Washington Church Records

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Washington Wiki Topics
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Beginning Research
Record Types
Washington Background
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Local Research Resources
Moderator
The FamilySearch moderator for Washington is AdkinsWH

Historical Background[edit | edit source]

Before 1900 the largest religious groups in Washington were the Baptist, Roman Catholic, Methodist Episcopal, and Presbyterian churches.[1]
Catholic and Protestant faiths were in Washington State from its earliest days. The Methodist Episcopal Church was the first Protestant group to organize a local church east of the Cascades. Methodism arrived in Vancouver in 1848 and in Olympia and Seattle in 1853. The Roman Catholic Church is one of the oldest denominations in the state and remains today one of its largest. The Presbyterian faith arrived in Oregon Territory in 1838. Missionaries from the Utah-based Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints were sent to the Pacific Northwest as early as 1850, although missionary efforts did not begin seriously until the 1880s and 1890s. The church has emerged today as one of the largest denominations in the state. Also, missionaries from the Missouri-based Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (Community of Christ) arrived in Washington State in the nineteenth century. Seventh-day Adventists arrived in Washington Territory in the 1860s, with a strong presence in the state today. The Episcopal/Anglican faith arrived in Washington in 1851 at Cathlamet as a mission outreach from Portland. The Lutheran faith arrived in Washington as the result of migration by Scandinavians to the Puget Sound area.[2]

Information Found in the Records[edit | edit source]

To effectively use church records, become familiar with their content. Click on these links to learn about a specific record type:

Finding the Records[edit | edit source]

Look for online records.[edit | edit source]

Ancestry.com, FindMyPast.com, and MyHeritage.com can be searched free of charge at your local family history center or the Family History Library in Salt Lake City, Utah.

Caution sign.png

Online databases are incomplete. This can lead to two common errors:

  1. Near matches: Researchers might mistakenly accept an entry very similar to their ancestor, thinking it is the only one available. Only use information that matches your ancestor in date, place, relationships, and other details.
  2. Stopping research: Researchers might assume the database proves church records do not exist. Actually the record is still out there, just not in this incomplete collection of records. Keep searching!

FamilySearch[edit | edit source]

Dutch Reformed[edit | edit source]

Lutheran[edit | edit source]

Presbyterian[edit | edit source]


Other Collections[edit | edit source]

Look for digital copies of church records in the FamilySearch Catalog.[edit | edit source]

Family History Library
Salt Lake City, Utah
  • The Family History Library (FHL) has a substantial collection of original church records and transcripts on microfilm for churches in the United States.
  • Online church records can be listed in the FamilySearch Catalog under the state, county, or town.
  • If you find a record that has not yet been digitized, see How do I request that a microfilm be digitized?
  • Some records might have viewing restrictions, and can only be viewed at a Family History Center near you, and/or by members of supporting organizations.
  • To find records:
a. Click on the records of United States, Washington.
b. Click on Places within United States, Washington and a list of counties will appear.
c. Click on your county if it appears.
d. Click on the "Church records" topic. Click on the blue links to specific record titles.
e. Click on Places within United States, Washington [COUNTY] and a list of towns will appear.
f. Click on your town if it appears, or the location which you believe was the parish which served your town or village.
g. Click on the "Church records" topic. Click on the blue links to specific record titles.
h. Some combination of these icons will appear at the far right of the listing for the record. FHL icons.png. The magnifying glass indicates that the record is indexed. Clicking on the magnifying glass will take you to the index. Clicking on the camera will take you to an online digital copy of the records.

Consult available finding aids.[edit | edit source]

These aids generally provide lists of records that are known to exist and information on their location.


Correspond with or visit the actual churches.[edit | edit source]

Some records are still held in the local churches. Contact the current minister to find out what records are still available.

