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King County Archives

A repository of county government records
King County Archives
1215 E. Fir St.
Building A
Seattle, WA 98122

206-296-1538
archives@kingcounty.gov

Monday - Friday
9:00 am - 4:00 pm

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Glossary

 

 
Ancestry Library Edition
Ancestry Library Edition is a free version of Ancestry.com (a paid subscription site), and is available for searching in person at many public libraries. It includes over 4,000 searchable databases. King County records include census records (1857-1930), birth indexes (1891-1919), death indexes (1940-1996), and City of Seattle directories (1882-1900).

Some local libraries and repositories where you can access this resource (in person only) include:

 
Attachment
The seizing of money or property prior to getting a court judgment in contemplation that the plaintiff will win at trial and will require the money or property to satisfy the judgment.
 
Binding site plans
The binding site plan (see King County Code 19A.20) is a means of land segregation that sets aside part of a tract or parcel for future development in a specific manner.
 
Chattel lien
A chattel lien is a process by which a person may sell or take ownership of a vehicle or vessel when they provide services or materials for the vehicle or vessel at the request of the registered owner; and the person who provided the services or materials has not been compensated.
 
Chattel mortgage

An old term for an arrangement under which an item of personal property (chattel) serves as security (collateral) for a loan taken out to buy the item; a mortgage on something other than real estate. These agreements are now generally referred to as security agreements and are governed by the Uniform Commercial Code.

 
Conditional sale
A sale of property or goods which will be completed only if certain conditions are met by one or both parties to the transaction.
 
Condominium

A common interest development comprising one or more multiple-unit buildings. Each unit owner has sole title to the interior of his or her individual unit while all owners together share common title to the common areas (e.g., interior hallways, building exteriors, elevators, landscaping, and recreational amenities). Condominiums are created and regulated under Washington State law.

As used by the King County Recorder's Office, the word "condominium" refers specifically to the condominium's survey plan and map (sometimes called the condominium plat). The survey plan and map show the site plan with the placement of the building(s) upon it. They also show the boundaries of each unit and of the common areas.
 
Crop lien
Under Washington State law (RCW 60.11), various classes of persons, including landlords of rented croplands, suppliers of goods and services used to grow crops, handlers of orchard crops, and agricultural workers denied wages, have the right to place a lien on crop sale profits to satisfy debts.
 
DD-214 (veteran's discharge papers)
A Report of Separation is generally issued when a member of the armed services performs active duty or at least 90 consecutive days of active duty training. The Report of Separation contains information normally needed to verify military service for benefits, retirement, employment, and membership in veterans' organizations. The report of separation form issued in most recent years is the DD Form 214, Certificate of Release or Discharge from Active Duty.
 
Dedication
The deliberate conveyance of land by an owner for any general and public uses, reserving no rights other than those that are compatible with the full exercise and enjoyment of public uses for which the property has been conveyed. Dedications are made by the property owner filing a final plat, short plat, binding site plan, or quitclaim deed.
 
Deed

A deed is a document that transfers title of real estate. It contains an implied promise that the person transferring the property actually owns the title and that it is not encumbered in any way, except as described in the deed. In the United States deeds are officially recorded on the county level. Some special types of deeds include:

  • Quitclaim deeds transfer whatever ownership interest the transferring party has in a particular property. The deed makes no guarantees about anything that is being transferred.

  • Warranty deeds contain express assurances about the legal validity of the title being transferred.

 
Deed of trust
A deed of trust is not the same thing as a deed and is actually similar to a mortgage, a security instrument whereby real property is given as security for a debt. However, in a deed of trust there are three parties to the instrument: the borrower, the trustee, and the lender (or beneficiary). In such a transaction, the borrower transfers the legal title for the property to the trustee who holds the property in trust as security for the payment of the debt to the lender or beneficiary. If the borrower pays the debt as agreed, the deed of trust becomes void. If, however, he defaults in the payment of the debt, the trustee may sell the property at a public sale, under the terms of the deed of trust. In most jurisdictions where the deed of trust is in force, the borrower is subject to having his property sold without benefit of legal proceedings. Many states, including Washington, treats the deed of trust like a mortgage.
 
Divorce certificate

The divorce certificate contains basic information about the husband and wife, and the date and place the marriage ended.  It is filed with the the State.  They only exist from January 1, 1968 until the present.

