Berrien County was created on 29 Oct 1829 (Organized in 1831) and was formed from Cass County. Some early records before 1831 may be located in Cass County. The County was named for John M. Berrien, Attorney General of the United States under U.S. President Andrew Jackson (1829-1831). The County Seat is St. Joseph .
Counties adjacent to Berrien County are Van Buren County (northeast), Cass County (east), St. Joseph County, Indiana (southeast), La Porte County, Indiana (southwest). Townships found in Berrien County include Bainbridge, Baroda, Benton Charter, Berrien, Bertland, Buchanan, Chikaming, Coloma Charter, Galien, Hagar, Lake Charter, Lincoln Charter, New Buffalo, Niles, Oronoko Charter, Pipestone, Royalton, Sodus, St. Joseph Charter, Three Oaks, Waterviet, Weesaw Townships. Cities, Towns and Communities include Baroda, Benton Harbor, Berrien Center, Berrien Springs, Bridgman, Buchanan, Coloma, Eau Claire, Galien, Grand Beach, Hagar Shores, Harbert, Lakeside, Michiana, New Buffalo, New Troy, Niles, Riverside, Saint Joseph, Sawyer, Shoreham, Sodus, Stevensville, Three Oaks, Union Pier, Watervliet
Researchers often overlook the importance of court records, probate records, and land records as a source of family history information.
All departments below at located at the Berrien County Courthouse, 811 Port Street, St. Joseph, MI 49085 , unless a different address is listed below. NOTE: The date listed for each category of record is the earliest record known to exist in that county. It does not indicate that there are numerous records for that year and certainly does not indicate that all such events that year were actually registered. See also the Berrien County Courthouse History
Berrien County Clerk has the following Records for: Births & Deaths: 1867 to present, Marriages: 1831 to present, Divorces: 1867 to present, Other Records: DD214/. The Office is located at the County Administration Center, 701 Main Street, St. Joseph, MI 49085; Phone: 616-983-7111 ext. 8233
The County Clerk is responsible for keeping records of births, deaths, assumed names, co-partnerships, issuing and filing marriage licenses, gun permits, notary bonds and processing passports.
Berrien County Register of Deeds has Land Records from 1831 and is located at the County Administration Center, 701 Main Street, St. Joseph, MI 49085; Phone: 269-983-7111 ext. 8562, Fax: 269-982-8659.
The Register is the County's official recording officer for all legal documents pertaining to the transfers and encumbrances of all real estate property within the County. The Register also provides permanent storage for approved original subdivision plats, condominiums, land surveys and section corners.
Berrien County Clerk of the Probate Court has Probate Records from 1834 and is located at the County Courthouse, see address above for contact information. Phone: 269-983-7111 ext.8365 .
The Court Adjudicates and disposes of cases involving property of persons who have died or become incompetent, interprets wills and trusts, commits the mentally ill when necessary and appoints guardians and conservators for minors, incapacitated individuals and individuals with developmental disability.
Berrien County Clerk of the Circuit Court has Court Records from 1833 and is located at the County Courthouse, see address above for contact information. Phone: (616) 983-7111, Ext. 8368 .
The Clerk provides a variety of functions for the court such as, but not limited to: filing and maintaing the official record for all cases that come before the court; providing staff to assist in the operation of the court; working with the Jury Commission and notifying all potential jurors to appear for jury duty; and, processing felony criminal cases bound over from the District Court.
County Treasurer - Property tax records at the county level usually date back to the first land records. Either the county treasurer or the register of deeds will be the custodian of these records.
Below is a list of online resources for Berrien County Court Records. Email us with websites containing Berrien County Court Records by clicking the link below:
Birth, marriage, and death records are connected with central life events. They are prime sources for genealogical information.
The State of Michigan Vital Records Office is located at 201 Townsend Street, Capitol View Bldg, 3rd Floor, Lansing MI 48913 (across the street from the state capitol - south side). The office hours are 8:00 am - 5:00 pm Mon-Fri, except for State holidays. They are open thru the lunch hour. If applying in person, you must submit your request by 3:00 pm in order to obtain same-day service. It can take up to 1-3 months to get a vital record from Michigan.
