Family Atlas: The State of Washington

Family Atlas
A monthly column by Jen Baldwin

Flowers at Pike Place © Jennifer Baldwin 2012. Used with permission.



June in the Pacific Northwest… residents are looking forward to more than two days in a row of sunshine, exploding colors in the Pike Place Market in downtown Seattle, the wheat swaying in a gentle summer breeze to the east, and concerts along the river at The Gorge. You guessed it; we’ve turned the Atlas page to Washington.


It would be some kind of a crime to do an article about the State of Washington and not include the Washington State Digital Archives. The first state to develop an online historical archive system, Washington’s site is an absolute must for any genealogist with even a hint of activity in the Evergreen State. The site is a continuous work in progress, and has a variety of resources; many of them include images. You can choose to purchase a certified copy of records you find, or download from the site directly. Of the many features of the site, do not miss the News RSS feed on the homepage. You can also download a “Digital Archives Screen Saver.” If you are an Eastern Washington University (EWU) alum, you can be sure that the facility built on campus specifically to house this collection and the technology interfaced with it, is something to be proud of. You can also keep current on their activity on Twitter. Specific to those searching for genealogically relevant information, read through their “Genealogy Resources” tab first, to get an overview of the system. They have information and links for both the Archives site and the Washington State Library.


The Library has a lot to offer, also. Remember to utilize the obituary look up service when your research travels take you to a Washington cemetery. Although they do not have an index, if you provide some standard information, they will conduct a search on your behalf. (Note, it can take up to six weeks, but for a free service, who can complain?) Bottom line: start your search on the state sites.


Newspapers, as we all know, are full of rich and descriptive stories of our ancestors. The Washington Online Historical Newspapers site offers a list of newspapers available online, the areas they covered, fees that are applied for access and links. Some are current, some are historic; but all are useful in one way or another. A more unique look at newspapers can be found at the Labor Press Project, which covers “Pacific Northwest Labor and Radical Newspapers.” Giving a brief review of the paper, the timeframe and topics covered, the site is full of dynamic titles; “Timber Worker”, “Third Rail”, and “Pacific Longshoreman” to name a few.


When most people hear “Washington”, they either think of DC, Seattle or lattes. Commonly overlooked, the “Inland Empire” east of the Cascade Mountains is a historical treasure chest. Small communities, the kind where you can sit at the local diner’s bar and strike up a conversation about an ancestor, and the person next to you says, “I remember where the old Smith cabin is…” and then offers to take you there; those are still very much alive. The Eastern Washington Genealogical Society is a tremendous starting point, with many active members willing to help you along the way. Museums can be found all over the map, including the Cheney Historical Museum, the Dayton Historic Depot located at the oldest surviving train depot in the state, and the Keller Heritage Museum and Park in Colville. Online resources include the Eastern Washington University Libraries Digital Collections, and “The Free Online Encyclopedia of Washington State History,” found at For the tech lovers, be sure to read “Northwest History; Explorations in digital history in the Pacific Northwest – and beyond,” a blog by Larry Cebula, a Public Historian at EWU and Assistant Digital Archivist at the Washington State Digital Archives (link above). His 23 Apr 2012 entry announces and details the “Spokane Historical” smartphone app. The program includes walking tours with about 60 historic sites in the area, with many more under development.


Leavenworth, Washington Creative Commons: Cascadia Kids


So many genealogists make their home in this area… well-known Footnote Maven, Marjorie Brant Osterhout, owner of Storybook Genealogy (see our Featured Genealogist Column in this month’s issue!), and Miriam Robbins of AnceStories: The Stories of My Ancestors. And Charles Hansen. As the researcher for the Eastern Washington Genealogical Society, he currently authors two blogs; one for himself, Mikkel’s Hus, and Early Spokane Obits and More, and co-authors one for the society, Eastern Washington Genealogical Society Blog, along with Miriam Roberts and Donna Phillips (EWGS President). Although all three are filled with fantastic photos and tidbits from both his regional and personal research, the format and simple goal of “Early Obits” was especially appealing. It is an easy way to find obituaries, especially from the late 1800’s, from the greater Spokane area. Mr. Hansen includes short, personal stories, articles that feature lists of names and other notes of interest, and all posts include digital copies of the newspapers from which the information came.


So grab yourself a Washington apple (or a Walla Walla onion if you prefer), and sit down for some seriously intriguing insights into the history of this Pacific coast state.


Your genealogy adventure continues next month as we venture into the northeast corner of the country.




Jen Baldwin is the author of The Family Atlas, a monthly column in The In-Depth Genealogist which shares the wonderful resources that can be found in states across the US. She can also be found blogging at Ancestral Breezes.



© Jen Baldwin (Ancestral Journeys) 2012

This article originally appeared in the July issue of The In-Depth Genealogist. Receive The In-Depth Genealogist free by subscribing HERE.

Read more articles from this edition of The In-Depth Genealogist