St Joseph County, Michigan
History, Records, Facts and Genealogy

Court Records | Vital Records | CENSUS Records | TAX Records | Military Records | Church & Cemetery |
Maps & Atlases | Genealogy Addresses | Genealogy Related Sites |

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.

  • The St Joseph County Official Government Website
  • St Joseph County, Michigan History Books at Amazon.com
  • Family History Library - The largest collection of free family history, family tree and genealogy records in the world.
  • Search Historical Newspapers from Michigan (1837 - 1922) - Quickly find names and keywords in over 450 million articles, obituaries, marriage notices, birth announcements and other items published in over 2,800 historical U.S. newspapers. New content added monthly!
  • Stories, Memories & Histories - Stories and histories compiled by others researching a person or area can be an amazing source of information about your ancestors. Not only do they generally contain dates and places of vital events like birth, marriage, and death, but they often relate stories and memories that help you really get to know the character of your ancestors.
  • Search Michigan Historical Records - Databases include Court, Land, Wills & Financial Records; Birth, Marriage & Death Records; Voter Lists & Census Records; Immigration & Emigration Records; Obituary Records; Military Records; Family Tree Records; Pictures; Stories, Memories & Histories; Directories & Member Lists and much more....

Courthouse Court Records

See Also Michigan Land Records, Marriage Records, Court & Probate Records

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:

  • Bureau of Land Management (BLM)
  • Michigan Land Records: Michigan Pre-1908 Homestead & Cash Entry Patent and Cadastral Survey Plat Index.
  • Michigan Eastern District Naturalizations: Index to Naturalization papers of the U.S. District Court, Eastern District of Michigan, Detroit, 1837-1903 and U.S. Circuit Court, Eastern District of Michigan, Detroit, 1837-1903
  • St Joseph County, Michigan Court Books at Amazon.com
  • Court, Land, Wills & Financial - Court records are an often overlooked, yet very valuable tool for finding information to assist you in your research. Land records, such as deeds, allow you to tie an ancestor to a specific place at a point in time. Other court records like those dealing with finances and estates often list related family members or give interesting details like the total value of property owned by your ancestors to add interest to your family history.
  • Immigration & Emigration - As our ancestors moved from one country to another, details about their lives were recorded on passenger lists and government documents. Immigration and emigration records can help you learn where your ancestors originally came from, where they went, when they left, who they traveled with, and more.

County Vital Records

See Also Vital Records in Michigan

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.


