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Thurston County
Washington


WA map Thurston County is 717 sq. mi. in size, and is located at the southern tip of Puget Sound. Mount Rainier and the Cascade Mountains are nearby to the east, while Washington's Pacific Ocean coast is just an hour west. Thurston county is 60 miles south of Seattle, WA and 100 miles north of Portland, OR. The county seat is Olympia, which is also the State Capital.

The county was created on 12 January 1852 by the Oregon Territorial Legislature. Initially, the proposed act specified that the new county, broken off from Lewis County, be named Simmons County for Michael T. Simmons, leader of the first party of Americans to settle in the Puget Sound basin. However, prior to passage, the act was amended to change the name to honor Samuel R. Thurston, Oregon's first delegate to Congress.

Thurston County is home to more than 190,000 residents. Nearly 100,000 residents live in the more urban north county areas in and around the cities of Lacey, Olympia, and Tumwater. The rest live in and around the smaller towns of Bucoda, Tenino, Rainier and Yelm, or in more rural areas of the county. Thurston County is the eighth most populated county among Washington state's 39 counties, and is among the fastest growing counties in the Pacific Northwest. (Map courtesy of Mike Sweeney)

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    Thurston County, Washington

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    Thurston County Placenames

    Tumwater is the oldest American settlement in the Puget Sound area (1845), and is located on the falls of the Deschutes River. The name comes from the Chinook Indians.

    Olympia was first named Smithter (1846), which gave way to the more conventional Smithfield. It was later renamed for the Olympic Mountains at the suggestion of United States customs collector Isaac N. Ebey.

    Lacey was originally known as Woodland, after Isaac Woods, who settled the area in 1852. When Woods petitioned for a post office, the name was rejected because it duplicated a town name in Cowlitz County. His attorney, O.C. Lacey, substituted his own name on the application to expedite matters.

    Bush, now Bush Prairie, was named for its first settler, George Bush, who came in 1845 with the Michael T. Simmons party. He was the first Negro to settle in what is now Washington State.

    Yelm comes from the Indian word chelm, meaning "heat waves rising from the earth."

    Gate was originally called Gate City, as it is situated at a narrow end of a valley, and was considered the gateway to the Grays Harbor country.

    Littlerock was named by an early settler for a stepped boulder which is shaped by nature for a perfect [horse] mounting stone.

    Tenino comes from Chinook jargon, meaning "fork" or "junction". The name was given to a point on an old Indian trail that later expanded to a military road during the Indian Wars of 1855-56.

    Rainier, which is situated on the Tenalquot Prairie, was named for Mt. Rainier.

    Bucoda was originally called Seatco, an Indian word meaning "devil". The town was the site of the first territorial prison, 1874-88. Prisoners worked adjacent coal mines owned by J.M. Buckley, Samuel Coulter, and John B. David. To avoid name confusion with Seattle, the three men coined a new name by using the first two letters of their surnames -- Bu-Co-Da. The railroad adopted the name in 1874, the state in 1890.

    Grand Mound is situated in Mound Prairie, which is characterized by peculiar symmetrical humps of earth. The town is located near the largest of the mounds, a 125-foot-high hill covered with trees.

    Rochester was originally named Moscow by a Russian immigrant. With the establishment of the post office in 1890, the town was renamed for the New York home town of another settler.

    Other early settlements in Thurston County included Arcadia, New Kamalchie, Boston Harbor, Puget City, Sherlock, Guslander, Belmore, Delphi, Plum, Bordeaux, Mima, McIntosh, Tono, Ramstads, and Meadow.
    (From Washington State Placenames, by James W. Phillips, Univ. of WA Press.)

    Another good source for placenames is Postmarked Washington: Thurston County, by Guy Reed Ramsey, pub by Thurston County Historic Commission, 1988.
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    Thurston County Published Resources

    Published by the Olympia Genealogical Society, PO Box 1313, Olympia, WA 98507-1313:
    Published by the Thurston County Historical Commission:

    Other books available in the Olympia Timberland Library:

    Thurston County Online Databases


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    Thurston County Addresses:

    Washington State Department of Health
    Center for Health Statistics
    P.O. Box 9709
    Olympia, Washington 98507-9709
    Holds birth and death records dating from July 1, 1907; marriage and divorce records from January 1, 1968.
    If you are in Washington state and the birth certificate you are requesting is in the range of 1954 to present, you may contact your local county health department. Most of the county health departments are linked into the CHS database and can issue birth certificates state-wide 1954 to present.
    Washington State Archives
    1120 Washington Street SE
    P.O. Box 40238
    Olympia, Washington 98504-0238
    Holds pre 1907 vital records (births and deaths from 1891, marriages from 1860). Holds State and Territorial Census Records for 1871, 1873, 1875, 1877, 1878, 1879, 1880, 1881, 1883, 1885, 1887, 1889, 1892.
    Thurston County Courthouse
    2000 Lakeridge St SW
    Olympia, WA 98502
    County Auditor holds pre 1907 birth and death records (from 1891), marr records (from 1860), deeds (from 1852). Co Clerk holds probate records (from 1889), divorce records, and civil court records (from 1852).
    Washington State Library
    PO Box 42460
    Olympia, WA 98504
    Federal Census Records for 1850 (as Oregon Territory), 1860, 1870, 1880, 1900, 1910, and 1920. Also has a large collection of WA State Newspapers (on microfilm).

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    Thurston County Genealogical Links

    Olympia Genealogical Society Home Page

    Sacajawea Chapter NSDAR Home Page

    Olympia Pioneer Chinese Community Memorial

    Other Genealogical Links

    Washington State Genealogical Society Home Page

    Cyndi's List of Washington Genealogy Sites on the Internet

    Early Catholic Parish Records (Seattle Archdiocese Archives)

    Washington State USGenWeb

    Washington State USGenWeb Project Home Page

    Washington State USGenWeb Project Archives

    Washington State USGenWeb Census Project

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    This site was last updated on 25 Jun 2012.
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    Jerri McCoy / Olympia, WA / email: geniebug@comcast.net

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