WSGS - Washington State Genealogical Resource Guide



The Family History Library has some of the records listed in this outline. The major holdings include cemetery, census, federal land, and vital records. The library is presently acquiring additional records of Washington counties, including cemetery, naturalization, probate, and vital records.

Some of the sources described in this outline list the Family History Library's book, microfilm, and microfiche numbers. These are preceded by FHL, the abbreviation for Family History Library. These numbers are used to locate materials in the library and to order microfilm and microfiche at family history centers.


The library's records are listed in the Family History Library Catalog (FHLC) found at the library and at each family history center. To find a record, look in the locality section of the FHLC for:

- The place where your ancestor lived, such as:


- The record type you want to search, such as:


The section headings in this outline match the names of record types
used in the FHLC.


The Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) collection contains some Bible records. This collection is described in the "Genealogy" section of this outline and is partially indexed by E. Kay Kirkham, An Index to Some of the Bibles and Family Records of the United States, vol. 2 (Logan, Utah: Everton Publishers, 1984; FHL book Ref 973 D22kk v.2).

Another publication that has a small number of Bible transcripts is Bible Records... (Tacoma, Wash.: The Tacoma Genealogical Society, 1963; FHL book 979.7 V29t; film 1,036,741, item 2).


Who's Who in Washington State:
A Compilation of Biographical Sketches of Men and Women Prominent in the Affairs of Washington State (Seattle: H. Allen Pub, 1927; FHL film 1,000,645, item 5).


The Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) collection contains tombstone inscriptions from some Washington cemeteries. This collection is described in the "Genealogy" section of this outline. Some tombstone inscriptions are also published in periodicals. See the United States Research Outline for further suggestions on locating cemetery records.

A valuable published collection of tombstone inscriptions covering parts of 12 counties is Cemetery Records of Washington, 6 vols. (N.p.: 1957-60; FHL book 979.7 V22p; films 824,254-56).

Transcripts of other cemetery records are listed in the FHLC under specific counties.



The Family History Library has the 1850 census of Oregon Territory that included Washington, and a separate index of the portion that became Washington. The library also has the U.S. federal censuses for Washington Territory for 1860, 1870, and 1880 and for the state of Washington for 1900 and 1910. The 1890 census has been destroyed. The 1890 veterans schedule and index are available at the Family History Library and at the National Archives.

Indexes in book and microfiche format are available for the 1860, 1870, and 1880 censues. A soundex (phonetic) index is available on microfilm for part of the 1880 and all of the 1900 census. For 1910 the Family History Library has a street index for Seattle (FHL fiche 6331481).

Mortality schedules exist for the 1850 (as part of Oregon Territory), 1860, 1870, and 1880 censuses. The mortality schedules for 1860 to 1880 are available at the DAR library in Washington D.C. and at the Washington State Library. The Family History Library has copies of the 1850 to 1880 mortality schedules.

Territorial and State

In addition to the federal censuses, territorial and state censuses also exist for a few counties for various years prior to 1892. These generally include heads of households only. These partial censuses are available only at the Washington State Library.


Before 1900 the largest religious groups in Washington were the Baptist, Roman Catholic, Methodist Episcopal, and Presbyterian churches. To help you learn more about Church records in Washington,
see Guide to Church Vital Statistics Records in Washington (Seattle: Historical Records Survey, 1942; FHL book 979.7 V2hr; fiche 6051172). 

The Family History Library has very few church records from Washington. Many denominations have collected their records in central repositories. 


American Baptist Historical Society 1106 South Goodman Street Rochester, NY 14620


Pacific Northwest Conference Depository United Methodist Church Collins Memorial Library 1500 North Warner Tacoma, WA 98416

For a history of the Methodists in Washington see Erle Howell, Methodisim in the Northwest (Nashville, Tenn.: Pacific Northwest Conference Historical Society, 1966; FHL book 979 K21h).


Presbyterian Historical Society United Presbyterian Church in U.S. 425 Lombard Street Philadelphia, PA 19147

For a history of the Presbyterians in Washington, see Robert Boyd, History of the Synod of Washington of The Presbyterian Church in the United States of America 1835-1909 (Seattle: The Synod, [1910?]; FHL book 979.7 K2p).

Roman Catholic

Archdiocese of Seattle Chancery Office 910 Marion Street Seattle, WA 98104


Major Washington courts that have kept records of genealogical value were established as follows:

Probate courts were the primary courts for probate matters until 1891, when this responsibility was assumed by the superior courts. In some areas, the probate court had concurrent civil and criminal
jurisdiction with the district courts.

