Wash. Archives Month highlights historic crooks, cops, and court cases

The Washington State Archives might not have every episode of the long-running TV series “Law and Order” in its collections, but it does have an extensive collection of legal and historical documents and photos featuring criminals, law enforcement and courts in Washington. This collection provides the theme for the state’s sixth annual Archives Month this October. This year’s official theme is “Law & Order In The Archives: Crooks, Cops and Courts.” The monthlong event, part of a national celebration, is co-sponsored by the Washington State Archives, a division of the Office of Secretary of State. Throughout October, the public is encouraged to explore, free of charge, millions of items through the State Archives and its Digital Archives, historical societies, museums, public libraries, and university special collections.

“Here in Washington, there are interesting stories about criminals — some notorious — and the admirable efforts of our law enforcement and courts to bring them to justice,” said Secretary of State Sam Reed. “Thanks to our State Archives, an enormous number of documents related to crime, cops and courts are preserved for the public to see, and it’s exciting to make this collection this year’s Archives Month theme.

“I encourage people to go to one of the Archives events this month and learn how to explore a part of Washington history or even their own family roots,” Reed added.

State Archivist Jerry Handfield says the State Archives, which is heavily utilized by lawyers, government employees, history buffs and genealogists, plays a crucial role in preserving Washington history. “Thanks to our main State Archives office in Olympia and our branches throughout Washington, people now and in the future can learn about the people, events and stories that make up the fabric of our state’s interesting past. Whether it’s a famous Washingtonian or someone’s own family history, Archives can help direct you toward the documents and resources that will help you in your search,” Handfield said.

All 31 days in October are devoted to helping the public appreciate and better understand the legal and historical records that protect people’s rights and property, and keep government accountable and open, said Handfield, who added that Archives Month is an opportunity to learn how to preserve personal records and how to use public records to enrich people’s everyday lives.

“Our criminal records, law enforcement records, court records and photos make up only a small percentage of the documents found in the State Archives,” said Handfield, noting that Archives has photos, records and documents on many different subjects. “Our records on marriages, divorces, naturalization and crime can help you unlock family mysteries. You can even find a horse-thief in our Frontier Justice records that document all the court cases in the territorial era of 1853 to 1889. We have the know-how to help you research any aspect of Washington history, or your own personal history.”

The State Archives is distributing free copies of this year’s Archives Month poster. The posters are available for free thanks to a grant from the National Historical Publications and Records Commission. The posters will be available by the second week of October in the Office of Secretary of State, located on the second floor of the Legislative Building in Olympia, and at the State Archives Building, located at 1129 Washington St. SE in Olympia. The posters also will be found in the Regional Archives branches in Bellevue, Bellingham, Cheney and Ellensburg. Supplies are limited.

People are encouraged to attend one of the free events and workshops being held throughout Washington in conjunction with Archives Month. More information is online here.

The State Archives houses nearly two-billion legal and historical items and is the home for the nation’s first Digital Archives (located on the Eastern Washington University campus in Cheney), which preserves electronic records in an award-winning online database that is used by thousands of people every day.

The Washington State Archives is celebrating the sixth annual Archives Month in October with "Law & Order In The Archives: Crooks, Cops and Courts," an event aimed to highlight the state's extensive collection of legal and historical documents and photos featuring criminals. (IMAGE COURTESY WASHINGTON STATE ARCHIVES)