St Joseph County was created on 29 Oct 1829 (Organized in 1829) and was formed from Unorganized Land. The County was named for the river for which the county is named got its name from a mission established along it by the French. They named the mission for St. Joseph, the patron saint of New France. New France included the lands the French claimed in what are now Canada and the United States. The County Seat is Centreville . See also County History for more historical details.
Counties adjacent to St. Joseph County are Kalamazoo County (north), Branch County (east), Cass County (west), LaGrange County, Indiana (south), Elkhart County, Indiana (southwest). Townships found in St Joseph County include Burr Oak, Colon, Constantine, Fabius, Fawn River, Florence, Flowerfield, Leonidas, Lockport, Mendon, Mottville, Nottawa, Park, Sherman, Sturgis, White Pigeon Townships. Cities, Towns and Communities include Burr Oak, Centreville, Colon, Constantine, Mendon, Sturgis, Three Rivers, White Pigeon.
Researchers often overlook the importance of court records, probate records, and land records as a source of family history information.
PLEASE READ FIRST!!!! Please call the clerk's department to confirm hours, mailing address, fees and other specifics before visiting or requesting information because of sometimes changing contact information.
All departments below at located at the St Joseph County Courthouse, 125 West Main Street, Centreville, MI 49032 , 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.
St Joseph County Clerk has the following Records for: Births & Deaths: 1867 to present, Marriages: 1832 to present, Divorces: 1900 to present (Circuit Court records prior to 1900 are available at the Archives and Regional History Collections, Western Michigan University, Kalamazoo, Michigan), Naturalization: 1854 to mid 1960s. The Office is located at the County Courthouse, see address above for contact information. Phone: 616-467-5602 .
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.
St Joseph County Register of Deeds has Land Records from 1830 and is located at the County Courthouse, see address above for contact information. Phone: (269)467-6361 .
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.
St Joseph County Clerk of the Probate Court has Probate Records from 1832 and is located at the County Courthouse, see address above for contact information. Phone: (269)467-5500 .
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.
St Joseph County Clerk of the Circuit Court has Court Records from 1842 and is located at the County Courthouse, see address above for contact information. Phone: (269)467-5500 .
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.
Below is a list of online resources for St Joseph County Court Records. Email us with websites containing St Joseph 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 St Joseph County Vital Records. Email us with websites containing St Joseph 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 St Joseph 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 St Joseph 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 St Joseph County Census Records. Email us with websites containing St Joseph 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 Ohio 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 St Joseph County Maps. Email us with websites containing St Joseph 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 St Joseph County Military Records. Email us with websites containing St Joseph County Military Records by clicking the link below:
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.
Numerous early tax assessment and general tax rolls are available at the State Archives of Michigan. Organized by county, the records include the name of the owner or occupant of the property, legal description and number of acres, value of land and personal estate, and amount of tax levied. There are tax rolls for some counties for the late 1830s, but most are for the last half of the nineteenth century.
The National Archives/Great Lakes Region in Chicago holds numerous federal personal property and corporate tax assessment lists for the state of Michigan
Below is a list of online resources for St Joseph County Tax Records. Email us with websites containing St Joseph County Tax 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 St Joseph County Genealogical Addresses. Email us with websites containing St Joseph 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 St Joseph County. Some transcriptions are online. A great site is the St Joseph 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 St Joseph County Cemetery & Church Records. Email us with websites containing St Joseph 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 St Joseph County Family Trees, web forums and other family type information. Email us with websites containing St Joseph County Family Trees, web forums and other family type information by clicking the link below:
St. Joseph County, named after a river, is a region of rivers. Here, gather the many waters that give to the famed St. Joseph its size, its power and its beauty. Entering the county from the east, the historic stream is only an over-grown creek. Flowing out of the county to the southwest it is a rushing, picturesque river. On the way it gathers to itself Swan Creek, Bear Creek, Portage River, Rocky River, Prairie River, Fawn River and the White Pigeon River, as well as minor tributaries. Lakes, themselves spring-fed and creek-fed, are among the headwaters of these contributing streams. Lakes in strings, connected by adventure-inviting channels: lakes in clusters; lakes set solitaire; all allure the fisherman, the nature reveler and the seeker after cool quietude. Still and running waters combine in furnishing outing pleasures.
County RiverThese rivers and lakes of St. Joseph County lured the Red Man in savage days, as they lure the weary palefaces of civilization today.