Superior courts have had countywide jurisdiction over criminal cases and major civil cases, juvenile matters, and probate matters.

District courts have district wide jurisdiction with the superior courts over misdemeanors, preliminary hearings for felony cases, and minor civil cases.

The Supreme Court has statewide appellate jurisdiction.

The Family History Library does not have copies of Washington court records. They are available at the county courthouses, or some courts have transferred their records to the Washington State Archives.


Directories of heads of households have been published for major cities in Washington. The FHL has directories for the following:


1872-1901 FHL film 1,377,464-72 1911, 1913, 1916-18, 1932, 1960, 1964, 1970, 1975, 1979 FHL book 979.777/S1 E4p


1910, 1913, 1915 FHL fiche 6046575 1916-18, 1923, 1939, 1955, 1960, 1966, and 1984 FHL book 979.737/S1 E4ph


In the early 1800s, traders and trappers came from Canada, Russia, Latin America, and the United States into what is now Oregon and Washington. In 1811 John Jacob Astor, an American, established the first white settlement in Oregon. Most early settlements of the 1830s and 1840s were in the Willamette River Valley. In 1843 more than 900 emigrants came to Washington from Arkansas, Illinois, Missouri, and Iowa.

In the 1850s, gold was discovered in eastern Washington and prospectors flocked in. Major Indian hostilities, however, slowed migration. In 1860 gold was found near Walla Walla, and this brought
another rush of prospectors, including large numbers of Chinese. After 1870 immigrants came from Germany, Scandanavia (especially Norway and Sweden), Holland, Britain, and the Philippines. Many
Japanese immigrated to Washington starting in the mid-1880s.

The greatest influx of settlers started in the 1880s, when transport by rail became possible. The first of three transcontinental railroads to Washington was completed in 1888. Most of the settlers of the 1880s and 1890s were from Wisconsin, Minnesota, and other western, midwestern, and eastern states. Others came from Canada and Europe.

The Family History Library has copies of passenger and crew lists from Seattle (Port Townsend) from 1890 through 1921 (55 microfilms). Most Washington immigrants arrived in the United States through the port of New York or other east-coast ports. The Family History Library and the National Archives have records from 1820 to 1940. See the United States Research Outline for more information about these records.


Several helpful gazetteers of Washington have been published, including:

Meany, Edmond S. Origins of Washington Geographic Names. 1923 reprint. Detroit: Gale Research Co., 1968; (FHL book 979.7 E2m; fiche 6051179.)

R. L. Polk & Co. Oregon & Washington Gazetteer and Business Directory. Seattle: R.L. Polk, 1909. (FHL film 1,000,367.)

Phillips, James W. Washington State Place Names. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1971. (FHL book 979.7 E2p.)


Most archives, historical societies, and genealogical societies have special collections and indexes of genealogical value. 

The most important genealogical collections for Washington have been compiled by the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR). The Family History Library has three large sets of DAR compilations microfilmed at the DAR Library in Washington, D.C. These are:

- 29 volumes of "Family Records and Reminscences of Washington Pioneers Prior to 1899," microfilmed in 1955 and 1960 (12 films; index to the first 15 volumes is on FHL film 034,446).

- 12 volumes of "Genealogical and Historical Gleanings" (FHL films 849,488-91) compiled from 1931 to 1959.

- 40 volumes of transcripts of Bible records, cemetery records, church records, marriages, deaths, obituaries, and wills microfilmed in 1970 (22 films). Additional volumes compiled since 1970 are at the DAR Library. Volumes 1 through 52 are indexed by Shirley Swart, comp., Index to Washington State Daughters of the American Revolution... (Yakima, Wash.: Yakima Valley Genealogical
Society, 1983; FHL book 979.7 D22y).


The following important events in the history of Washington affected political boundaries, record-keeping, and family movements.


At the beginning of the nineteenth century, Spain, Russia, and England all claimed what is now Washington.


John Jacob Astor (American) established a trading post at Astoria. This was the first settlement in this area.


Spain withdrew her claims.


Russia withdrew her claims.


Marcus Whitman established the second white settlement near present-day Walla Walla. Early settlement centered in the Willamette


The present boundary between the United States and Canada was established.


The Oregon Territory was created. It included what is now Oregon, Washington, Idaho, and parts of Montana and Wyoming.


Settlers went farther north into the Puget Sound area to obtain food and lumber that was needed in the California gold fields.