For all information included on divorce certificates, please see Table 7 of WAC 246-491-149 (external link).

 
Divorce decree
The divorce decree is the document prepared by the court, setting forth the terms and conditions of the divorce.  It is signed by the judge and filed with the County Clerk of the County where the decree was issued, which is usually the County where the plaintiff resided.  It is more detailed than the divorce certificate.
 
Donation Land Claims
Under the Oregon Donation Land Act of 1850, Congress allowed settlers to claim public land in Western territories. A single person could claim 320 acres; a married couple, 640 acres. The claimants received final title to the land when they had lived on it for four years and made certain improvements, or when they purchased their lands in lieu of fulfilling residency requirements.

The forty-eight donation land claims in King County, recorded under federal territorial law, are the county's oldest recorded properties and are still referenced in property descriptions.
 
Easement
Right granted by a property owner to specifically named parties or to the public for the use of certain private land for specified purposes, that may include, but are not limited to, access roads, pedestrian or bicycle pathways, minerals, utility lines, storm drainage pipes and ditches, erosion control slopes abutting a right-of way, and open space.
 
Excise tax affidavit
Record of one percent excise tax paid by the seller on the sale of real property. Washington state law requires that a Real Estate Excise Tax Affidavit be completed and signed prior to the recording of a deed to transfer ownership of real property. The affidavit can also be used to establish the gross sales prices for properties.
 
Execution
In property law, the act of getting an officer of the court to take possession of the property of a losing party in a lawsuit on behalf of the winner, sell it and use the proceeds to pay the judgment.
 
General Land Office field notes
Survey field notes of United States General Land Office surveyors. The field notes are of two types: (1) traverses performed to locate section corners, to establish river meanders, and to survey shorelines (1856-1913), and (2) boundary surveys of donation land claims in King County (1860-1882). Both types of field notes include notes on, or references to, the natural and built environment (topography, bodies of water, vegetation, soils, trails, roads, settlements) existing at the time of the survey.
 
Grantors and Grantees
A grantor conveys or sells property to a receiver or buyer (grantee).

 
Incorporation (municipal)
Incorporation is the legal process under Washington State law (RCW 35.02) by which a contiguous area of an unincorporated area of a county becomes a city or a town. An incorporated municipality must be able to provide essential services to its citizens that are at least the levels provided by the county before the incorporation. Some essential services related to property are road and street maintenance, drainage, and utility services. New municipalities may contract with counties for the continuation of these services. Property owners in King County municipalities who seek records relating to certain governmental actions (for example, street vacations or zoning) may need to contact both King County and municipal authorities.
 
Lease
Contracts or agreements in which a property owner grants the right of temporary use of land or structures, for a stipulated length of time, to another party for monetary considerations.
 
Legal description

The legal description of a piece of property includes identifiers that are standardized and is not the street address.  For platted properties, the description includes the lot and block in a plat or subdivision.  For unplatted properties, the description includes its section-township-range coordinates.

You can locate an abbreviated legal description of your property on the King County Parcel Viewer website.  Generally, the abbreviated legal description of the property should be sufficient for most research purposes.  If you need the complete legal description, you will probably have to locate deeds that reference the property.

Examples of legal descriptions include:

"Lots 9-12 of Block 1 and all of Block 2 in Struves Addition"
(King County Archives facility)

"North 500 feet of east 208.82 feet of west 1/2 of southeast 1/4 of Section 11, Township 22, Range 4"
(King County Animal Control facility)

 
Lien
Records documenting the right of one person to retain the property of another by way of security for a debt or claim.
 
Lis pendens
Latin for "lawsuit pending." The term refers to a written notice that a lawsuit has been filed concerning real estate, involving either the title to the property or a claimed ownership interest in it. The notice is usually filed in the county recorder's office. In King County, older lis pendens are recorded with Judgments. Recording a lis pendens against a piece of property alerts a potential purchaser or lender that the property’s title is in question.
 
Metes and Bounds
"Metes and bounds" is a very old form of land description. Starting from a known landmark as a place of beginning and tracing the property's perimeter, the surveyor uses measurements and markers to draw straight lines from one point to another in order to show the property's location and shape. Donation land claims in King County are described by metes and bounds. Part of the description of Seattle pioneer A. A. Denny's donation claim reads:

"Beginning at the N.W. corner of the claim also the S.W. corner of W. N. Bell's claim at half tide on the beach of Elliott's bay 75 links W. of high water mark in Section 31, where set a stone, from which [the survey line] bisects a fir 12 inches in diameter; N. 10 degrees E 115 links [to] a laurel 18 inches in diameter; S. 10 degrees, E. 109 links, thence with the meander of the Bay...."

