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Probate in Pierce County

From: Suella Postles
How do I go about getting probate material for my grandparents who lived in Pierce County [Washington], please? I think one died in Steillacombe (spelling?) the other in a Tacoma nursing home. Many thanks for your help and advice. Suella in England.

Ol' Myrt here has a few pointers for you. Since you live in England, you can't just go visit the courthouse in person. But then, many of us no longer live near the ancestral home, so we face similar problems.

Before writing for the records (which is extra work for the already very busy clerks of the court), let's hope the records are available on microfilm at the Family History Library. Then itís a simple matter to borrow a copy of the roll that has your grandparents' probate papers. This would be done through your local LDS Family History Center in England.

WHEN YOU ARE NEW TO DOING RESEARCH  IN A SPECIFIC LOCALITY Find out what the experts know about doing genealogical research in that area. For that I recommend viewing and printing pertinent "RESEARCH OUTLINES" from the Family History Library. These are also available in printed format, but I love the online versions because they have clickable links to glossary terms, catalog entries and related websites. You will find these by going to:

  • Click the SEARCH tab

Click "W" in this case for Washington & scroll down to see all the resources available to guide you in the task of researching Washington state record groups for your ancestors.




Since each state in the US has jurisdiction over its own court system, you'll find that how/where probate records are kept may vary from state to state. From the WASHINGTON RESEARCH OUTLINE, IBID, we read:

"PROBATE RECORDS - In the territorial era, probate courts were established in each county to keep records of wills, bonds, orders, and the administrations of estates. When the superior courts succeeded the probate courts in 1891, all of the records of the clerks of the probate courts were transferred to the county clerk in each courthouse. Some probates were filed in the superior court. The Family History Library has not acquired copies of probate records in Washington. They are available at the various county courthouses, or the county may have transferred early records to the Washington State Archives."

OK, two things here to note:

The FHL Research Outlines discuss records groups that are not part of the collection (thankfully).

The records you seek are NOT available on microfilm, as we had hoped, so you've got 2 places to look, namely the county courthouse and failing that, check the Washington State Archives.

SEE WHAT THEY DO HAVE BEFORE LEAVING FAMILYSEARCH.ORG By using the FHLCatalog, and specifying Pierce, Washington, we learn that "Pierce County was created 22 December 1852 from Thurston County. County seat: Tacoma." This town name of Tacoma will prove useful to you when attempting to contact the clerk of the court for Pierce County, Washington probate records. The "county seat" is the term for the town where the county courthouse exists.

The following categories of records might prove useful to your research in addition to the probate records you seek. Most microfilm and microfiche are "lendable" but books must remain on the shelves in Salt Lake City at the Family History Library.

  • Washington, Pierce - Biography
  • Washington, Pierce - Business records and commerce
  • Washington, Pierce - Cemeteries
  • Washington, Pierce - Census - 1878
  • Washington, Pierce - Census - 1879
  • Washington, Pierce - Census - 1889
  • Washington, Pierce - Description and travel
  • Washington, Pierce - Directories
  • Washington, Pierce - Funeral homes
  • Washington, Pierce - Genealogy
  • Washington, Pierce - History
  • Washington, Pierce - Names, Geographical
  • Washington, Pierce - Naturalization and citizenship
  • Washington, Pierce - Naturalization and citizenship - Indexes
  • Washington, Pierce - Newspapers
  • Washington, Pierce - Obituaries
  • Washington, Pierce - Societies
  • Washington, Pierce - Vital records
  • Washington, Pierce - Vital records - Indexes

DETERMINE THE ADDRESS OF THE COUNTY CLERK  The following books list each county in a US State, with the date of establishment, parent county, contact info for the clerk of the court. Included is a summary of the date each record group began to be kept.

Ancestry's Red Book: American State, County, and Town Sources. Rev. ed. Salt Lake City: Ancestry, 1992.

Everton's Handybook for Genealogists, rev. ed. Logan: Everton, 2005.

A Google Search located the website for Pierce County, Washington:

The contact information is available, but I do not know from this site if probate records are kept at the Pierce County superior court, or if they have been forwarded to the Washington state archives.

IF YOU ARE NOT SURE OF THE SPELLING OF A TOWN OR COUNTY Check some online resources such as or the catalog at the Family History Library. Taking the example of the FHL, here's how you'd do it:



(Do NOT type the PIERCE COUNTY, as this won't work.)

  • Click the SEARCH button
  • Click on that hyperlink for the locality, in this case, "Washington, Pierce"
  • Click the VIEW RELATED PLACES button toward the upper right of your screen.
  • Scroll down to see if the more specific locality is listed. In this place we find: Washington, Pierce, Steilacoom

This lets you know that the spelling is Steilacoom not Steillacombe.

This doesn't always work, because its possible that the FHLCatalog does not yet have a record for every locality that ever existed since the dawn of time. (But they're working on it!) <grin>

THINK CREATIVELY WITH AN EYE TO THE HISTORICAL PERSPECTIVE Also note that over time, the name of a place may have changed radically, and that may or may not be reflected in a catalog description for that place. I am thinking in this case of places in eastern Europe, where we know from studying history that the boundaries changed radically as an army conquered another's territory, only to have an upset decades later. I guess we have to think creatively, Suella, as you most certainly did by writing to the Pierce County Washington mailing list at THAT is one of the BEST ways to contact genealogy researchers with an interest in the same locality.

Happy family tree climbing!
Myrt      :)
6023 26th Street West PMB 352
Bradenton, FL 34207

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