Historical Facts of Washington Counties

Washington County records differ extensively from county to county in either quality and also quantity. Some are already carefully conserved while some have been substantially neglected and uncared for. Many Washington records have simply vanished. For genealogists performing research in Washington there’s no effective replace to have an on-site search of county courthouse records. For Definitions of all court terms see the Genealogy Encyclopedia

Washington is divided into 39 counties. Washington came from what was previously the western part of Washington Territory and was admitted to the Union as the 42nd state in 1889. The first counties were created from unorganized territory in 1845. Eight of the counties were created by Oregon governments prior to the organization of Washington Territory, 26 were created during Washington’s territorial period, and five were created after Washington became a state. Washington State Government is located in Olympia.

Washington Counties

Most of the court, probate and land records for various counties were originally housed at the county seat. However, the regional branches of the state archives now house a lot of them. Many counties were grouped together under the same judicial jurisdictions.

The links in the table below link to county and city government offices and is limited to government-maintained websites. If you know of a Washington county that has an official government web site but is not linked, or if the link is in error, please contact us so we may edit our database.

County Date Formed Parent County County Seat
Adams November 28, 1883 Whitman County Ritzville
Asotin October 27, 1883 Garfield County Asotin
Benton March 08, 1905 Yakima and Klickitat Counties Prosser
Chelan March 13, 1899 Okanogan and Kittitas Counties Wenatchee
Clallam April 26, 1854 Jefferson County Port Angeles
Clark September 03, 1849 Original county Vancouver
Columbia November 11, 1875 Walla Walla County Dayton
Cowlitz April 21, 1854 Original county Kelso
Douglas November 28, 1883 Lincoln County Waterville
Ferry February 21, 1899 Stevens County Republic
Franklin November 28, 1883 Whitman County Pasco
Garfield November 29, 1881 Columbia County Pomeroy
Grant February 24, 1909 Douglas County Ephrata
Grays Harbor March 15, 1915 Thurston County Montesano
Island January 06, 1853 Thurston County Coupeville
Jefferson December 22, 1852 Thurston County Port Townsend
King December 22, 1852 Thurston County Seattle
Kitsap July 13, 1857 King and Jefferson Counties Port Orchard
Kittitas November 24, 1883 Yakima County Ellensburg
Klickitat December 20, 1859 Walla Walla County Goldendale
Lewis December 21, 1845 Original county Chehalis
Lincoln November 24, 1883 Whitman County Davenport
Mason December 22, 1854 King County Shelton
Okanogan February 02, 1888 Stevens County Okanogan
Pacific February 04, 1851 Lewis County South Bend
Pend Oreille March 01, 1911 Stevens County Newport
Pierce December 22, 1852 Thurston County Tacoma
San Juan October 31, 1873 Whatcom County Friday Harbor
Skagit November 28, 1883 Whatcom County Mount Vernon
Skamania March 09, 1854 Clark County Stevenson
Snohomish January 14, 1861 Island County Everett
Spokane January 29, 1858 Stevens County Spokane
Stevens January 20, 1863 Walla Walla County Colville
Thurston January 12, 1852 Lewis County Olympia
Wahkiakum April 26, 1854 Cowlitz County Cathlamet
Walla Walla April 25, 1854 Skamania County Walla Walla
Whatcom March 09, 1854 Island County Bellingham
Whitman November 29, 1871 Stevens County Colfax
Yakima January 21, 1865 Ferguson County (defunct) Yakima
Washington State Association of Counties
Washington Association of County Officials


Interactive Map of Washington Counties Formation

(Washington maps made with the use AniMap Plus 3.0 & with the Permission of the Goldbug Company)

Washington Extinct Counties

Washington contains counties that no longer are in existence. They were recognized by the state, provincial, or territorial government. Most of these counties were created and disbanded during the Nineteenth century; county borders have modified very little since 1900 in the vast number of states. These counties really should be considered when you are performing genealogy and family history research. Pay attention where the courthouse records went to if the county was abolished or joined with another county.

  • Chehalis County – Formed in 1854 (renamed Grays Harbor, 1915) Thurston.
  • Slaughter County – formed in 1857 and renamed Kitsap County in 1857.
  • Sawamish County – formed in 1854 and renamed Mason County in 1864.
  • Spokane County (old) – formed in 1859, abolished and became part of Stevens County in 1864; In 1879 part of this county was set off as Present Spokane County

Washington Counties with Burned Courthouses

The destruction to Washington courthouses tremendously has a effect on family historians in almost every way. Not only are these kinds of historic buildings ripped from our lifetimes, so are the records they housed: marriage, wills, probate, land records, and others. Once destroyed they’re destroyed forever. Despite the fact that they have been placed on mircofilm, computers and film burn as well. The most heartbreaking side of this is the reason that almost all of our courthouses are destroyed from arsonist. However, don’t assume all records were lost. Numerous Washington counties have dealt with a loss of records due to courthouse fires, floods, and theft.

  • Clark County Courthouse and Jail destroyed by fire on February 25, 1890. Many county records were destroyed, including probate records, Superior and District court records, and records of the Sheriff, Superintendent of Schools and Surveyor’s office. The County Auditor’s records were safe from fire.