Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Tuesday Tips

I know I was kind of intimidated by the thought of courthouse research, but it is just like most other types of research, and you need to do your homework to find out what records are at the courthouse and which office holds the records you are looking for. Now all the comments from here on will be about the Spokane County Courthouse, but should be similar to other courthouses in Washington.
There are two main record keepers in the Spokane Courthouse, the county clerk, and he has all the Superior Court records from 1880 to the present. I will tell more on that next week.
The other record keeper is the county auditor, she has all the marriage and land records from 1880 to the present. When I first started doing research for EWGS, Ray Fisher the previous researcher showed me around the courthouse. The auditor then had two very large vaults, one just west of the present auditors office, and a much larger one down the hall on the north side of the hall. The one near the auditors office had marriage records, and early birth and death records for Spokane county. The county started collecting birth and death records in 1891 and quit in 1907 when the state of Washington took over recording births and deaths. There were also some books labeled WWI discharge papers. The troops were requested to file copies of their discharge papers with the auditor. The bigger vault had land records, and storage for old furniture, and even some early coroners records. A few years ago the county needed space for a new courtroom, and the room in the southwest corner of the second floor was empty, so they remodeled it for a courtroom, and it took nearly half of the vault close to the auditors office, so all the records there were moved to the larger vault down the hall, except for the microfilms and readers and a couple of other desks. About this time the new city of Spokane Valley was incorporated and the county lost about a third of their income. While that seems harsh the county also lost about a third of the work many departments were doing previously, but neither the auditor nor the county clerk lost any work. Soon after that I got a note at the library from the auditor looking for someone to help genealogists with look ups at the auditors office. The very next Monday I was on jury duty so I stopped at the auditors office before I became a juror (again) and told them I would be willing to do those look ups. The next fun thing that happened was the Eastern Washington State Archives (includes the digital archives) at Cheney. Records from the stuffed vault at the courthouse were moved to Cheney, all that were moved had been filmed and copies in the small vault next to the auditors office. The land records had not been filmed so they stayed in the vault. The marriage records had been filmed but not the indexes, so volunteers at Cheney indexed them an that index is online at the digital archives, and today most of the marriage records are online also. My only beef with those online records is the early 1930s, they did not put the best record online, but it is in the archives and on film at the courthouse. The better marriage certificate lists the age and occupation of bride and groom, where born, and the parents and where parents born, if known, some just say unknown. The marriage certificate online is the fancy one you get at marriage with the names of the bride, groom, minister and witnesses. Later on in the 1930s they stopped doing this better marriage certificate, so what is online then is about the best you can find. I was rather shocked when I went in the vault a couple of weeks ago, the vault is nearly empty, they do still have the deed books, and some of the grantor-grantee indexes, and even the shelves they used to have are gone. The title companies were supposed to be copying the land records to digital format, so I guess they are well along doing that.
So what records are still in the auditors office? They still have all the microfilms of marriages, early births and deaths. Originals at Cheney. The deeds are there, but without the indexes they are not much help now. I have noticed land records showing up on the digital archives, so hopefully soon genealogists will not need to go to the Spokane courthouse for records, they will be online.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for this information, Charles. Since none of my ancestors lived in this area, I haven't had the need to find what records are available for Spokane County. However, I do get queries occasionally from the students in my classes. It's nice to see this written down and be able to refer people to it.



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