Researching Your House
Start at the Washington State Archives, where they house a photograph and property record of most residences in King County that existed in 1937 and almost all of those built between 1938 and 1972. Many have a second picture taken in 1960. They are organized by Tax ID Number (parcel number), and sometimes by brief legal description. The parcel number can be found on your tax assessment or can be obtained online. You may also retrieve a parcel number by calling the Assessor's Office, 206.296.7300, with the building's address.
You can order the King County Assessors Property Record card and photograph from:
If you call them, they will ask for your parcel number and, if you desire, set up an appointment (at least one day in advance) for you to come in and look at the records of your property. You can also order photographs and the property card on the phone.
Recent prices (2008): 5″×7″ photo from negative $17, 8″×10″ photo $22, 16″×20″ photo $55, Copy of Property Card $3.00 (includes handling). Note: if no negative on file, but print is available, add $6 negative processing fee. You may also order a CD with digital photos—the cost for that is $15 labor fee, plus $5 for the CD. You can add up to about five digital photos for the $15 labor fee.
For further information, visit the Washington State Archives website.
Other Suggestions to Research Your House and Property
- Obtain building permits for the property from the Department of Planning and Development, 20th Floor, Key Tower, 700 5th Ave., Seattle, WA 98101. Building permits are organized by street address. Mention to the clerk you are trying to locate the original building permit. They will present you with a microfiche to review. If the microfiche does not show your original building permit, ask them about ledgers/registers on microfilm in the back.
- Check out the Sanborn fire insurance maps. They are available at the University of Washington Library Special Collections, Suzzallo Building, at the Seattle Public Library Central Branch, or at the online Digital Sanborn Maps, available with a Seattle Library card. Sanborn maps show significant detail about a building's outline and location on the property, as well as construction material, heating systems and number of floors. (Ballard House plan shown at right).
- Get a list of owners by searching the archived Tax books at the Washington State Archives, Puget Sound Regional Branch (above.) The books (for every five years) show who owned a given piece of property as well as who paid the assessment that year. You will need the legal description. Find out the current owner on-line as part of the parcel search at the King County web site.
- Find out prior home occupants from Seattle Polk Directories, located at the central Seattle Public Library (above) and UW Library Special Collections, Allen Library. Look up owners you know in the main sections. Seattle Polk Directories were published nearly every year from the 1880s to 1996. They include alphabetical listings of Seattle residents and businesses; a classified business section organized under types of businesses; and starting in 1938, a reverse directory, which listed every resident and business by his or her street address. The 1920 census (available through your Seattle library card on-line) should show streets with addresses in the margin of the records.
- Try reaching heirs of your building's former occupants and long time residents of nearby homes. If you're looking for prior owners, or more on the history of your house, use the residents search page.
- Then see if perhaps your house is listed in the city's historic sites database.