Washington Land Records
This entry was originally written by Dwight A. Radford for Red Book: American State, County, and Town Sources.
Washington is a Public-Domain State.
Washington was settled through the donation and other land grant acts used by the federal government to attract settlers to sparsely populated regions and to distribute the land fairly to the settlers.
The federal government donated 320 acres of free land to each single man and 640 acres to each married couple who settled in Oregon Territory (including present-day Washington) by 1 December 1850. The terms of the donation stipulated that the settler would homestead for four years. In 1853 the residency was reduced to two years. In 1854 Congress passed another act providing the same donation land grants in Washington Territory.
Donation entry files for Oregon and Washington are on file separately at the National Archives—Pacific Alaska Region in Seattle from 1851 to 1903. A large portion of the donation land claim files have been indexed or abstracted, and these indexes are on file at either the National Archives or the FHL under the title Abstracts of Washington Donation Land Claims, 1855–1902 (National Archives, 1951). The Seattle Genealogical Society (see Archives, Libraries, and Societies) has indexed and published the Washington Donation Land Records. The major Washington libraries have microfilm copies of the Washington Donation Land Records.
Donation land grants can be of great genealogical value because they provide not only a description of the property, but also the name of the person entering the land, place of residence at the time of notification, citizenship, the date and place of birth, marital status, wife’s maiden name (where appropriate), and the place and date of marriage.
Other land entries in Washington were based on either cash payment for the land (cash entries), or on conditions of settlement (homesteads) through land districts. These districts and the dates they opened were as follows: Olympia (1854), Vancouver (1860/1), Walla Walla (1871), Colfax (1876), Yakima (1880), Spokane Falls (1883), North Yakima (1885), Seattle (1887), New Olympia (1890), and Waterville (1890). To be eligible for these entries an individual had to be at least twenty-one years of age or the head of a household (including widows) and a U.S. citizen or having filed intentions to become a citizen. Cash entries could purchase any available tract up to 160 acres. After the National Homestead Act was passed in 1862, anyone meeting the eligibility requirements could purchase up to 160 acres by living on the land for five years, raising crops, and making improvements. These records were kept by the local General Land Office, which is the modern day Bureau of Land Management (BLM). The land office’s records were kept in tract books that recorded land transactions by section and township. These records are now at the Federal Bureau of Land Management, 333 SW 1st Ave., Portland, OR 97204 (mailing address: P.O. Box 2965, Portland, OR 97208). The BLM website has indexes to the lands that went to patent.
Once land was transferred from the government to private persons, it could be sold again, lost by foreclosure of a mortgage, or distributed through death or divorce. Transactions were recorded by the county auditor in the form of a deed or mortgage and can be obtained by contacting the local county courthouse or regional branch of the Washington State Archives.