  • Make an appointment to look at the records. Or ask the minister of the church to make a copy of the record for you.
  • To find church staff available, you might have to visit on Sunday.
  • Ask for small searches at a time, such as one birth record or a specific marriage. Never ask for "everything on a family or surname".
  • A donation ($25-$40) for their time and effort to help you would be appropriate.
  • If the church has a website, you may be able to e-mail a message.
  • See the Letter Writing Guide for Genealogy for help with composing letters.
  • Each denomination page offers an online address directory of local churches for that denomination.

Check the church records collections in archives and libraries.[edit | edit source]

Some church records have been deposited for preservation in government archives or in libraries. Watch for links to digitized, online records offered by the archives. Some archives provide research services for a fee. For others, if you cannot visit in person, you might hire a researcher.

Here you will find archive information unique to the state. Many more archives are kept by denomination. For denominational archives, go to Searching for Church Records by Denomination.



Lutheran[edit | edit source]

ELCA Region 1 Archives
Archives and Special Collections
Mortvedt Library
Pacific Lutheran University
Tacoma, WA 98447

(253) 535-7586
E-mail: archives@plu.edu

  • Archives hold records for closed churches. For open churches write directly to the local church.

Roman Catholic[edit | edit source]

Archdiocese of Seattle
Chancery Office
910 Marion Street
Seattle, WA 98104
Phone: (206) 382-4560
Fax: (206) 382-4840

The archdiocese includes the counties of: Clallam, Clark, Cowlitz, Grays Harbor, Island, Jefferson, King, Lewis, Mason, Pacific, Pierce, San Juan, Skagit, Skamania, Snohomish, Thurston, Wahkiakum and Whatcom.[3]


Diocese of Spokane
P.O. Box 1453
1023 W. Riverside Ave.
Spokane, WA 99210-1453
Phone:(509) 358-7336

The holdings of the Archives include parish histories, records and artifacts of parishes, sacramental records, and early parish sacramental books. The archive is open to researchers. Appointments are necessary to assure that schedules enable the archivist to be available for assistance.

The diocese includes the counties of: Adams, Asotin, Columbia, Ferry, Franklin, Garfield, Lincoln, Okanogan, Pend Oreille, Stevens, Spokane, Walla Walla and Whitman.[3]


Diocese of Yakima
5301-A Tieton Drive
Yakima, WA 98908-3493
Phone: (509) 965-7117

The diocese includes the counties of: Benton, Chelan, Douglas, Grant, Kittitas, Klickitat and Yakima.[3]

Correspond with genealogical or historical societies.[edit | edit source]

Some church records have been given to historical societies. Also, historical societies may be able to tell you where the records are being held. To find a society near you, consult these lists:

Next, go to the Wiki article for your ancestors' denomination.[edit | edit source]

There are frequently additional, nationwide or regional archives and online collections for each denomination. Find the article for your ancestors' denomination and follow the instructions there to access these sources.

Wiki Articles for Records of Major Religious Denominations



Carefully compare any record you find to known facts about the ancestor[edit | edit source]

You will possibly find many different people with the same name as your ancestor, especially when a family stayed in a locality for several generations, and several children were named after the grandparents or aunts and uncles. Be prepared to find the correct church records by organizing in advance as many of these exact details about the ancestor as possible:

  • name, including middle name and maiden name
  • names of all spouses, including middle and maiden name
  • exact or closely estimated dates of birth, marriage, and death
  • names and approximate birthdates of children
  • all known places of residence
  • occupations
  • military service details


Dark thin font green pin Version 4.pngCarefully evaluate the church records you find to make sure you have really found records for your ancestor and not just a "near match". If one or more of the details do not line up, be careful about accepting the entry as your ancestor. There are guiding principles for deciding how to resolve discrepancies between records that are seemingly close. For more instruction in evaluating evidence, read the Wiki article, Evaluate the Evidence.

References[edit | edit source]

  1. Sydney E. Ahlstrom, A Religious History of the American People (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1972). FHL Book 973 K2ah.
  2. Dwight A. Radford for Red Book: American State, County, and Town Sources.
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 Map of the Roman Catholic Dioceses in the United States of America, Office of Catholic Schools Diocese of Columbus, accessed 3 Nov 2010.