The Oregon Donation Act was passed. This guaranteed land to those who settled and cultivated land in the territory before 1855. This attracted an estimated 30,000 new settlers.


Washington Territory was created from the northern part of Oregon Territory.


Oregon became a state. Washington Territory was enlarged to include the remaining Oregon territory not included in the new state.


The discovery of gold near Walla Walla attracted many prospectors.


The Idaho Territory was created from lands in eastern Washington Territory.


The Northern Pacific Railway reached Spokane.


The transcontinental railroads reached Washington and brought a great influx of settlers.


Washington became a state. Seattle was the largest city and the chief supply point for the gold rush to the Yukon territory in Alaska.

A helpful source for studying the history of Washington is Harvey K. Hines, An Illustrated History of the State of Washington: Containing... Biographical Mention of...its Pioneers and Prominent Citizens... (Chicago: Lewis Pub. Co., 1893; FHL book 979.7 D3h; film

Background information on Washington counties is in Newton Carl Abbott and Fred E. Carver, The Evolution of Washington Counties (N.p.: Yakima Valley Genealogical Society & Klickitat County
Historical Society, 1978; FHL book 979.7 D25a; fiche 6051194). This is listed in the FHLC under WASHINGTON - HANDBOOKS, MANUALS, ETC.


Federal Land Records

Washington is a public land state. The area that now comprises the state was part of the public domain and was admininistered by the federal government through local land offices under the direction of the Government Land Office (GLO), later known as the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). The first land office in Washington was established at Olympia in 1855.

The process of obtaining private title to government land is called land entry. Settlers could acquire land in several ways:

- Donation land could be claimed by individuals who settled and cultivated land before 1855. The Family History Library has a register with indexes and abstracts of the Washington Donation Land Claims (FHL film 418,160). This identifies each claim by name, local office, and certificate number. It can be used to locate the original file. The original files are at the National Archives and on
microfilm at the National Archives--Seattle Branch and at the Family History Library (FHL films 1,492,243-258).

- Cash entries were granted for cash payment for the land. Anyone who was twenty-one years old, or who was a head of household (including widows) could purchase up to 160 acres of land.

- Homestead grants were obtained after 1862 by living on the land, raising crops, and making improvements for five years. To be eligible, an applicant either had to be a U.S. citizen or must have filed his intention to become a citizen.

The land entry case files are usually the most helpful records to the genealogist because they may provide names, dates of birth, date and place of marriage, citizenship information, records of migration, and other data. They are arranged according to the state, land office, type of entry, and certificate number.

The National Archives has the land entry case files. To obtain a copy of a file, you will need to provide the following information: name of the person who filed, legal description of the land, patent number, date of the patent, and land office of issuance.

The local GLO offices recorded the transactions for each section of land in tract books. They also created township plats, which are maps of land entries for each township. The original tract books and township plats are at the National Archives. Microfilm copies of the tract books and township plats are at the Family History Library and at the Oregon State Office of the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), 825 NE Multnomah Street, Portland, OR 97208. Other local land office records are at the National Archives--Seattle Branch.

After the settler completed the requirements for land entry, his case file was sent to the General Land Office in Washington, D.C., where a patent (or first-title deed) was issued. Patent records contain the name of the entryman, the legal description of the land (including the acreage) the date of patent, and other information. The Oregon State Office of the BLM (address above) has the patent records.

County Land Records

After land was transferred from the government by sale or grant to private ownership it could be sold again, inherited, lost by foreclosure of a mortgage, or distributed through a divorce. These transactions are recorded at a county courthouse in the form of deeds and mortgages. You can obtain copies of these records by writing to the county auditor. The Family History Library has not acquired copies of county land records except for Clark County.

State Land Records

Water rights applications, permits, and certificates were issued by the State Department of Ecology beginning in 1917. These records will be found at either the Department of Ecology or the Washington State Archives. The county auditor usually has copies. They generally provide the same kinds of information as other land records.


Several historical maps are found in Ralph N. Preston, Early Washington: Overland Stage Routes, Old Military Roads, Indian Battle Grounds, Old Forts, Old Gold Mines (Corvallis, Ore.: Western Guide Publishers, 1974 ; FHL book Q 979.7 E3e).

The Family History Library has several maps of Washington. Larger collections of maps are available at the University of Washington in Seattle and Western Washington State College in Bellingham.


