Land Records in Washington State

Washington State Land Records 101 - a basic overview of land records in Washington State

Donation Land Claims handout - this handout provides a list of Land Records & Resources in the Washington State Library's collection

Donation Land Claim Act 1850 (Oregon & Washington Territory)

Donation Land Claim Entry Files

Homestead Act 1862

Homestead Land Entry Files

Homesteads - Current Washington State Law

Land Surveys, Field Notes & Plats

Land Descriptions (township, range etc.)

Non-Federal Land Records

*Check out our Genealogy Web Resources page for Washington State
genealogy & land records web sites

Washington Land Records 101

Early Washington State (Washington Territory until 1889) land records are largely federal records.  They fall into three general categories;

To find out which category your ancestor falls into, search the Land Patents database on the Bureau of Land Management's web site.

There are very few records for cash sales.  The donation land claims and homestead records are much more informative because the applicants had to file paperwork with the federal government to prove that they had met the qualifications and should be given the land.

The National Archives has a useful overview of the land records & resources in its collection.

If you do not find you ancestor in the federal records, it is possible that their records will be non-federal land records.


Donation Land Claim Act 1850 (Oregon & Washington Territory)

A Federal Land Grant entitled applicants to free land in Oregon and Washington Territory providing they settled in the Territories between 1850 and 1853, resided on the land, and cultivated it for 4 consecutive years. 

Married women were also entitled to an additional share of the land in their own names.
The Act was extended in 1853. From 1853-1855 land in Washington and Oregon Territories was no longer offered for free; settlers had to pay $1.25 per acre, were limited to 320 acres, but the residence requirement was reduced to two years.

Donation Land Claim Act (full text)


Donation Land Claim Entry Files

Donation land entry files contain all the paperwork generated between the federal governement and the applicant, as the applicant tried to prove that they had met the qualifications, and should be given the land.

They often include an applicant’s

  • birth place
  • former residence
  • marriage information
  • wife’s full name
  • names of any living children (future heirs)
  • description of the land

To see if your ancestor filed a Donation Land Claim, search the Land Patents database on the Bureau of Land Management's web site.

The State Library has a print surname index to the Washington entry files.

The State Library has the Washington State land entry files on microfilm.

The entry files do not include the land surveys, field notes & plats created by government surveyors.


Homestead Act 1862

Another Federal land grant program similar to the Donation Act, but not unique to Washington Territory.

This program required residence and improvement for 5 years plus a registration fee.

The land could also be purchased from the government after 6 months for $1.25 per acre.

History of the Homestead Act

Homestead Act (full text)


Homestead Land Entry Files

The Homestead land entry files contain information similar to to what can be found in the Donation Land Claim entry files.

To see if your ancestor purchased Homestead Land, search the Land Patents database on the Bureau of Land Management's web site.

The State Library does NOT have Homestead land entry files.

Homestead land entry files can be ordered from the National Archives in Washington, D.C.

Homestead Field Notes



Homesteads - Current Washington State Law

The complete state law on Homesteads (RCW 6.13) can be read on the State Legislature web site.

The Washington State Attorney General has put an opinion up on their web site that covers the following questions.

1.  A recorded declaration that a property owner holds real estate in "allodial freehold" is ineffective to exempt the real estate from property taxes levied under state law.

2.  A declaration of homestead filed on real estate pursuant to chapter 6.13 RCW does not prevent the foreclosure and sale of real estate for unpaid property taxes, as property taxes are not "debts of the owner" and thus are not rendered exempt from execution by RCW 6.13.070.



Land Surveys, Field Notes & Plats

The Land Surveys and accompanying Field Notes describe the land, and do not generally provide any personal information about the land owner(s).

They were created while the surveyor(s) were on the site.  The end result of all the surveying and note taking is a Plat, which is a carefully drawn "map" of the survey results.  Plats and surveys are sometimes referred to interchangeably.

The Bureau of Land Management outlines what the surveys, field notes and plats consisted of, and how to search for them on their web site.

The State Library has the Field notes and Plats for Washington Territory & State on microfilm.  They are not well indexed and somewhat difficult to use.

However, the Bureau of Land Management has put the Surveys, Field Notes, and Plats online at .


Homestead Land Surveys, Field Notes and Plats

A small subset of the surveys, field notes & plats collection are the ones used for Washington Homestead applications.

The State Library has the H.E.S. (Homestead Entry Surveys) Field Notes on microfilm.  It includes a name index.

These are also searchable online, by location, at

If you want to search by name, go to the Land Patents Search page, and select surveys under the document type heading on the left side of the page.


Land Descriptions

The land descripton consists of township, range and section numbers.  You might need these to search the federal databases.   It is also called the Rectangular survey system, or the Public Land survey system.


Non-Federal Land Records

Non-federal land records for Washington State consist of items such as deeds, patents and assessments.  They were filed at the county level.  If they survived, they are generally located at the Washington State Archives.  You will need to contact the regional branch representing the appropriate county

The Washington State Archives has begun to put some of their records, including land records online. They are available on the Washington State Digital Archives web site.