'Ruddell Riddle' to answer questions about tracing family history

The public has a golden opportunity later this month to learn how to research their family history and learn more about the history of a well-known South Sound pioneer family.

A daylong free event Jan. 30 hosted by the State Archives in Olympia is called the “Ruddell Riddle,” in reference to the Ruddell family that moved to the Washington Territory in 1852 and settled in Thurston County on the fertile farmlands of Chambers Prairie.

Staff members from the State Archives and the State Library, aided by local heritage groups and volunteer genealogists, will use exhibits and workshops to explore the history of the Ruddells. They also will show visitors the variety of resources and information that the State Archives, the State Library and the Washington State Heritage Center – all branches of the Office of the Secretary of State – have to offer for those who want to research and preserve their family’s heritage.

“Many Olympia-area residents are familiar with Ruddell Road, but they might not know the Ruddells’ history and how they became an important pioneer family here,” Secretary of State Sam Reed said.

That pretty well describes me. As a teenager growing up in rural Lacey, I traveled Ruddell Road back and forth from our home off Yelm Highway to North Thurston High School, never thinking about the family the road was named after. Fifty years ago it was a two-lane gravel road through the countryside, connecting the sleepy, unincorporated village of Lacey to Yelm Highway, not today’s four-lane arterial lined on both sides with large housing developments instead of farms.

The open house will feature historic photographs and documents dating to the 1800s. Some of the Ruddell descendants will be on hand to share photos and stories about their family history. Nearly 30 Ruddell family members already have signed up for the event, coming from Elma, Sequim, Mount Vernon, Raymond, East Wenatchee and Yakima, as well as Oregon and Calfornia.

“It will be one part Ruddell family celebration and one part genealogy and local history lesson,” Reed said. “If you want to explore your family history, this event is for you.”

The Ruddell family here in the United States dates back to colonial times.

Stephen Ruddell was born of German parents in Virginia in 1768. The family moved to Kentucky in the 1770s, and in June 1780, Shawnee and Delaware Indian forces attacked a fort at Ruddell Martin Station near Lexington, Ky. Stephen Ruddell and his brother, Abraham, were captured and held captive for 15 years.

Stephen Ruddell was raised in the same village as Tecumseh, who became a Shawnee chief who led his tribe in a war against U.S. forces in 1812. Ruddell befriended Tecumseh and later became a Baptist preacher, converting many Shawnees to Christianity.

One of the Rev. Ruddell’s sons, Stephen Duley Ruddell, was the pioneer who found his way to Thurston County nearly 160 years ago. He was Washington’s first territorial assessor and a two-term county commissioner and served one term in the state Legislature. According to the Thurston County Historic Commission, he died in 1891.

“The Ruddells are one of many pioneering families who made their mark in this state,” state Archivist Jerry Handfield said. “Their inspiring story is just one story among millions, and it demonstrates clearly the value of preserving our basic legal and historical records so future generations can learn more about the people and events that shaped Washington’s early years as a territory and a state.”

The “Ruddell Riddle” is the brainchild of Assistant Secretary of State Steve Excell, an avid genealogist who has researched the Ruddell family history.

Genealogy, the science or study of family history, attracts about 50 people a month to the state Archives Building to research their family tree, state government archivist David Hastings said.

The two full-time researchers at the archives help them access a host of records – birth and death certificates, marriage licenses, census data and court records.

“People get interested in their family history when they get older,” Hastings said. “We get a lot of people here in the summertime, retired people traveling in their RVs.”

John Dodge: 360-754-5444


An open house and tour of the state Archives Building will be followed by workshops and stories about the Ruddell family. More workshops about investigating one’s family history will be held after lunch.

The final event of the day is a shuttle bus ride or drive to Pioneer Cemetery on Ruddell Road for a 2:30 p.m. wreath-laying ceremony at Stephen Duley Ruddell’s grave.

When: 9 a.m. Jan. 30

Where: State Archives Building, 1129 Washington St. S.E., Olympia


Also: A box lunch is available at noon for $10 by ordering at