Vital and Public Records


Requesting Vital Records
Death Indexes

Cemetery & Funeral Home Records

Birth Records

Marriage Records

Other Kinds of Records


There are three things that every genealogist considers essential information about the individuals in their family tree: a birth date, a death date, and a marriage date (if applicable). The records of these three facts are called vital records. The governments of many countries, including the U.S., are also interested in these facts, and have kept vital records.

Vital records may contain varying amounts of information. The more recent the record, the more information. At least you may find the date of birth, death, or marriage, the location of that event, and the names of the people involved. More recent records, especially those from this century, include information such as parents' names, occupations, etc.

There are many places to look for birth, death and marriage dates besides the records kept by governmental bodies. They include death indexes, obituaries, cemetery and tombstone records, as well as other kinds of records such as probate, tax and land records.


Requesting Vital Records

These references are your first step in obtaining vital records. They tell you what records are kept, where to write, and how much a copy of the record will cost.

Where to Write for Vital Records of Births, Deaths, Marriages, and Divorces website, by the U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services, National Center for Health Statistics, updated regularly.

Spokane County Public Records Requests website, by the Spokane County Health Department; includes birth and death records, marriage and divorce information, as well as military discharge records and real estate documents.  Applications available online and payable by credit card.

International Vital Records Handbook, 2000. R GEN 929.1072 Kemp. Kept on the Reference Shelf in the Genealogy Area. This book lists sources of records for the United States, its trust territories, Europe, Canada, the British Isles and the Commonwealth, as well as the English-speaking Caribbean.


Death Indexes

A death index is a list of the last names of people who have died within the boundaries of a certain state. There are death indexes covering the following dates for Washington, Idaho, Oregon, and California in the Genealogy Area.

Washington: 1907-1997 (1907-1979 on microfilm, 1965-2000 on microfiche)

Idaho: 1911-1932 (on microfilm)

Oregon: 1903-1970 (on microfilm)

California: 1940-1985 (on microfiche)

Some of these death indexes are arranged by the Soundex system, with all names that sound alike together, regardless of how they are spelled (i.e. Johnson and Johnsen would be filed together). You may want to ask for assistance in the Genealogy Area on Tuesdays, Thursdays, or Saturdays,or at the Third Floor Reference and Information Desk at other times.

Soundex Reference Guide, by Bradley Steuart, 1990. R GEN 929.373 SOUNDEX.This quick reference lists the Soundex codes for thousands of names.

To find a date of death in Washington State you can check the Death Index, the Social Security Index or the online Washington State Death Records which covers deaths in Washington State from 1907-1960.  Many of the death certificates have been transcribed and provide not only death dates but names of parents and spouses.  



Once you have an actual or an approximate death date, you might want to look for an obituary for that person. Obituaries may offer interesting facts about the life of the person, indicate where he/she was buried, and list surviving family members.

To find obituaries of people who died in Spokane, or who might have had an obituary published in a Spokane paper, you can look up the name in the Patchen Obituary File. This is a card file of obituaries printed in The Spokesman-Review through the years and collected by volunteers of the Eastern Washington Genealogical Society. Its coverage begins around 1937 and extends to approximately 1979.

If the person you are looking for is not listed in the Patchen Obituary File, which can happen because of gaps in the file, you can look in the The Spokesman-Review and The Spokane Daily Chronicle around the death date. Spokane Public Library holds back issues of The Spokesman-Review from May 1883 to date and The Spokane Daily Chronicle from July 1881-July 1992 on microfilm. There is no name index for either paper, however, so you will need exact or approximate dates for these events, depending on how many newspapers you are willing to look through.  There is a subject index for 1887-1920 in the Northwest Room and 1988-1993 at the third floor reference desk for the The Spokesman-Review. There is also an obituary index for the Spokane papers that covers the years 1980-1994 in the genealogy department.  These were indexed by hand and may not be complete, so be sure to check the newspapers if these alternate resources do not help.

There is also a new database that is indexing all Spokesman Review obituaries printed after January 1, 2008.  The list includes older obituaries but is not complete prior to 2008.  You can search by name at the database here. The database is updated weekly, usually on Saturday. The Eastern Washington Genealogy Society has also digitized the Patchen Files, an index of obituaries from about 1940-1979.  If you live outside of Spokane you can request obituary lookups here.

To find obituaries of people who died outside of the Spokane area, you will need to know an exact or approximate date, and what town's newspaper might have published an obituary. These books will help you find which newspaper was published in a particular town by time period.

Newspapers in Microform: United States, 1948-1972, 1973. R 016.0713 Un3. Kept in the Second Floor Reference Area.

American Newspapers, 1821-1936: a Union List of Files Available in the United States and Canada, 1937. R 016.071 Am35. Kept in the Second Floor Reference Area.

Gale Directory of Publications and Broadcast Media (published annually). R 071.3025 GALE DI.  Kept on the Business Table in the Second Floor Reference Area and at the Third Floor Reference Desk. This set lists all newspapers currently published in each town.

You can ask Spokane Public Library to inter-library loan the newspaper from that town for you. You will receive microfilm for the date(s) you requested, which you can then view on the microfilm machines at the Downtown Library.

If you need obituaries for people outside this area, this book will be helpful. It lists bibliographies of published obituary sources, arranged by state. Some foreign countries are included.

Obituaries: A Guide to Sources, by Betty Jarboe, 2nd ed, 1989. R GEN 016.973 JARBOE.


Cemetery & Funeral Home Records

Cemeteries are among the most useful and most interesting sources for genealogical research. Tombstone inscriptions often contain interesting information about the person beneath it, precise birth and death dates, and information about relatives. Remember, tombstones may be inaccurate, because often the stones were not in place until years after the burial. Also, stone, like paper, is not durable enough to withstand centuries of wind and weather.

