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Pacific Northwest Genealogy

A brief introduction to researching ancestors in the Pacific Northwest.


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Type: Article
Resource: GenWeekly
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Word Count: 446 (approx.)
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Pacific NorthWest history, like the history of many western states is one of a much shorter timeline for ancestral research. While the namesake of Washington State, George Washington, was heroically fighting for the nation's independence, the first record of Europeans trading with local Indians occurred in the Northwest. The word "Oregon" did not even appear in print until 1779, and the first white woman setting foot in Washington was not until 1787.

Other than Lewis and Clark reaching the Columbia River in 1805, there were no vacationers or visitors to be impressed at the grandeur of Mount Rainer or the beautiful green carpet of firs covering the pristine Puget Sound. And other than a few wayward sailors gawking from aboard ship at the impenetrable curtain of shoreline, the first fort was not raised until 1811 in Astoria.

The family researcher does not have to begin tramping through Northwest records until after 1841, when Americans, who were now part of a sixty-five year-old nation first began trickling into the area. One reason for the delay is that it was not until 1848, when Mexico gave up its claim of the territory north of the Rio Grande river. It allowed the United States to have undisputed title of everything between the Rio Grande River and the 49th parallel to the north. The states of the Northwest that we know of today did not even try to split until 1855, and only then did the influx of pioneers begin to strain the resources of a weak and local government.

A majority of our ancestors did not make a big impact in the state of Washington until the boom years between 1861 to 1870. And it wasn't until the city of Ellensburg, a contestant for being the state capital, burned to the ground in July of 1889 did Olympia, Washington start to quarry stone for its first seat of bureaucracy.

A good resource for a good historical outline of Washington State can be found at: This website is a good place to start your quest for ancestors who eventually settled in the evergreen state. Of particular note is the link to Historical Maps, Searching State Archives and the State Library catalog.}] and [[ have lists of links to important Washington State resources such as vital records and historical societies around the state.

Just about every major city and every county will have its own genealogical or historical society with pertinent data on information about the people who had migrated to their respectful areas. They are often kind, hardworking volunteers who have experience in family histories and can direct you to where you can find data about your family history.

Source Information: GenWeekly, New Providence, NJ, USA: Genealogy Today LLC, 2010.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Genealogy Today LLC.

*Effective May 2010, GenWeekly articles that are more than five years old no longer require a subscription for full access.

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