Many of the federal military records you'll want to use are found at the Family History Library, the National Archives, and other federal and state archives. The United States Research Outline provides more information regarding the federal records. For Washington, the following sources are also very helpful:

Civil War

The Family History Library has the index to service records of Union volunteers from Washington Territory (FHL film 821,948) and the federal index to pension applications. The actual service and pension records are available only at the National Archives. The library also has a copy of a special census taken in 1890 of Union veterans of the Civil War (FHL film 338,267).

Indian Wars

Muster rolls are available at the Washington State Archives. The Nation al Archives and the Family History Library have the enlistment registers of soldiers who served in the regular army from 1798 to 1884 (FHL films 350,307-49). Many of these soldiers served in the western states, including Washington, during the Indian Wars. The enlistment registers provide the soldier's rank, unit, commanders, physical description, occupation, and birth place. The records are arranged by year and by the first letter of the surname.

The Family History Library and the National Archives have an index to soldiers who applied for pensions as a result of service in the Indian Wars from 1817 to 1898 (FHL films 821,610-21). The pension records are only available at the National Archives.

Additional Military Records

Histories and rosters of soldiers of the Washington Militia and National Guard who served in the Indian Wars of the 1850s to the post-World War II era, are in Virgil F. Field, Washington National
Guard Pamphlet: The Official History of the Washington National Guard, 3 vols. (Tacoma: Office of the Adjutant General, 1961; FHL book 979.7 M25w).

The Washington State Archives has other helpful records, including:

- Records of residents of the State Soldiers Home and State Veterans Home up to the mid-1930s.

- Applications and supporting papers submitted by Washington veterans of World Wars I and II for a state bonus. These often include information about the soldier's residence, occupation, relatives, age, place of birth, and enlistment.

- National Guard Statements of Service cards for guardsmen who participated in World Wars I and II. These cards list the name of the serviceman, last residence, date and place of enlistment, date and place of birth, years of service, military organization attachment, rank, and engagements.


A wealth of genealogical information is available for the various Indian tribes in Washington. Besides published histories, the Family History Library has microfilm copies of the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) records of births, marriages, deaths, censuses, schools, land allotments, heirships, and family records. They are available from about 1887 to 1952 from agencies such as the Colville, Puyallup, Taholah, Tylalip, and Yakima. The original documents are at the National Archives--Seattle Branch.

An especially-useful source is the collection, Family Index Cards, 1938-1950, created by the Bureau of Indian Affairs, Portland Area Office (FHL films 1,028,470-471).

Records of American Indians are also listed in the subject section of the FHLC under the names of the agency or tribe. Some of these tribes are the Nez Perce, Yakima, and Chinook.


Naturalization records have been filed in various courts, usually with the county clerk, who also served as the clerk of the superior court. The Family History Library has not acquired any of the naturalization files for Washington. You can obtain copies of declarations, petitions, and proceedings from each county courthouse or federal court.

Naturalization records were often filed with donation and homestead land records (see the "Land and Property" section). The naturalization certificates in the donation land files were not microfilmed but can be obtained from the National Archives.

For naturalization records filed after September 1906, contact the National Archives--Seattle Branch or the local office of the Immigration and Naturalization Service.

The Seattle Archives Branch has the records of the U.S. district and circuit courts in Spokane, Seattle, and Tacoma from 1890 to 1957. It also has records from 1853 to 1975 relating to naturalization in terrritorial and other courts for King, Pierce, Snohomish, and Thurston counties.


The Washington State Library is in charge of the Washington State Newspaper Microfilm Project and maintains a large collection of newspapers on film dating from the 1870s. A guide to this collection is Katryn S. Hamilton, Newspapers on Microfilm in the Washington State Library (Olympia: Washington State Library, 1980; not at FHL).

A guide for locating early newspapers is "Newspapers of Washington Territory to 1890." This was published in volumes 13 (1922), 14 (1923), and 26 (1935) of the Washington Historical Quarterly (FHL book 979 B2pn.)

The Family History Library has not acquired copies of newspapers for the state, but has a few published vital records abstracted from newspapers.


The major genealogical periodicals and magazines helpful for Washington research include:

Washington Heritage. (formerly Washington State Genealogical and Historical Review). 1982-. Published by Heritage Quest, Drawer 40, Orting, WA 98630-0040. (FHL book 979.7 D25w.)

The Appleland Bulletin. 1972-. Published by the Genealogical Society of North Central Washington, P.O. Box 613, Wenatchee, WA 98801. (FHL book 979.7 B2a.) There is a cumulative index to vols. 1-4.

