Select Page

… records become accessible

The topic here at The Legal Genealogist recently has been the organization of counties.

They didn’t spring into being by themselves, of course — they were established generally by acts of the legislature of the state, territory or colony where they were located — and then the hard work of setting things up began.

We’ve talked here about counties that needed more time to get going and so were attached to a neighboring county for government functions for a while.1 And then we talked about county lines and where to find them, along with citations to those so-important statutes that created or changed the counties.2

Now… you wanna see one actually begin?

You can.

Right here:

County organization

“In pursuance of an Act of the Legislative Assembly of the Territory of Washington passed January 17th 1860… The County of Spokane was organized and the following named persons were respectively sworn into office…”3

Pretty cool, huh?

That’s the work of a citizen-archivist. Her name is Susan Richart, and she’s spent years photographing and abstracting those records.

It’s because of Sue that you can see that record, right now, online at the Digital Archives collections of the Washington State Archives, in a set called Stevens County Board of Commissioners, Meetings, 1860-1913.4

Now if you’re a little confused because the record says Spokane County and the record set is called Stevens, that’s okay. Because the county has a confused history. Spokane County was created in 1858 but not organized until it was redefined and fully organized by the act referred to here. But that Spokane County was eliminated and all its territory shifted to Stevens County in 1864.5

And from the organization of that now-extinct county in 1860 to the payment of a bill for $94.65 for chairs for the courthouse in 1913, all of those minutes are online.

Efforts like this, by one committed individual, make all the difference in the world for us as researchers. Aggregated into a website like the Digital Archives collections of the Washington State Archives, they are simply amazing.

Take a look at just a little bit of what you can find there:

• A collection called “Frontier Justice: Guide to the Court Records of Washington Territory” : “a name index and abstract of the more than 38,000 district court cases heard in Washington Territory (1853-1889). The database includes court actions arising from innumerable causes and tried as civil, criminal, probate, admiralty, and equity cases. The names in the index often reveal a “who’s who” of Washington Territory, but in a greater sense the abstract sheds light on the affairs, disputes, settlements, crimes, and forms of justice that touched nearly every inhabitant of territorial Washington. This database is the result of a project funded by the National Historical Publications and Records Commission (NHPRC) and carried out by the Washington State Archives beginning in 1984. The intent of the project was to inventory, index, and abstract the court records of Washington Territory and to ensure their preservation by microfilming and proper storage. The original guide was published in 1987, and although the original database was tragically lost, the entire index and abstract was re-keyed into a new database between 2002 and 2004.”6

• A collection called “Oaths of Office, 1854-2015” : “These records include oaths of office for elected officials taken from 1854-2015. These records were filed with the Office of the Secretary of State, which is constitutionally responsible to “Receive and file all the official bonds of officers required to be filed with the secretary of state” (RCW 43.07.030). Images of the majority of documents are available to view. This is an ongoing digitization project, and images will continue to be added.”7

• The Skagit County Superior Court Case Files, 1900-Present: “These records include the official documentation of all types of cases filed in Skagit County Superior Court (1900-present), including civil, criminal, divorce and probate. Public access to proceedings involving adoptions, dependency, and mental competency is restricted, and those files are not available online. Requests for adoption, dependency, and mental competency case files should be directed to the Office of the Skagit County Clerk. Each case file contains documents filed by both parties and the presiding judge, including awards, complaints, decrees, depositions, orders, pleadings, sentences, and verdicts. Cases are titled and ordered numerically according to the dates that cases are initiated.”8

• The King County Recorder, Plats and Surveys, 1870-Present: “These records include images and indexes of plats and surveys recorded with the King County Recorder from 1870 to present. The King County Recorder transfers recently recorded documents periodically. Please note the current year may not be complete.”9

And a whole bunch of those oh-so-genealogically-useful county commissioner and city council minutes. From the Anacortes City Council for 1891-2005.10 The Yakima City Council for 1886-2008.11 And, yes, because of one committed citizen-archivist, the Stevens County Board of Commissioners for 1860-1913 12

What have you done, as a citizen-archivist, to preserve, protect and help make access available for the records you use?

How much more could we all do… ?

Hats off to Sue Richart. May she inspire us all…


  1. Judy G. Russell, “Reprise: Organizing the counties,” The Legal Genealogist, posted 2 Feb 2018 ( : accessed 5 Feb 2018).
  2. Ibid., “Finding those county line changes,” posted 5 Feb 2018.
  3. Minutes, 7 May 1860, Stevens County Board of Commissioners, Meetings, 1860-1913, Washington State Archives, Digital Archives ( : accessed 6 Feb 2018).
  4. Stevens County Board of Commissioners, Meetings, 1860-1913, Washington State Archives, Digital Archives ( : accessed 6 Feb 2018).
  5. Washington: Individual County Chronologies,” Atlas of Historical County Boundaries, The Newberry Library ( : accessed 6 Feb 2018).
  6. Frontier Justice: Guide to the Court Records of Washington Territory, Washington State Archives, Digital Archives ( : accessed 6 Feb 2018).
  7. Ibid., Oaths of Office, 1854-2015.
  8. Ibid., Skagit County Superior Court Case Files, 1900-Present.
  9. Ibid., King County Recorder, Plats and Surveys, 1870-Present.
  10. Ibid., Anacortes City Council, Minutes, 1891-2005.
  11. Ibid., Yakima City Council, Minutes, 1886-2008.
  12. Ibid., Stevens County Board of Commissioners, Meetings, 1860-1913.
Print Friendly, PDF & Email