To find where someone is buried, ask relatives if they remember which cemetery or which funeral home was involved, look at the person's death certificate (see the section headed Requesting Vital Records), check the obituary and check funeral home records. Funeral homes usually recorded the cemetery to which the body was sent. Once you learn where the person is buried, check with cemetery administration for help in finding the gravestone when you visit.

The following sources offer information about and locations of cemeteries in the Spokane area:

An excellent website is Ewanida Rail Records which covers the cemeteries in 13 Eastern Washington counties and others in the Western U.S.  It's especially helpful for our area since Maggie Rail has transcribed 66 of the cemeteries in the Spokane area!  Another online site is FindAGrave.  Their volunteers have indexed cemeteries from all over the world and many of the records also include pictures and/or obituaries. A third site is Interment, which is also a world wide database as well as including special cemeteries such as military, societies, and cemeteries that no longer exist.

Good books on the subject are:

Spokane County, Washington Rural Cemetery Records, by the Eastern Washington Genealogical Society, 1962. 3 vols. R GEN 929.5 Ea77. This three-volume set contains the transcriptions of tombstones from a number of cemeteries in the outlying Spokane area.

Spokane County Cemetery Guide, by Ann Roberts, 1989. NW-R OVERSIZE 929.509797 ROBERTS.

Spokane County Cemetery Directory, by John Witte, 1993. Kept in the Genealogy Area Vertical File under "Washington - Spokane."

Location of Cemeteries, Spokane County: Map of Spokane County, Washington, 1938, by C.F. Griggs, 1940. NW-R OVERSIZE 912.79784 Am35.

Check in the Genealogy Holdings List under Section II, in the State Section under "Washington - Spokane" for listings of other sources that may help in locating information about cemeteries, gravestones and funeral home records. For information about cemeteries in other places, check under the name of that state. The following directory will help in locating cemeteries overseas.

American Military Cemeteries: A Comprehensive Illustrated Guide to the Hallowed Grounds of the United States, Including Cemeteries Overseas, 1992. R GEN 353.0086 HOLT.


Birth Records

Washington State did not require state-wide registration of births until 1907; earlier records will vary by county.  Spokane County has some records starting about 1890, but are incomplete. The following indexes have been compiled for early birth records. Records published in the local papers are not indexed. Contact the Health Department of Spokane County for later birth record.

Spokane Co. Auditor. Register of Births 1892-1907. Microfilm 007a

Spokane Co., WA. Early Birth Records 1890-1906. EWGS. 1995. Index Shelf 979.737 SPOKANE

Spokane County Births, 1890-1907  - transcribed for the Washington State Digital Archives online.

State of Washington Birth Index. 1910-1929. Microfilm 290

Births in Spokane, WA, newspapers, 1980-1984. EWGS. Reference Shelf

If searching for a birth announcement in the Spokane papers, you can Interlibrary Loan the newspaper and personally search for the record. This is a time consuming  method, and it may be easier to contact the County Clerk of Spokane County for a birth certificate. 


Marriage Records

Washington marriage records are kept by the County Auditors in the individual counties. Most records only go back to 1890, but a few, such as King County, may go back earlier. Spokane County records go back to about 1880. Another book of marriage licenses has not yet been extracted. Check with the Spokane County Auditor's Office.

Call the Spokane County Auditor's Office at (509) 477-2271 for records not covered in the following indexes or for information on how to  obtain copies of Spokane County marriage records.

Early Marriages in Spokane Co., WA Territory. Bk. A. 1880-1890. Lorena Wildman & Carrie Lartigue. 1972. R Gen 979.737 WILDMAN

Early Marriages in Washington Territory. DAR. v. 1-2. R GEN 929.3 W277

Marriages & Dissolutions (Divorces) as reported in Spokane, WA Newspapers 1980-84 marriages; 1983-1984 divorces;  1992-93 marriages & divorces. R GEN 979.737 MARRIAG

Marriage Records "B", Spokane Co., Washington Territory: May 23, 1888-Nov. 9,1891. Carrie Lartigue. 1972 .  R GEN 979.737 MARRIAG

Spokane County Marriage Licenses 1891-1903. EWGS. 1993. R GEN 979.737 SPOKANE Spokane County Marriage Record, 1898-1903, 1903-1907 Books4-12. R GEN Mf 064-065 Spokane County Marriage Record, 1929-1973 CD-ROM drawer

Washington State Marriage Records - marriage licenses and records, both historic and current, available on Washington State Digital Archives online.

Washington’s First Marriages of the 39 Counties. John D. Carter. EWGS. 1986. R GEN 979.7 CARTER 1986.


Other Kinds of Records

For those who need to pursue more leads in their genealogical research, there are other kinds of records that will help fill in the gaps. These include probate (will-related), tax and land records, which were collected by a variety of government bodies, from local to federal. There are too many types of records to discuss here with any depth. These guidebooks will help you learn about these records and where to write for more information.

Ancestry's Red Book: American States, County and Town Sources, 2004. R GEN 929.1072 ANCESTR. Kept on the Reference Shelf in the Genealogy Area. This book gives sources for vital, census, land, probate, court, tax, cemetery, church, military and historical records for each state.

Find public records fast : the complete state, county, & courthouse locator by Facts on Demand Press, 2000.  342.7306 FIND PU.

Researcher's Guide to American Genealogy, by Val Greenwood, 2000. R GEN 929.1972 GREENWO.

See the Genealogy Holdings List Binder in Section II under"Research Tools" for further resources.