Legends passed on by the Indians to the white pioneers, and by the pioneers to their children tell of desperate battles fought for the possession of these ancient Happy Hunting Grounds.
The last battle was fought in 1801 - so the legends say - just before the coming of the first Yankee settlers from beyond the Alleghenies. At that time, St. Joseph County was at the edge of the vast Michigan forest which stretched from the Indiana plains to the shore of Lake Superior. This borderland was broken with oak openings and with woods-enclosed patches of prairie land.
The combination of woods, lakes, rivers and rich open lands made this an ideal place for game, fish, fowl and the Red Man. Here the braves could hunt deer; fish; and go adventuring in their canoes. Here they could idle amid the luxuriousness of nature while their squaws planted and harvested the crops of maize which grew generously on the fertile soil.
The Pottawatomie long held possession. They lived in peace with their neighbors, the Ottawa's of the Kalamazoo Valley and with the most distant Ottawa's of the Grand River Valley.
Then came the Shawnees from the Wabash Valley. They coveted the pleasant and plentiful land. Under the leadership of Chief Elkhart, they crept through the wilderness and fell suddenly upon the unsuspecting Pottawatomie. In the surprise battle that followed, the Pottawatomie were defeated and driven from their homes.
But victory was costly to Chief Elkhart, for the vanquished Pottawatomie carried away with them, in their flight, Princess Mishawaka, daughter of the fierce Shawnee leader. Herewith, began the romance of the princess, a romance of St. Joseph County that was to separate her from her people but to bring her happiness with her scout lover. Chief Elkhart set up his village in the favorable spot where the Pottawatomie had their teepees - where the Rocky River, the Portage River and the St. Joseph River came together, the present site of Three Rivers.
Native AmericanThe oak openings, rivers, lakes and prairies of St. Joseph County and the hunting, the fishing and the crops they afforded were too dear to the Pottawatomie to be given up without a desperate struggle. Chief Pokagon called into council of war the Ottawa's of the Kalamazoo Valley, under Chief Waukazoo, and the Ottawa's of the Grand River Valley, under Chief Okemos.
The three bands of Indians decided to unite and drive out the invader. This they did, attacking from all sides by fleets of canoes and by land. The Shawnees had entrenched themselves and were ready to meet one band, but when two other bands made attacks from other directions the Shawnees were taken by surprise and routed. They fled in panic. Later, old Chief Elkhart sued for peace, departing with his followers to the Valley of the Wabash, from whence they had come.
Today, people coming in numbers far exceeding the Shawnees of old, are welcomed to the present Happy Hunting Grounds for St. Joseph County has food, sport and fun enough to care for armies of happiness seekers.
Langley Covered Bridge Today, the wilderness is gone and the bumpy, miry, winding Redskin Trail has become a smooth, straight pavement. There are easy roads, leading to the lakes, roads through regions that were almost impassable, even to the Red Man, in wilderness days. And the visitor today has for more to see of beauty and charm. The former landscape, mainly of woods and swamps has been replaced with woods and greenery which discloses the rolling country and glimpses of lakes and streams which were hidden from stagecoach travelers in the olden days.
On November 4, 1829, actual government was inaugurated within the present limits of St. Joseph County, at White Pigeon, by order of the Territorial Council. Provisions for holding court, with the usual jurisdiction and functions, was granted and was held at the house of Asahel Savery on the White Pigeon Prairie.
Residence of D.D. TennysonThe original county was divided into townships and first settled as follows: Townships of White Pigeon in 1827, Mottville, Fawn River and Sturgis in 1828, Lockport, Florence, Constantine, Colon, Nottawa, and Flowerfield in 1829, Fabius, Sherman in 1830, Burr Oak, Leonidas and Mendon in 1831, with Park Township in 1834. The first election ever held in St. Joseph County was the Town Meeting of April 1830, conducted in White Pigeon and Sherman Townships. The City of Three Rivers is located in the northwest quadrant, primarily occupying Lockport Township lands, but also containing small portions of Fabius within its corporate boundaries. Flowerfield and Park Townships lie to the north of these units, completing the northwest quarter. The City of Sturgis incorporating lands from Sherman, Burr Oak, Fawn River and Sturgis Townships is in the southeast quadrant, with its south City Limits only one mile from the Indiana border.