Below is a list of online resources for Berrien County Vital Records. Email us with websites containing Berrien County Vital Records by clicking the link below:
Few, if any, records reveal as many details about individuals and families as do government census records. Substitute records can be used when the official census is unavailable
Countywide Records: Federal Population Schedules that exist for Berrien County, Michigan are 1830, 1840, 1850, 1860, 1870, 1880, 1890 (fragment, see below), 1900, 1910, 1920 and 1930.
Other Federal Schedules to look at when researching your Family Tree in Berrien County, Michigan are Industry and Agriculture Schedules availible for the years 1850, 1860, 1870 and 1880. The Mortality Schedules for the years 1850, 1860, 1870 and 1880. There are free downloadable and printable Census forms to help with your research. These include U.S. Census Extraction Forms and U.K. Census Extraction Forms.
Below is a list of online resources for Berrien County Census Records. Email us with websites containing Berrien County Census Records by clicking the link below:
Genealogy Atlas has images of old American atlases during the years 1795, 1814, 1822, 1823, 1836, 1838, 1845, 1856, 1866, 1879 and 1897 for Michigan and other states.
You can view rotating animated maps for Michigan showing all the county boundaries for each census year overlayed with past and present maps so you can see the changes in county boundaries. You can view a list of maps for other states at Census Maps
You can view rotating animated maps for Michigan showing all the county boundary changes for each year overlayed with past and present maps so you can see the changes in county boundaries. You can view a list of maps for other states at County Maps
Below is a list of online resources for Berrien County Maps. Email us with websites containing Berrien County Maps by clicking the link below:
Military and civil service records provide unique facts and insights into the lives of men and women who have served their country at home and abroad.
The uses and value of military records in genealogical research for ancestors who were veterans are obvious, but military records can also be important to re-searchers whose direct ancestors were not soldiers in any war. The fathers, grandfathers, brothers, and other close relatives of an ancestor may have served in a war, and their service or pension records could contain information that will assist in further identifying the family of primary interest. Due to the amount of genealogical information contained in some military pension files, they should never be overlooked during the research process. Those records not containing specific genealogical information are of historic value and should be included in any overall research design.
Below is a list of online resources for Berrien County Military Records. Email us with websites containing Berrien County Military Records by clicking the link below:
The Repositories in this section are Archives, Libraries, Museums, Genealogical and Historical Societies. Many County Historical and Genealogical Societies publish magazines and/or news letters on a monthly, quarterly, bi-annual or annual basis. Contacting the local societies should not be over looked. State Archives and Societies are usually much larger and better organized with much larger archived materials than their smaller county cousins but they can be more generalized and over look the smaller details that local societies tend to have. Libraries can also be a good place to look for local information. Some libraries have a genealogy section and may have some resources that are not located at archives or societies. Also, take a special look at any museums in the area. They sometimes have photos and items from years gone by as well as information of a genealogical interest. All these places are vitally important to the family genealogist and must not be passed over.
Below is a list of online resources for Berrien County Genealogical Addresses. Email us with websites containing Berrien County Genealogical Addresses by clicking the link below:
Obituaries can vary in the amount of information they contain, but many of them are genealogical goldmines, including information such as names, dates, places of birth and death, marriage information, and family relationships.
There are many churches and cemeteries in Berrien County. Some transcriptions are online. A great site is the Berrien County Tombstone Transcription Project.
The earliest religious denomination in Michigan was the Roman Catholic church, established through a mission in 1668 at Sault Ste. Marie. Ste. Anne's, in Detroit, has parish records beginning in 1703.
