Historical Court and Legal Records
HOW TO USE THIS GUIDE
This guide contains information on historical court records at King County Archives and how to research them. You will also find the following information:
- What specific court records King County Archives holds.
- How to access the court records held by King County Archives.
- How to find and access court records not held by King County Archives.
Need a divorce decree?
Order divorce decree records dated 1853 to the present through King County Superior Court.
Please use the navigational tabs below to browse this guide and locate the informational sections most relevant to your research.
In 1889, Washington achieved statehood, and the Washington State Constitution created the state judicial system and designated the Superior Court as the trial court of general and unlimited jurisdiction. The King County Superior Court succeeded the federal Third Territorial District Court, which existed from 1853 to 1889.
Superior Court Records at the Superior Court
King County Superior Court holds all case files from 1853 to the present. These records are permanent. To access Superior Court indexes and case files and order copies, please contact the Superior Court Clerk's Office.
Court case files dated 1979 and later are indexed and available to order online through the court records access portal.
King County Archives holds few Superior Court records, and we do not hold case files. The following is a list of what we do have.
Index of Licenses of Physicians, Optometrists, Chiropodists and Midwives, 1890-1980
This index lists medical and professional licenses issued by the state and presented to the King County Superior Court Clerk for registration as a prerequisite to practice in the county. It includes the name of the licensee, nature of the license, license number, date of issue, date of filing, whether an original, certified copy or a renewal, and sometimes volume and page number. The index is organized alphabetically by the licensee's surname.
Juvenile Court Annual Reports, 1911-1974
Washington's superior courts were granted original jurisdiction over all juvenile cases in 1905. This series is composed of annual narrative and statistical reports from 1911 to 1974 of the programs and activities of King County's juvenile court.
During this period, activities of the court included both its legal functions and its social work with delinquent and dependent youth and their families. Early reports (1911-1930) stress the court's social work by including special reports and commentaries on causative pathologies, case studies, and parental and governmental responsibilities to youth.
A separate report section documented activities of the Mothers' Pension Department (1913-1937), which dispersed cash and material assistance to female-headed families with dependent children prior to the federalization of this program. Reports from this period are frequently illustrated with photographs of court and custodial facilities, building plans (1915) and personnel. No reports were apparently printed for the years 1931-1935, but statistical summaries for this period are present.
Between 1936 and 1958, reports primarily consisted of tabulated statistics. In the 1940s, data for several years were sometimes combined into one report; no report was published for 1953. Beginning in 1959, court statistics were again accompanied by narrative commentary, and sometimes by photographs and graphics.
The expansion of the Youth Service Center in Seattle's Central Area and the role of the Juvenile Court in the relocation of neighborhood residents are reflected in reports from the 1960s. The court's social work programs were largely transferred to County Executive departments after 1974.
The Oregon Organic Act of 1848 established justice courts, and in 1852 when King County was formed, these courts were incorporated into the county judicial structure. The Washington State Justice Court Act of 1961 combined the name and activities of the Justice Court with the District Court. In 1962, King County adopted this change through Commissioners' Resolution 24130.
Criminal index, Seattle District, 1926-1963
Criminal indexes produced by the presiding judge contain the name of the defendant, charge, docket number and date. In some volumes, the charge is not listed. Some volumes contain listings of bond amounts for certain crimes.
Liquor search docket, Seattle District, 1938-1942
These records consist of warrants issued by Judge Guy B. Knott to search for liquor on commercial premises. Record information includes name of defendant (often "John Doe"), address of premises or description of their location when no address is available, and name of person filing charges. Information relating to the scope and extent of search may also be present. Many sites searched were in the Pioneer Square or Jackson Street area of Seattle.
Liquor search dockets dated from 1923 to 1926 are held by Puget Sound Regional Archives in Bellevue.
Small claims dockets, Seattle Division, 1979-1985
Dockets of the Small Claims Court for Seattle Division of the District Court include the name of defendant and plaintiff, claim by plaintiff, judgment and amount awarded. These records are filed by case number.
Puget Sound Regional Archives, a branch of the Washington State Archives holds some District Court records such as include trial calendars, indexes and registries (date span 1859-1969) and records from the Airport, Bellevue, Federal Way, and Shoreline districts (date span 1945-1980; not all records are present for all districts for all years).
