and Lookups

  • A Directory of genealogy lookup volunteers: Washington
  • Random Acts of Genealogical Kindness : Washington
  •'s GenForums: Washington
  •'s Message Boards. (this link takes you to the Rootsweb interface, but both sites link to the same database) Washington counties

More links

Reference Sources

There is nothing more helpful that a handy reference book with information specific to the area you are researching. I've listed below those that I know about.

All of the three books listed below have a small section covering each state that includes maps, historical information, vital records coverage and a bibliography of resources for that state.

  1. Handybook for Genealogists ( 11th edition) (find in a library) (note: some libraries may have earleir editions; those are perfectly usable)
  2. Ancestry's Redbook (you'll want the 3rd edition) (find in a library)
  3. The Family Tree Resource Book for Genealogical Research (find in a library)

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This page last updated Monday, February 17, 2010
Created by Barbara Snow Dec. 5, 2005
c. 2005 , 2006 , 2007, 2008 All rights reserved