WHIDBEY ISLAND GENEALOGICAL SEARCHERS (W.I.G.S.) is a non profit organization, located in the city of Oak Harbor, Island County, state of Washington. Oak Harbor is approximately 60 miles south of the Canadian border and 100 miles north of Seattle. The society was established in 1993 by Janet Enzmann, Jim Terry, and mentor, Laura Sparr, to promote interest in family history, educate its members in research techniques, and assist anyone researching their family tree.

History of Whidbey Island

Whidbey Island Pictures courtesy of Wikipedia

Whidbey Island is the largest of the islands composing Island County, Washington, in the United States. Located in the Puget Sound about 30 miles north of Seattle and between the Olympic Peninsula and the I-5 corridor of western Washington. Whidbey Island is approximately 55 miles long and 1.5 to 12 miles wide, with a total land area of approximately 168.7 square miles, making it the 40th largest and longest island in the United States. For the contiguous United States, it is ranked 4th. Whidbey Island is accessed by ferry routes from Clinton, Washington or Port Townsend or by scenic Deception Pass Bridge on the north end of the island.

The earliest inhabitants of the island were members of the Lower Skagit, Swinomish, Suquamish, Haida, and other Native American tribes. The first known European sighting of Whidbey Island occurred during the Spanish expedition of Manuel Quimper and Gonzalo Lopez de Haro in 1790. In 1792 Captain George Vancouver fully explored Whidbey Island. In May 1792 members of Captain Vancouver’s expedition, Joseph Whidbey and Peter Puget mapped and explored Whidbey Island and the surrounding waters. Whidbey Island was named for Joseph Whidbey and Puget Sound was named for Peter Puget. The first establishment occurred on May 26, 1840 by a Catholic missionary. Lt. Charles Wilkes sailed into Penn Cove in 1841 where he found the largest Native settlement on Puget Sound and the Catholic missionary garden. The first permanent white settler on Whidbey Island was Colonel Isaac N. Ebey who claimed a square mile of prairie in 1850. This property’s southern boundary was Admiralty Inlet. Colonel Ebey farmed this land raising potatoes and wheat, while maintaining his daily job as postmaster for Port Townsend, WA. Colonel Ebey, age 39, was killed by the Haida on August 11, 1857.

Oak Harbor

Whidbey Island Pictures courtesy of Wikipedia

Oak Harbor located in Island County, Washington, is the largest incorporated city of Whidbey Island. Oak Harbor was incorporated on May 14, 1915. The city was named for the Garry Oak trees that lined the skyline of northern Whidbey Island.

The history of Oak Harbor goes back to the early 1850’s when Norwegian shoemaker, Zakarias Martin Taftezon, Swiss Army Officer, Ulrich Freund, and New Englander, C. W. Sumner, staked claims in the area that is now the city of Oak Harbor. In the later part of 1850 the Irish arrived making Oak Harbor grow and prosper as they fished and farmed the area. The Dutch arrived in the 1890’s. Soon churches, schools, and more business followed increasing the growth and prosperity of Oak Harbor.

The early pioneers who came to Oak Harbor, settled close to the shoreline as water transportation was their only means of obtaining goods and services until 1935. Steamers and freighters carried passengers and freight from the island to the mainland and back. The population of Oak Harbor in 1920 was 337. Two events significantly changed Oak Harbor, the building of Deception Pass Bridge on July 31, 1935 and the completion of Naval Air Station Whidbey Island on September 21, 1942. The bridge connected the city to the rest of the region and the Naval Air Station connected the city to the world. The population of Oak Harbor increased to 22,306 by 2010.