Puget Sound Regional Archives also holds Justice Court records including calendars, case files and dockets (date span 1923-1961). Records are available for the following Justice Court precincts: Ballard, Burton, Cherry Valley, Duwamish, Georgetown, Issaquah, North Bend, Novelty, Rainier, Riverton Heights, Roscommon, Salmon Bay, Seattle, Skykomish, Slaughter, South Park, South Seattle, Sprague, Tukwila, Van Buren, Wabash, and Yesler (date span 1871-1977; not all records are present for all precincts for all years).
King County District Court holds case files date 2005 and later. You can contact them directly to order a copy, or you may order a copy online through their records portal.
King County District Court Divisions / Facilities
District Court records filed prior to 2005 are maintained by the division and court facility where the case was filed: South Division (Kent, Burien); East Division (Bellevue, Issaquah, Redmond); and West Division (Seattle and Shoreline). Contact the appropriate court facility regarding pre-2005 records. Please note that many older district court records were not retained.
Criminal dockets, 1906-1950, 1958-1959
Dockets for cases brought against citizens by the Prosecuting Attorney include appeals from cases heard in Justice Court. Information includes name, charge, attorney for the defendant, Superior Court cause number, formal complaint, pleading, judgment, trial, motions, and verdict. Later volumes include the bond amount. Earlier volumes have the initials of the deputy prosecutor and the judge who heard the case written on the docket with their full names appearing on the inside front cover. Later the names of both appear in full on the dockets.
Annual reports, 1919-1992
These reports provide case statistics and some additional narrative. Reports are not available for all years.
Road Engineer court case work records, 1937-1941
These two volumes of bound data sheets summarize work done by the county Road Engineer's office in support of the county Prosecuting Attorney. Data sheets were bound in sequential numerical order, one court case or other action per sheet. Record information may state case identifiers; names of parties, attorneys and presiding judge; special witnesses employed by the county; and summaries of the nature of the case and of the work done by the Road Engineer. A hand-sketched preliminary location map or site plan often accompanies the text; final versions of the sketches were submitted in court as evidence. Maps include contested farm, industrial and storm water drainages; sections of roads, trails and highways; street intersections; and floor plans of roadhouses and a "Hooverville" shack. Each volume contains a list of names of plaintiffs or other principal parties.
King County Archives holds few, if any, court and legal records for bankruptcies, corporation filings, wills, name changes, and divorces. The following information will direct you to the correct agency.
King County Superior Court holds divorce records from 1853 to the present. Please contact the Clerk's Office for assistance accessing those records.
Puget Sound Regional Archives holds microfilmed copies of divorce case files from 1968 to 1971 as well as copies from earlier years that are interfiled with civil case files.
King County Superior Court holds name change documents from 1853 to July 31, 1991. Please contact the Clerk's Office for assistance accessing those records.
The King County Recorder's Office holds name change documents that were filed from August 1, 1991, to the present. Please contact the Recorder's Office for assistance accessing those records.
Washington State bankruptcy records filed from 1889 to 1950 are held by the National Archives and Records Administration Pacific Alaska Region, Seattle.
King County Archives holds 11 bankruptcy case files from the 1870s. The cases were administered under the Bankruptcy Act of 1867 (repealed 1878). Records include documents such as petitions for adjudication of bankruptcy, warrants, affidavits of publication, schedules, orders to show cause by creditors, petitions for discharge, fee records, and register's minutes. Several case files appear to be incomplete.
Current Corporation Records
For corporate filings of corporations currently operating in Washington State, visit the Office of the Secretary of State Corporations Division website. You can also search for corporation registration data on the Corporations: Registration Data Search online portal.
Historical Corporation Records
Statewide corporation filings from 1855 to 2004 are available online through the Washington State Digital Archives.
Physical copies of statewide corporation filings from 1869 to 1990 are held by the Washington State Archives.
Physical copies of King County corporation filings from 1869 to 1971 are held by Puget Sound Regional Archives.
King County Archives holds microfilmed copies of King County corporation filings from 1869 to 1893.
King County Superior Court Clerk holds wills filed with probate case files by the executor or administrator of the will after the death of the individual who made the will.
Wills made by an individual who's still living can be filed for safekeeping in the King County Superior Court Clerk's Will Repository. The repository is managed by the King County Superior Court Clerk's Office and holds will date from 2004 to the present.
Wills aren't required to be recorded, but some individuals choose to do so. King County Archives holds recorded wills dated prior to August 1, 1991.