The County Seat of Centreville occupies Lockport and Nottawa Township lands and is located at the mid-point of the County. Mendon, Leonidas, Colon and Nottawa Townships comprise the northeast quadrant; Florence, Constantine, Mottville and White Pigeon and Colon bear the name of the Township in which they are located.
The first Board of Supervisors met at Savery's house in White Pigeon on April 19, 1830. On April 23rd the new Board of Supervisors created assessors and instructed them to return assessments for the year 1830 at $30 for each horse, oxen at $40 per yoke, cows at $10, and all animals taxed being over three years of age. Land was valued at $1.25 per acre.
White Pigeon was selected as the temporary seat of justice for the reason that it was the largest settlement. Upon the growth and development of other areas of the county, however, there appeared a need for a central location. On the basis of prevailing sentiment and liberal land donations, recommendations were made to the Governor, who issued a proclamation November 22, 1831, locating the county seat at Centreville.
The first courthouse was the leased upper room of the only two-story frame buildingin Centreville, built and owned by Thomas W. Langley. This was in the fall of 1832. The building was located on the corner of Main and Clark Streets and served the courts and county officials until the first courthouse was erected in the fall of 1842 at a cost of $43,200.00.
Cities and villages were platted as follows: White Pigeon 1830, Sturgis County Courthouse 1832, Mottville 1830, Centreville 1831, Constantine 1831, Three Rivers 1830, Flowerfield 1833, Colon 1832, Leonidas 1846, Burr Oak 1851, and Mendon in 1845.
The present courthouse was placed on the State Historic Register on March 20, 1984 and the National Historic Register on September 16, 1993. Because of the growth and expanding of the courts and court related offices the new Courts Building, located immediately south of the Courthouse, was completed in 1975 at a cost of about $1,324,000.00.
Annex Building I and II house various County Offices and/or County related offices. The County Jail is on the east side of Centreville. The Jail was constructed in 1961 and was remodeled to meet the standards of the State in 1982 and again in 1988. Annex III is called Keystone Place and is used as a homeless shelter.
In 1995-96 the County built an 8000 square foot addition to the jail to house County offices that were vacating the Courthouse due to a $3.8 million restoration/renovation project. This included compliance under the American with Disabilities Act for all County buildings.
In September of 1997 after a rededication celebration was held on August 1, 1997 the offices moved back to the newly remodeled Courthouse. Beginning in the fall of 1998 remodeling of the 8000 square foot addition began at the Sheriff's Department which is now housing Administration Offices. Their former offices are now being used for housing prisoners.
The first marriage in the county, of actual residents, was that of John W. Fletcher and Sarah Knox. performed by Justice of the Peace Samuel Stewart on September 18, 1831. The first divorce occurred in 1834.
The first two children were born to the Reichert and Cutler families during 1829. The first deaths were those of George Buck and Levi Waterman who were buried in a well they were digging in 1829. The first cemetery was established at White Pigeon in 1830.
The first stock of goods for sale in the county was transported by wagon to White Pigeon and transferred to Mottville Stewarts Store and consisted of codfish, one keg of tobacco and five barrels of whiskey. The business of the pioneer merchant was entirely conducted by exchange, as money was scarce and dealers took wheat, had it made into flour, and shipped to eastern creditors.
The first hotel Old Diggins and the first post office were established at White Pigeon during 1828; the first mail route was from Tecumseh to White Pigeon during 1829 (providing mail each way twice a week in summer and once in two weeks in winter); and John Winchell of White Pigeon was the first mailman in the county. The first stagecoach operated on Chicago Road (1831-32) between Tecumseh, White Pigeon and Niles. The Year 1851 saw the first railroads in the county.
St. Joseph County led the United States in production of mint oil and, in fact, any section of the world of equal area. Cultivation of mint started in 1835. After 1850, the county became noted for the raising of peaches, cherries and plums in abundance.
The evidence of Mound Builders suggests an even earlier settlement but the earliest known date is 1721 when the Pottawatomie Tribe left Wisconsin and migrated to this area. At the close of the Revolutionary War, England relinquished Michigan to the United States and in 1787 it became part of the Northwest Territory. The Ordinance of 1787 governing the Territory prohibited slavery and provided one section of land in each 36 sections for school purposes. Major General Arthur St. Clair was governor.
