Looking for Local History: Washington State Digital Archives

The Washington State Digital Archives are my favorite free online resource. You can access a broad range of records there, and many of them include an image of the record in question. And did I mention that they are free?

A word of warning: the search is literal, and names are not transcribed with 100% accuracy. Just because you can’t find someone on the first try, that doesn’t mean they aren’t there. Try entering just the first letters of the name you’re looking for, and then browsing through the results for a likely match. This works for both first and last names. You can adjust the date range on many searches, also.

Marriage record of Jacob Jones, Sr. and Mary Anderson

Records available via the Washington State Digital Archives (WSDA) include:

1. Marriage records. When we are cataloging photographs with the inevitable notation, “Mr. and Mrs. Frank Franklin,” it’s so nice to be able to go to WSDA, track down their marriage record, and find out that, yes, Mrs. Frank Franklin also had her very own name. There records are also very helpful when we’re trying to figure out how various cousins, aunts and uncles are related, or when trying to unravel the order of multiple marriages. You might also learn something new about whoever you’re researching by noting who witnessed the wedding (“stood up for” was how the newspapers often put it), or where the couple was married. In the example at left, George W. Tibbetts, acting as Justice of the Peace, married Jacob Jones, Sr. and Mary Anderson.  The witness “R.A.Tibbetts” was Rebecca Tibbetts, George’s wife. (For more about the Jones family, see this post).

2. Birth records. These handwritten records exist only for the period prior to 1908, when recording births became a function of the counties rather than the state. In the example at below (click to view at larger size), you can see that a child was born to Mary Albasini and Peter Pedrignana in March 1894. The baby girl was born in Gilman (which became Issaquah five years later). The age of both parents and their birthplaces are  listed, as is the father’s occupation (coal miner, in this case). In the next to last column is the name of the person who delivered the baby. In the case of Baby Girl Pedrignana, Dr. W.E. Gibson was on hand for the delivery. Doc Gibson attended the birth of hundreds, possibly thousands, of Issaquah babies over the course of his 50+ year career in Issaquah. Baby Girl Pedrignana grew up to become Eugenia L. Pedegana, her parents having simplified their last name within a few years of her birth.

One tip – when you’re looking for a birth record, search for the name of the father or the mother (or both). Most babies were not named at the time their birth was registered, but parent names have been indexed.

Third line from the bottom: child born in Gilman

3. Death records. There are two kinds of death records listed: those from the Social Security Death Index (which include birth and death date) and Washington State death records (which includes parent names, spouse names, age, date of death, and place of death). As with birth records, indexing is fallible so experiment with various name spellings before you give up.
4. Frontier Justice. This collection of records references court cases held in Washington Territory. Most of the cases deal with things like collection of debt, conveyance of deed, and the occasional divorce, but they often raise interesting questions (for example, were holiday meals impacted when Pete Reppe took his cousins to court for failure to pay his wages?).  Documents from individual cases are not available, but the information you’ll need to find the files is. 
5. There are a number of places to access free census records. The WSDA is one of these. Although other sites might have snazzier searches available for the census, it’s nice to be able to search Washington State records and the census records at the same times.
6. Many others. Browse around and you’ll find incorporation papers, naturalization paperwork, and military registration forms. 
Do you have any state archives discoveries you’d like to share? Tell us about them!