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Washington Counties and Historical Facts

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.

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. See also a list of links to county and county seat government run websites.

List of Washington Counties

County Date Formed Parent County County Seat
Adams 1883 Whitman County Ritzville
Asotin 1883 Garfield County Asotin
Benton 1905 Yakima and Klickitat Counties Prosser
Chelan 1899 Okanogan and Kittitas Counties Wenatchee
Clallam 1854 Jefferson County Port Angeles
Clark 1849 Original county Vancouver
Columbia 1875 Walla Walla County Dayton
Cowlitz 1854 Original county Kelso
Douglas 1883 Lincoln County Waterville
Ferry 1899 Stevens County Republic
Franklin 1883 Whitman County Pasco
Garfield 1881 Columbia County Pomeroy
Grant 1909 Douglas County Ephrata
Grays Harbor 1915 Thurston County Montesano
Island 1853 Thurston County Coupeville
Jefferson 1852 Thurston County Port Townsend
King 1852 Thurston County Seattle
Kitsap 1857 King and Jefferson Counties Port Orchard
Kittitas 1883 Yakima County Ellensburg
Klickitat 1859 Walla Walla County Goldendale
Lewis 1845 Original county Chehalis
Lincoln 1883 Whitman County Davenport
Mason 1854 King County Shelton
Okanogan 1888 Stevens County Okanogan
Pacific 1851 Lewis County South Bend
Pend Oreille 1911 Stevens County Newport
Pierce 1852 Thurston County Tacoma
San Juan 1873 Whatcom County Friday Harbor
Skagit 1883 Whatcom County Mount Vernon
Skamania 1854 Clark County Stevenson
Snohomish 1861 Island County Everett
Spokane 1858 Stevens County Spokane
Stevens 1863 Walla Walla County Colville
Thurston 1852 Lewis County Olympia
Wahkiakum 1854 Cowlitz County Cathlamet
Walla Walla 1854 Skamania County Walla Walla
Whatcom 1854 Island County Bellingham
Whitman 1871 Stevens County Colfax
Yakima 1865 Ferguson County (defunct) Yakima

List of 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


List of 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.