Researching Your Family Through Land RecordsThe King County Archives maintains several types of historical property records that can be useful to family history researchers. Generally, these records document real estate that was owned, sold or purchased by an individual. This information can be especially helpful in documenting the times and places that your ancestors may have lived within King County.
The best way to start researching your family's real estate ownership is by locating deeds (instrument by which real estate is bought, sold or transferred) and other recorded documents.1) To locate a deed or other recording, you must have a volume and page number that can be found by using name indexes:
Name indexing to recordings is provided through the General Recordings Index. This index (also known as grantor-grantee index and direct-inverted index) tracks instruments related to ownership of and access to real property and other recordings. Recordings indexed include deeds, mortgages, conditional sales contracts, chattel mortgages, lis pendens, liens and easements. Direct indices index each instrument by the name of the grantor (party selling or conveying). Inverted indices index instruments by the name of the grantee (party buying or receiving). Within each volume/reel, entries are alphabetical by the first three letters of the last name and then chronological. Index entries include the date of the record, the names of eachparty, the type of record, the volume and page of the recording and remarks.
Indexes from 1853 to 1975 are on microfilm and can be researched in person at:
King County Archives in Seattle (1853-1975)
Puget Sound [state] Regional Archives (external link) in Bellevue (1853-1971)
Index from 1976 to present is a computer database that is available for searching online on the King County Recorder's Office website.
2) Once you have located a recording type and volume and page number, you can access a copy of the recording at the King County Archives.
The King County Archives also maintains a variety of other records (in addition to deeds) that can be used to track a family's real estate ownership:
- Donation Land Claims Index and Maps (1861-1882)
Under the Oregon Donation Land Claims Act of 1850, Congress allowed 320 acres of land in Western territories to be claimed by a single person and 640 acres by a married couple. The claimants received final title to their land when they had lived on it for four years and made certain improvements, or when they purchased their land in lieu of fulfilling residency requirements. Records include a name index to Donation Land Claim owners, as well as legal descriptions and maps of land claims.
- Land Office Correspondence (1879-1887)
This series includes correspondence between the Clerk of the Territorial District Court in Seattle and the U.S. Land Office in Olympia. Usually, the correspondence pertains to incomplete homestead applications. Most of these applicants were instructed to provide signatures, proofs of naturalization, fees or other application requirements. Some letters from homesteaders to the Land Office are included. The correspondence generally includes information such as the names of the land owners, the date their land was settled or a legal description of the property. Other valuable information is sometimes included including a description of the family (spouse and number of children), occupation(s) of land owners, land improvements and/or building descriptions. Although this series dates from 1879, most of the correspondence is from 1884-1887.
Land Registration [Torrens Title Act records]
- Registered land general index, 1907-1987
Index of persons holding interest in or charges against land registered under the Torrens Title Act, arranged alphabetically, name of registered owner, date of filing, type of instrument filed (such as deed, mortgage or mortgage satisfaction), citation to registered title, and description of land.
- Registered land tract index, 1907-1991
Index to land registered under the Torrens Title Act, arranged by plat name for platted areas of the county and by section, township and range for unplatted land. Data for each entry include name of owner, citation to land register, and description.
- Registered land: duplicate certificate of title register, 1907-1951
Index to land registered under the Torrens Title Act. Entries are arranged chronologically under the first letter of the certificate holder's surname, and include date of certificate issue, reference to volume and page of land register and certificate numbers, title file number and legal description of property with notations for payment or cancellation.
- Registered land filings, c. 1930-1971
Microfilm. Arranged by Auditor's filing number.
Property Values and Tax Rolls
Historical King county property tax rolls are held at the Puget Sound [state] Regional Archives. Please contact the Regional Archives for inforamtion about the following records:
- Real Property Assessment and Tax Rolls 1862-1941
These records show the fee owner, the legal description of the property, the tax assessment, a record of payment, and who paid the taxes. Holdings are incomplete for the period 1862-1899. The volume for 1891 is held by the King County Archives. For the period 1900-1941, the series includes every fifth year, ending in 1935 and 1941. This series is indexed (1891-1974) by the Index to the Real Property Assessment and Tax Rolls for King County. Index entries are organized alphabetically by name of addition, town, or donation claim and list volume and page number.
- Property Record Cards, 1937-1972
This series provides a cumulative history describing each parcel of real property in King County, including legal description of property, building use, number of rooms, some construction details, and, for improved property, at least one photograph. Property record cards are accessed by tax parcel number or brief legal description (subdivision, block and lot). Tax parcel numbers can be obtained by calling the King County Assessor's office at 206/296-7300, or through the online Tax Parcel Viewer.
- Real Property Assessment and Tax Rolls, 1974-1998
This series provides information on the amount of property taxes assessed on real property in King County. These microfiche records show the fee owner, the legal description of the property, the levy rate, the tax assessed, and the receipt date for payments. Arranged by year and by tax parcel number within each year.
- The Puget Sound [state] Regional Archives holds additional King County records related to tax assessments. Please contact the Regional Archives (external link) for information about the following records:
- Personal property assessment and tax rolls, 1891-1958
- Recapitulation of tax rolls, 1894
- Lake Washington canal assessment rolls, 1908
- Railroad real property assessment and tax rolls, 1913-1950
- Real property exempt from taxation rolls, 1936
Property Tax Payments and Adjustments
Property Acquisition Records
- Road Deeds Log (1905-1909)
This volume appears to be a ledger kept for the purpose of documenting King County's acquisition of property, by deed or condemnation, for road rights-of-way during the time period. Individual entries were made for each road. Record information usually includes road name, width, and a short description of the road. Also present may be road number ("R#") or survey number ("S#"); essential dates (of road examination, survey, completion); and other handwritten notes. A second section details information about property owners: section-township-range coordinates of property, part of section affected, owner name, owner address or whereabouts, property price, acreage, and other remarks. Remarks usually state the date the property deed was received or recorded by King County. Also noted may be the status of the property acquisition, problems with individual owners, efforts to locate owners, condemnation activities, and the ultimate status of the road. Arrangement of the volume is roughly chronological. An alphabetical index to road names is present but there is no owner name index.
- Georgetown property owners (1955)