  • Birth Certificates: The Vital Records Office maintains birth records that occur in Michigan since 1867 to the present. Birth records are restricted in Michigan and only a person or parent named on the record or a legal guardian of the person named on the record may request a copy. A legal representative is eligible to request a copy if he/she represents the person named on the record. Photo identification is required to request a Michigan birth record (unless the birth record is at least 100 years old).
    • Cost: Initial search (fee includes a 3-year search, Each additional year is $12.00 per year) and one certified copy or certification of the record or No Record Statement is $26.00 and $12.00 for each additional copy. Make your check or money order payable to "STATE OF MICHIGAN". Enclose a business-size self-addressed envelope. If no record is found or no copy is made, state law requires that we keep check amount for a searching fee. Please do not send cash in the mail. Mail to: Vital Records Requests, PO Box 30721, Lansing MI 48909
    • Processing Time: If the birth year is 1906 to the present, your request will be processed within 4 weeks. If the birth year is prior to 1906, the processing time will be 1-3 months. when ordered by MAIL or 2-5 Days when you order ELECTRONICALLY
  • Death Certificates: The Vital Records Office maintains death records that occur in Michigan since 1867 to the present.
    • Cost: Initial search (fee includes a 3-year search, Each additional year is $12.00 per year) and one certified copy or certification of the record or No Record Statement is $26.00 and $12.00 for each additional copy. Make your check or money order payable to "STATE OF MICHIGAN". Enclose a business-size self-addressed envelope. If no record is found or no copy is made, state law requires that we keep check amount for a searching fee. Please do not send cash in the mail. Mail to: Vital Records Requests, PO Box 30721, Lansing MI 48909
    • Processing Time: If the death year is 1916 to the present, your request will be processed within 4 weeks of receipt in the vital records office. If the death year is prior to 1916, the processing time will be 1-3 months when ordered by MAIL or 2-5 Days when you order ELECTRONICALLY
  • Marriage Certificates: The Vital Records Office maintains marriage records that occur in Michigan since 1867 to the present.
    • Cost: Initial search (fee includes a 3-year search, Each additional year is $12.00 per year) and one certified copy or certification of the record or No Record Statement is $26.00 and $12.00 for each additional copy. Make your check or money order payable to "STATE OF MICHIGAN". Enclose a business-size self-addressed envelope. If no record is found or no copy is made, state law requires that we keep check amount for a searching fee. Please do not send cash in the mail. Mail to: Vital Records Requests, PO Box 30721, Lansing MI 48909
    • Processing Time: If the marriage year is 1926 to the present, your request will be processed within 4 weeks of receipt in the vital records office. If the marriage year is prior to 1926, the processing time will be 1-3 months when ordered by MAIL
  • Divorce Certificates: The Vital Records Office maintains divorce records that occur in Michigan since 1867 to the present.
    • Cost: Initial search (fee includes a 3-year search, Each additional year is $12.00 per year) and one certified copy or certification of the record or No Record Statement is $26.00 and $12.00 for each additional copy. Make your check or money order payable to "STATE OF MICHIGAN". Enclose a business-size self-addressed envelope. If no record is found or no copy is made, state law requires that we keep check amount for a searching fee. Please do not send cash in the mail. Mail to: Vital Records Requests, PO Box 30721, Lansing MI 48909
    • Processing Time: If the divorce year is 1925 to the present, your request will be processed within 4 weeks of receipt in the vital records office. If the divorce year is prior to 1925, the processing time will be 1-3 months when ordered by MAIL.
  • Order Online: You can also order Order Electronically Online to obtain a certified copy of a birth, marriage, death or divorce record with a credit or debit card and get the certificates within 2-5 days by ordering from VitalChek Express Certificate Service.
  • Apply In Person: If you wish to apply in person to order a Michigan vital record, you may do so at the office located at 201 Townsend St, Capitol View Building, 3rd Floor, Lansing MI 48913 (across from the State Capitol). Lobby hours are 8:00 am - 5:00 pm. Directions are available by logging onto our website at: www.michigan.gov/mdch or by calling 517-335-8666. A check or money order is preferred, and orders in our lobby must be placed by 3:00 pm in order to request same-day service. An additional fee of $10.00 is required for same-day service orders. Please allow a 2-3 hour waiting period for same-day service.

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:

  • VitalChek Express Certificate Service - Some documents are just too important to wait six weeks for. With VitalChek Express Certificate Service you won’t have to. VitalChek is the fast and convenient way to order certified government-issued vital records online. They make it easy for you to purchase the documents to which you are legally entitled. Beware of other online services that do not have relationships directly with the agencies that store your vital records. VitalChek's order process usually takes less than 10 minutes --And you can select express courier service for even faster delivery when time is running out.
  • Click Here to Search the Social Security Death Index for FREE- Search over 82 million death records and get genealogical information crucial to your family research. New content added weekly! Most comprehensive SSDI site online!
  • Research Death records In The World's Largest Newspaper Archive at NewpaperArchive.com! - Find thousands of historical Arkansas newspaper articles about deaths. Search for local articles about an old family friend that died many years ago or a celebrity that committed suicide. Historical newspapers contain a wealth of information about the deceased.
  • Birth, Marriage & Death - Vital records (births, deaths, marriages, and divorces) mark the milestones of our lives and are the foundation of family history research. Vital records, usually kept by a civic authority, can give you a more complete picture of your ancestor, help you distinguish between two people with the same name, and help you find links to a new generation.
  • Michigan Marriages to 1850: This database of Michigan marriages to 1850 contains 13,000 names.
  • Michigan Marriages, 1851-75: This database contains records of marriages within the state for the years 1851 through 1875.
  • Michigan Deaths, 1971-1996: With over 2.75 million records, the Michigan Death Index covers the years from 1971 to 1996, making this database of particular interest to those with relatives from Michigan.
  • St Joseph County, Michigan Birth, Marriage & Death Books at Amazon.com

County Census Records

See Also Research In Census Records & Statewide Records that exist for Michigan

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:

  • Michigan Census, 1827-70: This collection contains the following indexes: 1827 Territorial Census Index; 1837 Kalamazoo County Index; 1840 Federal Census Index; 1840 Pensioners List; 1845 State Census Index; 1850 Federal Census Index; 1860 Federal Census Index; 1870 Federal Census Index; Early Census Index.
  • Michigan State Census, 1894: This database contains information from the 1894 Michigan State Census for the counties of Barry, Bay, Benzie, Dickinson, Emmet, Gratiot, Iosco, Ingham, Kalamazoo, Keweenaw, Lapeer, Menominee, Montcalm, and Washtenaw.
  • St Joseph County, Michigan Census Books at Amazon.com
  • Census & Voter Lists - A census is an official list of the people in a particular area at a given time, while voter lists show those who were registered to vote in a certain area. The valuable information found on census records helps you to understand your family in their time and place. Voter Lists serve as a confirmation of residence in between the years that the census was taken.