In the above example, "degree" refers to the portion of a 360-degree circle that the survey line varies from the last stated marker. A "link" is a portion of a survey chain measuring 7.92 inches.
 
Mortgage
A lien or claim against real property given by the buyer to the lender as security for money borrowed. Washington State treats the similar deed of trust <link> like a mortgage.
 
Orders of sale
A court’s direction or mandate, other than as a part of a final judgment or a legal opinion, that property be sold.
 
Parcel number

The Assessor's tax parcel number identifies a specific property in King County for tax purposes.  It is usually 10-digits in length.

Example:
806100-0045 (Parcel number of the King County Archives facility)

You can locate tax parcel numbers online using the King County Parcel Viewer website.

 
Patents (land patents)
A patent is a type of deed by which the U.S. government, transfers public property to private individuals. When a person satisfies the obligation of a homestead claim, the federal government transfers the property's title to the individual using a patent. Like deeds, patents are filed with the county recording office where the land is located. Therefore, although homestead records are federal in origin, it is possible to research a completed homestead claim using patents.
 
Planned unit development
A planned community of separate single family residences in which there are common elements owned and maintained by a corporation whose board of directors is elected by the residential owners. The planned unit development is formed under a special agreement with local government authorities. This agreement is required because of the need for zoning variances or other special accommodation from the local government.
 
Plat
A map or chart of a lot, subdivision or community drawn by a surveyor and showing boundary lines, improvements on the land, and sometimes easements and buildings. A “condominium plat” refers t a different kind of document: the survey plan and map of a specific condominium.
 
Power of attorney
A record that documents the authority given by one person to another to act as his or her agent in any or all capacities.
 
Recording
The process of filing a copy of a deed or other document concerning real estate or land ownership with the land records office for the county in which the land is located. In King County, this is the King County Recorder's Office. Recording creates a public record of changes in ownership of all property in the state. Recorded documents are also sometimes called "recordings."
 
Record of marginal satisfaction
A marginal satisfaction is an older way of noting that a mortgage has been satisfied. It occurred when the holder of a mortgage physically went to the recording office and entered a satisfaction on the face of the recorded mortgage, which was attested by the recording clerk.
 
Registered Land
Registering land under the Torrens Title System is an alternative method, involving state courts, of establishing title to property.
 
Right-of-way
Public land, property, or property interest (e.g., an easement), usually in a strip, as well as bridges, trestles, or other structures, acquired for or devoted to transportation purposes. This does not include recreational or nature trails except where they intersect with or are located within road rights-of-way. Rights-of-way are established through deeds or easements. Unmaintained county right-of-way refers to a road within the county right-of-way that is accessible to public travel but is not maintained by King County.
 
Road Construction
Please see King County Road Services' Capital Improvement Program glossary.
 
Road Maintenance
Please see King County Road Services' Road Maintenance glossary.
 
Section (architecture)
A type of architectural drawing that shows a structure as it would appear if cut through by an intersecting plane. A section drawing reveals relationships between floors, walls and roofs by presenting a vertical slice of the building.
 
Shoreline ecology and planning
Please visit this glossary from the Shoreline Master Program.
 
Short Plats
Short plats are a simplified way of subdividing property. The main condition placed on short plats is that no more than four (4) new properties can be made out of any one (1) parcel. Short plats were not officially recorded until 1972, when King County adopted its first short subdivision code (Washington State did not require the recording of short plats until 1974, via RCW 58.17). However, tax assessment records can often show evidence of short-platting for years prior to 1972. More information about plat records is available online.
 
Stormwater (surface water runoff)
Please visit King County Water and Land Resources Division's glossary on stormwater.
 
Section-township-range coordinates
This is a three-part number (sometimes called the STR number) that is part of legal property descriptions. The number is derived from survey lines established under the Public Land Survey System and locates a piece of property in relation to a single square mile (a section). A square of thirty-six sections make up a township. Townships lie adjacent to each other in relation to latitude. A range is a column of townships running vertically in relation to longitude.