Michigan Historical Collections in Ann Arbor holds large collections from the Presbyterian Church and the Protestant Episcopal Church, in addition to other denominations. Dutch Reformed church records are at Calvin College and Seminary Library in Grand Rapids; Finnish church records are deposited at the Finnish-American Historical Archives at Suomi College in Hancock. The Upjohn Library at Kalamazoo College in Kalamazoo has a large collection of Baptist archive material. Many early Detroit churches have their records deposited at the Burton Historical Collection-Detroit Public Library. The Michigan Historical Records Survey, WPA, completed an Inventory of the Church Archives of Michigan, and many of the church records from this inventory were published from 1936 through 1942.
The Library of Michigan in Lansing and the Burton Historical Collection have over 1,000 books of transcribed or published tombstone readings from Michigan cemeteries. To locate a cemetery in the state, consult the Michigan Cemetery Compendium. It lists most cemeteries in Michigan.
Below is a list of online resources for Berrien County Cemetery & Church Records. Email us with websites containing Berrien County Cemetery & Church Records by clicking the link below:
The use of published genealogies, electronic files containing genealogical lineage, and other compiled sources can be of tremendous value to a researcher.
When view family trees online or not, be sure to only take the info at face value and always follow up with your own sources or verify the ones they provide. Below is a list of online resources for Berrien County Family Trees, web forums and other family type information. Email us with websites containing Berrien County Family Trees, web forums and other family type information by clicking the link below:
Located on Lake Michigan in the southwest corner of the state, and bisected by the St. Joseph River, Berrien County has a long history that begins with the earliest explorers of the Great Lakes. Jacques Marquette was the first white man to visit the region. But it was Rene' Robert Cavelier Sieur de la Salle who had the first real impact.
Arriving in 1679, La Salle built Fort Miami at the mouth of the St. Joseph River. Located at the present site of St. Joseph, Ft. Miami became the base for several explorations into the Mississippi River Valley. Near the end of the seventeenth century other French explorers built Ft. St. Joseph up the river at the present site of Niles. They also established a Jesuit mission at the Niles fort.
Though Ft. Miami fell into disuse, Ft. St. Joseph was occupied until the French left the area in 1763. The British held the fort until captured by the Spanish in 1781. Though the Spaniards stayed only a few days, their presence provided Niles with the unique distinction of being a "Town of four flags"; the only Michigan community able to make such a claim.
With the exception of a few traders, Berrien remained unsettled until Squire Isaac Thompson, the county's first settler, arrived at Niles in 1823. Organized in 1831 and named after U.S. Attorney General John M. Berrien, the county was populated by settlers who poured into Berrien during the 1830s and endured a multitude of hardships.
One problem, the "ague," a form of malaria that came on as attacks of violent chills, high fever, and copious sweating, plagued the newcomers throughout the 1830s. But the settlers resolved their problems with ingenuity. One Buchanan housewife rigged up a harness so her husband could churn the butter and rock the baby each time he was afflicted with the "shakes."
During this period Michigan's Indians and settlers maintained a cordial relationship. But in one instance, that cordiality temporarily ended. At the James M. Sorter cabin it was common for Indians to spend severe winter nights before the cabin's fire. But one morning when the Sorters awoke they discovered that their nocturnal guests had stolen part of their precious winter food supply. Disappointed that their trust had been violated, a week later, the Sorters were pleased to find a freshly killed deer on their table as repayment for the missing food.
Pioneers continued to immigrate to Berrien and by the outbreak of the Civil War the county's population stood well over 20,000. Answering their country's call-to-arms, Berrien sent over 3,000 men and a few women to war.
With the advent of war Hannah Carlisle of Buchanan accompanied the 2nd Michigan Cavalry to St. Louis, was assigned as a nurse, and served in that capacity for the duration. Women at home received less publicity but also 'served.' After the war, D. W. Gaugler of Berrien Springs was able to sell his farm and enter the furniture business because, while he was off to war, his wife had managed the farm so efficiently that she greatly increased its value.
Following the war, Berrien experienced impressive growth. As early as 1670 a member of La Salle's expedition wrote that the area's warm winters and sandy soil provided a good place for growing all kinds of fruit.