County Maps & Atlases

See Also Research In State Map Collections

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:

  • The USGenWeb Archives Digital Map Library
  • Perry-Castañeda Library Map Collection: Michigan Maps
  • Historical Maps of Michigan - Geographical, Statistical, and Historical Map of Michigan Territory
  • American Memory Map Collection: 1500-2004 - extensive selection from the Library of Congress Map Collections, focusing on Americana and cartographic treasures.
  • St Joseph County, Michigan Map Books at Amazon.com
  • Maps, Atlases & Gazetteers - Maps are an invaluable part of family history research, especially if you live far from where your ancestor lived. Because political boundaries often changed, historic maps are critical in helping you discover the precise location of your ancestor's hometown, what land they owned, who their neighbors were, and more.

County Military Records

See Also Military Records in Michigan

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:

  • Michigan Society of Daughters of the American Revolution
  • National Society of Daughters of the American Revolution,
  • Michigan Society of Sons of the American Revolution,
  • National Society of Sons of the American Revolution, 1000 South Fourth Street, Louisville, Kentucky 40203; (502) 589-1776
  • Southern Claims Commission (The National Archives): View, Print Copy & Save Original Documents In the 1870s, southerners claimed compensation from the U.S. government for items used by the Union Army, ranging from corn and horses, to trees and church buildings.
  • Organization Index to Pension Files of Veterans Who Served Between 1861 and 1900 from the State of Michigan (The National Archives): View, Print Copy & Save Original Pension applications for service in the U.S. Army between 1861 and 1917, grouped according to the units in which the veterans served.
  • Revolutionary War Rolls, 1775-1783 (The National Archives): View, Print Copy & Save Original Documents in NARA publication M246 include muster rolls, payrolls, strength returns, and other miscellaneous personnel, pay, and supply records of American Army units, 1775-83.
  • Compiled Service Records of Soldiers Who Served in the American Army During the Revolutionary War (The National Archives): View, Print Copy & Save Original Documents in NARA publication M246 include muster rolls, payrolls, strength returns, and other miscellaneous personnel, pay, and supply records of American Army units, 1775-83.
  • Revolutionary War Pension and Bounty-Land Warrant Application Files (The National Archives): View, Print Copy & Save Original Revolutionary War Pension and Bounty-Land Warrant Application Files, from NARA publication M804.
  • Civil War Principals and Substitutes Index
  • Civil War Soldier Images Database
  • Guest Register of World War I Michigan Clubroom (located in New York City)
  • World War II Honor List of Dead and Missing: State of Michigan
  • 1835 Michigan Territorial Pensioners
  • 1840 Census of Pensioners for Revolutionary or Military Services State of Michigan
  • Michigan in the Civil War: This database contains a report compiled from reports of the Adjutant General and reports held by the War Department in Washington, of the services of Michigan regiments, batteries, and companies in the Civil War.
  • Michigan Military Records, 1775-1836: This database, originally compiled in 1920, is a collection of burial and pension records for residents of the state prior to 1836.
  • St Joseph County, Michigan Military Books at Amazon.com
  • Military - The men and women called to serve their country in military duty are a source of pride to their families and to their nation. Now, with databases containing more than 16 million names and thousands of government records available to search, researching your veteran ancestors has become easier than ever before.

