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Washington is a public land state. The area that now comprises the state was part of the public domain and was administered by the federal government through local land offices under the direction of the General Land Office (GLO), later known as the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) at http://www.blm.gov/or/st/en.html. The first land office in Washington was established at Olympia in 1855.
The process of obtaining private title to government land is called land entry. Settlers could acquire land in several ways:
Donation land could be claimed by individuals who settled and cultivated land before 1855. The Family History Library has a register with indexes and abstracts in:
Washington Donation Land Claims 1855-1902. The National Archives. Washington [District of Columbia], 1951. (Family History Library film 418160.) This identifies each claim by name, local office, and certificate number. It can be used to locate the original file. The original files for 1851-1903 are at the National Archives and on microfilm at the National Archives—Pacific Northwest Region (Seattle) at http://www.archives.gov/pacific-alaska/seattle/ and at the Family History Library (on 108 Family History Library films beginning with film 1028543.)
The Washington State Digital Archives has an Index to the Donation Land Claims 1852-1855.
Cash entries were granted for cash payment for the land. Anyone who was twenty-one years old or was a head of household (including widows) could purchase up to 160 acres of land.
Homestead grants were obtained after 1862 by living on the land, raising crops, and making improvements for five years. To be eligible, an applicant either had to be a U.S. citizen or must have filed his intention to become a citizen.
The land entry case files are usually the most helpful records to the genealogist because they may provide names, dates of birth, date and place of marriage, citizenship information, records of migration, and other data. They are arranged according to the state, land office, type of entry, and certificate number.
The National Archives has the land entry case files. To obtain a copy of a file, you will need to provide the following information: name of the person who filed, legal description of the land, patent number, date of the patent, and land office of issuance.
The local GLO offices recorded the transactions for each section of land in tract books. They also created township plats, which are maps of land entries for each township. The original tract books and township plats are at the National Archives. Microfilm copies of the tract books and township plats are at the Family History Library and at the Oregon State Office of the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), P.O. Box 2965, 1515 S.W. 5th Avenue, Portland, OR 97208-2965, Telephone: 503-952-6287, Fax: 503-952-6333, Internet: http://www.blm.gov/or/st/en.html. Other local land office records are at the National Archives—Pacific Northwest Region (Seattle).
After the settler completed the requirements for land entry, his case file was sent to the General Land Office in Washington, D.C., where a patent (or first-title deed) was issued. Patent records contain the name of the entryman, the legal description of the land (including the acreage), the date of patent, and other information. The Oregon State Office of the BLM (address above) has the patent records.
County Land Records
After land was transferred from the government by sale or grant to private ownership, it could be sold again, inherited, lost by foreclosure of a mortgage, or distributed through a divorce. These transactions are recorded at a county courthouse in the form of deeds and mortgages. You can obtain copies of these records by writing to the county auditor. The Family History Library has not acquired copies of county land records except for Clark County.
State Land Records
Water rights applications, permits, and certificates were issued by the State Department of Ecology beginning in 1917. These records will be found at either the Department of Ecology or the Washington State Archives. The county auditor usually has copies. State land records generally provide the same kinds of information as other land records.
Washington State Department of Ecology: http://www.ecy.wa.gov/
Washington State Archives: http://www.secstate.wa.gov/archives/
Washington Research Outline. Salt Lake City, Utah: Intellectual Reserve, Inc., Family History Department, 1998, 2001.