The French were mainly trappers, not farmers, and did not exploit this opportunity, but it foretold of things to come. As early as 1834 peaches were being harvested and in 1839 the first shipment of peaches was transported and sold in Chicago. From these small beginnings, Berrien County's fruit production has grown to enormous proportions.
Today Berrien is the heart of Michigan's 'fruit belt,' and its fruit production is awesome. The county leads all Michigan counties in the production of peaches, pears and grapes, is second in apples, plums and prunes, and a respectable fourth in tart cherries. Berrien is also the home of Michigan's wine production. Benton Harbor has long been the home of the world's largest outdoor retail fruit market, and every spring a half-century old "blessing of the blossoms" ceremony begins a weeklong celebration, which is culminated by a parade viewed by crowds in excess of 250,000.
The second aspect of Berrien's trinity of growth is tourism. As with the fruit industry, Lake Michigan and the proximity to Chicago greatly aided the county's tourist trade.
In 1873 Stanley Morton, one of Benton Harbor's earliest residents, ran his small ship, the Lake Breeze, to Chicago and transported tourists to southwestern Michigan. By the summer months of the early twentieth century, numerous ships made the short voyage and brought thousands of Chicagoans to Berrien.
Up and down Berrien's fifty-mile coastline, as well as among its eighty-six inland lakes, were resorts, which catered to the tourists' demands. Places like the Whitcomb, Golfmore, Planks Tavern, Paw Paw Lake, and Tabors Farm, were only a few of the many resorts that were jammed every summer. But with the popularity of the automobile, tourists followed highways north and tourism today is more a fond memory than a flourishing industry.
Industry is the trinity's final element. In 1911 Fred and Louis Upton moved to St. Joseph, obtained a patent for an electric clothes washer, and began the Upton Machine Company. The company almost failed, but after a decade of problems the Uptons enjoyed success. They changed the company's name in 1950 and the Upton Machine Co., now known as the Whirlpool Corporation, has become a leading manufacturer of home appliances and one of the nation's largest corporations.
About the time the Uptons moved to St. Joseph, a small Chicago tool company relocated in Buchanan. Today Clark Equipment Company is internationally famous as a leader in the manufacture of a variety of items, particularly heavy-duty machinery.
Other men of industry and commerce, who at least began their careers in Berrien, include John and Horace Dodge, and Montgomery Ward. The Dodge Brothers were born in Niles and owned a bicycle manufacturing business before moving to Detroit and establishing Dodge Brothers, Inc., producer of automobiles. Montgomery Ward moved to Niles as a young boy and lived in Berrien until 1865 when he moved to Chicago and founded the mail order department store chain that still bears his name.
As with fruit and tourism, the list of industrial contributions is long and impressive. But Berrien has produced more than industrialists, farmers and hotel managers. The county's greatest literary figure was Ring Lardner.
Born in Niles in 1885, Lardner was one of the best-known American authors in the 1920s. He began his career writing sketches of sporting events for a local paper, and later worked for papers in Chicago and New York, where he wrote a popular syndicated column. Beginning in 1914 the Saturday Evening Post began publication of a series of articles that were to become Lardner's best-known works. Later entitled You Know Me Al, the articles were letters from an ignorant bush league baseball player to his friend, and were among the first literary uses of American common speech. Lardner died in 1933 and his achievements were favorably compared to those of Mark Twain.
Though not a native, Carl Sandburg lived at Harbert for fifteen years, and during that period worked on the biography of Abraham Lincoln that won him the Pulitzer Prize.
And finally, the residents of the sleepy village of Three Oaks, who challenged the nation and won. As a result of a contest to raise money for a memorial to the men of the Maine, sunk in Havana harbor in 1898, Three Oaks raised the largest contribution, per capita, of any U.S. community. As victors they received a cannon captured by Admiral George Dewey at the battle of Manila. President William McKinley dedicated the cannon memorial on October 17, 1899*, which still stands in Dewey Cannon Park as a proud reminder of the campaign labeled by locals as "Three Oaks Against the World."