Sections are numbered 1 to 36. In King County, townships are numbered 19 to 26 (running south to north); ranges are numbered 2 to 13 (running west to east). So for example, Lake Meridian is located in section 27, township 22, range 5. This can also be written as 27-22-5 or S27-T22-R5.

Prior to the adoption of uniform street numbering, this system was widely used (through the early 1970s) to locate places in King County. It is a useful access point for locating historical map information and aerial photographs in King County Archives collections.

 
Public Land Survey System

The Public Land Survey System was established by the U.S. Continental Congress in 1785, under the Articles of Confederation. It covers the entire United States except for the original 13 states, and is still used today to specify locations in legal descriptions.

In this system, land is surveyed and divided into areas called townships. Townships are for the most part 36 square miles, or 6 miles square. Each township is broken down into 36 sections; each section is usually 640 acres. Sections in each township are numbered consecutively beginning with number 1 in the northeast corner of the township, and counting right to left then left to right and so on weaving back and forth through the sections of the township, and ending with number 36 in the southeast corner. This numbering allows each section to remain connected to the sections that precede and follow it. Property descriptions can further specify half-, quarter-, or smaller sections.

In Oregon and Washington, townships and ranges are referenced to the north-south Willamette Meridian (the vertical line where the survey began) and the east-west Willamette Base Line (the horizontal line where the survey began). The two lines cross on the Willamette Stone west of Portland, Oregon. Townships (normally 6 miles by 6 miles) are numbered starting with Township 1 North (of the base line) to the Canadian border and Township 1 South to the California border. Ranges are numbered west from the Willamette Meridian to the Pacific Ocean and east to the Idaho border.

In King County, townships are numbered 19 North through 26 North; ranges are numbered 2 East through 13 East.

 
Survey [land survey]
As used by the King County Recorder’s Office, a survey is a graphical representation (map or diagram) of an accurate measurement taken of horizontal distances, elevations, directions and angles on the earth’s surface, used to locate real property boundaries, describe construction layout, determine the platting and layout of subdivisions of lands, establish the dimensions and positions of structures on a lot, establish the siting and boundaries of a condominium, etc.
 
Tax assessments, commercial
Please see King County Department of Assessments commercial tax glossary.
 
Tax assessments, residential
Please visit King County Department of Assessment's residential tax glossary.
 
Torrens Title System
The Torrens Title Act (adopted in Washington State in 1907) provides an alternate method for establishing title to property. It differs from traditional recording systems in that the state guarantees the owner’s title. Under the Torrens System, state courts approve an examination of a parcel's title history and ultimately issue a Certificate of Title to the owner. The certificate is then registered with the county auditor or recording office. There are currently 3500 parcels of land registered under the Torrens System in King County. For additional information, contact the King County Recorder's Office.
 
Tort feasor lien
A claim, charge, or encumbrance on property as a security for the payment of a debt by a tort feasor (someone who commits a tort, or civil wrong, either intentionally or through negligence.)
 
Uniform Commercial Code
Uniform Commercial Code (UCC) is a set of laws that govern commercial transactions such as sales, warranties, negotiable instruments, loans secured by personal property, and other commercial matters. The UCC has been adopted in some form in every state; Washington State first adopted the code (RCW 62A.9A) in 1965 (effective July 1, 1967).
 
Vacations (plat)
A plat vacation is an action, taken under Washington state law (RCW 58.17.212) but handled by local governments (in King County by the County Council), that removes the dedication (to general or public use) from a recorded plat or a portion of the plat and returns the property to private ownership.
 
Vacations (road)
A road vacation is an action taken by the King County Council (prior to May 1, 1969, by orders of the King County Commissioners) whereby the public interest in a road right-of-way is removed. King County holds an easement on right of way for public travel on most streets and alleys outside of incorporated areas of the County. This interest may be terminated by the County ordinance if the easement is considered useless to the County's needs and deemed beneficial by the return of the unused area to the public tax tolls. RCW 36.87 and King County Code 14.40 govern the vacation of rights-of-way in King County.
 
Wastewater and sewers
Please visit King County Wastewater Treatment Division's glossary.
 
Water rights
Claims for rights to use water from King County rivers and streams.
 
Zoning and land use
Section 21A.06 of the King County Code provides definitions of technical terms related to these topics.