Your Guide to Researching Washington Ancestors
State Capital: Olympia
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
Any Black sheep in the family?
Help! Queries and Lookups
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.
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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