County Tax Records

See Also Research In Tax Records

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:

  • St Joseph County, Michigan Tax Books at Amazon.com

County Genealogical Addresses

See Also Other Michigan Genealogical Addresses

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:

  • Tri-State Genealogical Society, 130 N. Nottawa St. Sturgis, MI 49091; Sturgis Public Library in the Wiselock Room, Every 3rd Thursday of the month, For more information call 1-616-651-3597
  • St. Joseph County Historical Society, P.O. Box 492, Centreville, MI / 49093; For more information call 1-616-496-5695
  • Sturgis Historical Society, 200 W. Main St., Sturgis, MI / 49091; Old Chamber of Commerce Depot, For more information call 1-616-651-3990
  • Three Rivers Genealogical Society, 13724 Spence Rd., Three Rivers, MI 49093; For more information call 1-616-244-5677
  • St. Joseph County Genealogical Society, P.O. Box 486, White Pigeon, MI 49099
  • National Archives - Great Lakes Region (Chicago), 7358 South Pulaski Road, Chicago, Illinois 60629-5898; 773-948-9001; E-mail: (Maintains retired records from Federal agencies and courts in Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio, and Wisconsin.) General Information Leaflet
  • State Archives of Michigan, 702 W Kalamazoo Str, P.O. Box 30738, Lansing, MI 48909-8238; (517) 373-1408; Original material generated by government offices at the state and/or local level, including census records, tax assessment rolls, military records and photographs are among the extensive holdings. They also have some naturalization files, correctional facility records, school records, and depression era agency files. The archives distribute information circulars on many topics. The circulars act as finding aids to their extensive collection.
  • The Historical Society of Michigan, 1305 Abbott Rd., East Lansing, MI 48823; (517) 324-1828; Fax: (517) 324-4370, e-mail:
  • Library of Michigan, : 702 W. Kalamazoo St, Lansing, MI 48909; Holdings here include an extensive genealogical and historical collection including books, microforms, manuscripts, newspapers, surname index, Centennial and Sesquicentennial Certificate applications, and diaries. Records are housed in a new building with card catalog. See: http://michigan.gov/hal/libraryofmichigan for more information/services. Limited reference service to mail request. They also offer online reference services at:
  • Newspapers & Periodicals - The Newspapers & Periodicals Collection lets you discover a wealth of information about your ancestors from many historical newspapers, magazines, and other periodicals. These types of sources can often supplement public records and provide information that is not recorded anywhere else. Here, you can learn more about your ancestor's possible daily activities by placing them in the context of their time.
  • Directories & Member Lists - Directories and member lists are typically compilations of information about people who belonged to various associations and groups or lived within city boundaries. They can be thought of as the predecessors to the modern-day phone book and usually list names, addresses, and sometimes the occupations of your ancestors.
  • Michigan Genealogical Society Books at Amazon.com

County Church & Cemeteries

See Also Church & Cemetery Records in Michigan

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:

  • Find Obituaries in The World's Largest Newspaper Archive at NewpaperArchive.com! - Find thousands of Michigan obituaries to help you research your family history. Search for a Michigan newspaper obituary about your ancestor or a celebrity. Begin your search today and find death notices and funeral announcements printed in newspapers from Michigan.
  • Revolutionary Soldiers Buried in Michigan
  • St Joseph County, Michigan Cemetery Books at Amazon.com
  • St Joseph County, Michigan Church Books at Amazon.com

Family Trees & Genealogy Tidbits

 

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:

  • Search for Local Michigan Researchers or Earn Money by becoming a Local Michigan Researcher!
  • Search 60 Years Of Everton Data: For the first time ever you can get access to more than 150,000 pedigree files and family group sheets from Evertons. Learn More
  • Sites on USGenweb: [ St Joseph County ] [ Michigan ] [ Main Page ]
  • Search the Family Tree DNA Project- Use DNA testing to break through your genealogical barriers!
  • The Michigan Family Group Sheet Project
  • St Joseph County MIGenWeb Archives
  • [GenForum Message Boards] [Rootsweb Message Boards]
  • Genealogy Encyclopedia: General Abbreviations, Early Illnesses, Nickname Meanings, Worldwide Epidemics, Early Occupations, Common Terms, Censuses Explained, Free Genealogical Forms
  • Nichols and Related Families of Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Florida, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, and Virgina.
  • Family Trees - Ancestry has thousands of family trees shared by other members. They can help you identify how ancestors are related and give you clues about birth, marriage, and death information. Family trees are an excellent resource for filling in gaps in your research or even to simply know where to begin.
  • Pictures - One of the more exciting discoveries in doing family history research is finding a photograph of your ancestors or their residence. Finding historic postcard photos and drawings of towns and important events throughout history can also give you a visual look into your ancestors lives.
  • Reference Materials & Finding Aids - Reference materials, including dictionaries, encyclopedias, and other how-to books, can be tremendously helpful in finding and interpreting historical documents. Many of these books can help you learn where to look for more information and how to use what you've already found to uncover more clues.
  • St Joseph County, Michigan Family Books at Amazon.com

Extended History

 

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.

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