BankThe population of the entire Northwest Territory was estimated at 7,820 whites and 65,000 Indians. In 1805 William Hull was made Governor of the newly formed Territory of Michigan. The largest Indian Settlements were in the northeasterly portion of St. Joseph County and the southeasterly part of Kalamazoo County, but apparently the white settlers were able to introduce the Indians to whiske, and by 1821 Chief Topinabee sold most of the present County to the whites for annual payments of $5,000 a year for 20 years. The Ottawa Tribe was to receive $1,500 a year for a blacksmith and teacher plus $1,000 a year forever.
Following this treaty the St. Joseph area was attached to Monroe County in 1822. In 1827, Judge John Sturges and John Thurston cleared ten acres of land and planted wheat, and by the following year the Judge and his family lived in a cabin in what is now called Maple Crest. It was in that same year that George Buck became the first settler in what is now Sturgis.
Before 1830, an elderly Indian Chief established a toll station on the old trail near Mottville, and charged all travelers a fee. The first mill in the area was built by Mr. Klinger near Mottville, and William Taylor opened a tavern in the Village. Mr. Taylor later became the first sheriff of the County.
As early as 1827, Florence Township was organized, and in 1828 Meek's Mill was established and became known as Constantine in 1831. Constantine was widely known as the Chicago of Southern Michigan. Also in 1828 Fawn River Township began. It contained the one-building Village of Freedom on what is now US-12 and County Farm Road.
Michael Beadle settled in Flowerfield Township in 1829 and built a grist mill in 1831. In the same year a carding mill and a saw mill were built. Park Township was formed in 1830 and Burr Oak in 1831.
Settlement of the County was rapid. White Pigeon, laid out in 1829, had a population of 800 in 1831. Sherman Township in 1829 included Sturgis, Fawn River, Nottawa and Colon Township.
Growth continued and in 1830 stage coaches between Chicago and Detroit ran through Sturgis, and the Methodists formed a church society in that year. The first family in Nottawa Township located near Centreville, which was platted in 1831. Centreville was designated the County seat in 1831 and St. Joseph County was officially incorporated as part of the new State of Michigan.
Leonidas organized as a Township in 1831 and Colon Village, begun in 1832, had a school by 1833. The first tavern was opened on Sturgis Prairie in 1831 and there was a saw mill on the Fawn River in the Crooked Creek area.
Family Group PhotoThe Village of Moab in 1829 and St. Joseph in 1830 located in Bucks Township (now Fabius and Lockport) were incorporated in the Three Rivers plat of 1836. Three Rivers was engaged in an intense rivalry with the Village of Echol, three miles south on an island in the river but the village was abandoned in 1840 after a dam broke.
In 1832 Chicago Drive was established as a military road. The first hotel was built in Three Rivers at the corner of Main and Portage in 1833, the same year that the first school was built.
The New York Central Railroad ran through Sturgis and by 1853 there was a rail connection from Three Rivers to White Pigeon. Both Sturgis and Three Rivers were incorporated as Villages in 1855.
Early records showed that Sturgis, in 1863, had a population of 1,600, and that there were four churches, three lodges, fourteen factories, twelve stores, a bank and a flour mill. As 1874 Census showed three flour mills, one saw mill, a planing mill, two pump factories and two schools in Three Rivers. There was great excitement in 1872 when deeds, mortgages and records were "kidnapped" from the County Court House and held for ransom. Major fires occurred in Sturgis in 1859 and Centreville in 1910. But the County grew and prospered. The rural areas were rural, and lake area development was seasonal. The non-farm families clustered in the Cities, the Villages and the small communities provided business services for their surrounding areas.
The increasing use of the automobile and truck began to change these patterns. Improved roads and rural electric lines and the development of the septic tank made it possible for urban families to build and live in the agricultural areas and lake areas and drive to and from work. The County population increased but the community population growth slowed down, and small community business declined or went out of existence. By 1830 there were 31,740 people in the County. Forty-three percent were in Sturgis and Three Rivers and eighteen percent were in the six Villages, leaving thirty-nine percent in unincorporated areas. This compares with fifty-three percent of the 1970 population in unincorporated areas. The planning process is based upon a thorough study of the physical factors, part population growth, economic trends and land use patterns which will influence the continuing development of the County.
St. Joseph County held their Sesquicentennial in 1979 to celebrate the 150 years of growth and dedicated service to the people we have served and look forward to the years ahead with continuing growth and development.