The Bulletin. 1964-. Published by the Eastern Washington Genealogical Society Library, P.O. Box 1826, Spokane, WA 99210. (FHL book 979.7 B2e.)

Bulletin of the Whatcom Genealogical Society. 1970-. Published by the Whatcom Genealogical Society, P.O. Box 1493, Bellingham, WA 98227. (FHL book 979.773 B2w.)

The Researcher. 1969-. Published by the Tacoma Genealogical Society, P.O. Box 1952, Tacoma, WA 98401. (FHL book 979.778/T1 B2r.)

Trailbreakers. 1971-. Published by the Clark County Genealogical Society, P.O. Box 2728, Vancouver, WA 98668. (FHL book 979.786 B2t.)

Yakima Valley Genealogical Society Bulletin. 1973-. Published by the Yakima Valley Genealogical Society, P.O. Box 445, Yakima, WA 98907. (FHL book 979.755 B2y.)


In the territorial era, probate courts were established in each county to keep records of wills, bonds, orders, and the administrations of estates. When the superior courts succeeded the probate courts in 1891, all of the records of the clerks of the probate courts were transferred to the county clerk in each courthouse. Some probates were filed in the superior court.

The Family History Library has not acquired copies of probate records in Washington. They are available a t the various county courthouses, or the county may have transferred early records to the Washington State Archives.


State Records of Births and Deaths

Statewide registration of births and deaths in Washington began in 1907 and was generally complied with by 1917. For copies of state birth and death records, write to:

Vital Records P. O. Box 9709, ET-11 Olympia, WA 98504-9709

The current fees for obtaining copies of the state's records are listed in Where to Write for Vital Records: Births, Deaths, Marriages, and Divorces (Hyattsville, Md.: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, August, 1987). Copies of this booklet are at the Family History Library and at family history centers. You can also write to the Vital Records office for current information.

The Vital Records office has a series of indexes to state birth and death records from 1907 to the present. Copies of the indexes to death records from 1907 to 1979 are also at the Washington State

The Family History Library has copies of most of the state records from 1907 to 1952. Although the files are incomplete, these records include:

- Birth certificates, 1907-1952, and five soundex indexes, 1907-1959 (211 films)

- Death certificates, 1907-1952, and five soundex indexes, 1907-1979 (466 films)

Delayed Birth Records

Individuals who were born prior to 1907, or who did not have a birth certificate, may have applied for a delayed birth certificate at a superior court or at the State Department of Health. Washington began keeping delayed birth records in 1907. Many unrecorded births were finally registered during World War II.

Delayed birth records are available from the Vital Records office (see address above). The Family History Library has copies and accompanying soundex indexes of the delayed birth records issued from 1936 to 1953 (65 films).

County Records of Births and Deaths

Although a few counties began recording births and deaths several years earlier, most Washington counties began keeping records in 1891. County birth and death records from the earliest dates to 1906 are at each county auditor's office or county health department. Some of the larger counties have copies of records after 1906, but most counties do not.

The Family History Library does not have copies of the county birth and death records. However, the library has some published birth and death records for a few counties, such as the Snohomish County death records from 1891 to 1914.

City Records of Births and Deaths

Some Washington cities have kept birth and death records. For example, Tacoma birth and death records from 1887 to the present are available at the Pierce County Health Department. For information about city records, write to the appropriate county health department. Some city records have been indexed.

Marriage and Divorce Records

The following records are available:

- State marriage and divorce records. Statewide registration of marriages and divorces began in 1968. For copies of these records, write to the Vital Records office (address above). The Family History Library does not have copies of these records.

- County marriage records. Most counties began recording marriages soon after the county was organized. The records of some counties begin as early as the 1850s. Each county auditor has copies of county marriage records from the earliest dates to the present. The Family History Library does not have copies of these records, but has copies of transcribed marriage records published for a few counties, such as Clark County from 1862 to 1913.

- County divorce records. County divorce records generally begin in 1889, although a number of counties kept records prior to that date. Some county divorce records begin as early as the 1850s.
These records are available from the county clerk.

- Territorial divorce records. Some divorce records from 1853 to 1889 are included in the Washington territorial records. These early divorce proceedings are interfiled with other territorial
records and have not been indexed. The Washington State Library has copies of the territorial records.

Guide to Vital Records

You can learn more about the history and availability of the records in Guide to Public Vital Statistics Records in Washington (Seattle: Historical Records Survey, 1941; FHL book 979.7 V2h; fiche 6051171).