Michigan County Record Description & Facts
Census Records | Court & Probate Records | Church & Cemetery Records | Land Records | Military Records | Vital Records
Michigan Census Records - Federal Population Schedules that exist for Michigan are 1800, 1810, 1820, 1830, 1840, 1850, 1860, 1870, 1880, 1890 (fragment, see below), 1900, 1910, 1920 and 1930. The 1820 Census includes six counties and Detroit. A complete set of federal population and supplemental schedules are available on microfilm at the State Archives of Michigan along with available AIS indexes.
There are Industry and Agriculture Schedules availible for the years 1850, 1860, 1870 and 1880. Slave Schedules exist for 1850 & 1860. The Mortality Schedules for the years 1850, 1860, 1870 and 1880. Union Veterans Schedules were conducted in 1890.
Territorial and State: Numerous state and territorial censuses were taken in Michigan, although few are extant. In 1710 the French compiled the first Michigan census. This, plus numerous others through the year 1792, were basically of the Detroit area. Fort Saint Joseph had a census taken in 1780 (Michigan Pioneer and Historical Collections, Vol. 10, 1908, pages 406—07), as did Wayne County in 1796, which was printed in National Genealogical Society Quarterly 64 (1981): 185—94. A tax list of Wayne County in 1802 and a list of residents of Detroit in 1805 may be considered early enumerations of Michigan population.
Excerpts From the Book "Family History Made Easy"
Since 1790, the U.S. government has taken a nationwide population count every ten years. Unique in scope and often surprisingly detailed, the census population schedules created from 1790 to 1920 are among the most used of records created by the federal government. Over the course of two centuries the United States has changed significantly, and so has the census. From the six basic questions asked in the 1790 census, the scope and categories of information have changed and expanded dramatically.
Early censuses were essentially basic counts of inhabitants; but as the nation grew, so did the need for statistics that would reflect the characteristics of the people. In 1850, the focus of the census was radically broadened. Going far beyond the vague questions previously asked of heads of households, the 1850 census enumerators were instructed to ask the age, sex, color, occupation, birthplace, and other questions regarding every individual in every household. Succeeding enumerations solicited more information; by 1920, census enumerators asked twenty-nine questions of every head of household and almost as many questions of everyone else in the residence. (Only a very small segment of the 1890 census remains; a fire in the Commerce Department destroyed the vast majority of the original records for that year. Because of privacy considerations, census records less than seventy-two years old are not available to the general public; thus, the 1920 census is the most recent available to the public.)
Few, if any, records reveal as many details about individuals and families as do the U.S. federal censuses. The population schedules are successive “snapshots” of Americans that depict where and how they were living at particular periods in the past. Once home sources and library sources have been exhausted, the census is often the best starting point for further genealogical research. Statewide indexes are available for almost every census; they are logical tools for locating individuals whose precise place of residence is unknown. While some inaccuracies are to be expected in census records, they still provide some of the most fascinating and useful pieces of personal history to be found in any source. If nothing else, census records are important sources for placing individuals in specific places at specific times. Additionally, information found in the census will often point to other sources critical to complete research, such as court, land, military, immigration, naturalization, and vital records.
The importance of census records does not diminish over time in any research project. It is always wise to return to these records as discoveries are made in other sources because, as you discover new evidence about individuals, some information that seemed unrelated or unimportant in a first look at the census may take on new importance.
When you can’t find family, vital, or religious records, census records may be the only means of documenting the events of a person’s life. Vital registration—the official recording of births, deaths, and marriages—did not begin until around 1920 in many areas of the United States, and fires, floods and other disasters since have destroyed some official government records. When other documentation is missing, census records are frequently used by individuals who must prove their age or citizenship status (or that of their parents) for Social Security benefits, insurance, passports, and other important reasons.
How to Find Census Records
Starting With the Census
Michigan Court Records - Records at the county level are the responsibility of different offices-office of the county clerk: birth, death, and marriage; register of deeds: land records; office of the probate judge: probate files; and circuit court office or office of the county clerk: circuit court records.
County circuit court records are kept by the county clerk or the circuit court clerk in the appropriate county office. There are no state indexes to these records.
Immigration - The French were the first Europeans to inhabit present-day Michigan. The Burton Historical Collection holds typed transcriptions of twenty-two volumes of French Notarial Records for Montreal (1682-1822) and four volumes of the Detroit Notarial Records (1737-95). Included are business contracts, indentures, apprentice and servant contracts, and fur trade transactions. Michigan French-Canadian descendants definitely should attempt to utilize the extensive available Canadian provincial and religious records in all repositories.
Michigan attracted a large number of immigrants. Entries for collections on various groups can be found in all of the repositories' holdings. One example is in Michigan Historical Collections in Ann Arbor, which holds letters sent by Swedish immigrants to entice others to come, as well as Swedish-language newspapers published in Michigan. Ethnic Groups in Detroit (Wayne State University, Department of Sociology and Anthropology, 1951) was published as part of the city's 250th anniversary. Included is a discussion of forty-three ethnic groups.
Naturalization - Beginning in the 1840s and burgeoning near the end of the century, immigrants from northern and eastern Europe journeyed to Michigan for employment opportunities and religious freedom. Naturalization records for Michigan are organized by county, some with indexes. Declarations of intentions are usually arranged by surname while other documents for the citizenship process are chronological. Records for sixteen of Michigan's counties are cataloged by the State Archives of Michigan: Cass, Genesee, Gladwin, Hillsdale, Ingham, Ionia, Kalamazoo, Kent, Keweenaw, Luce, Marquette, Monroe, Montcalm, Muskegon, Saginaw, and Wayne.
Michigan Probate Records - Probate records are the responsibility of the probate court office or the office of the probate judge in each county. There is no state index to these records, but see County Resources for earliest records available. Some probate court records, estate case files in particular, have been deposited at the state archives or at a regional depository. Consult State Archives Circular No. 6, Probate Court Records, for a listing of counties and dates of these original and microfilmed files.
Excerpts From the Book "Family History Made Easy"
American court files mirror U.S. history. Buried away in courthouses and archives everywhere are the dreams and frustrations of millions of citizens. The chances are great that your ancestors have left a detailed record of at least some aspects of their lives in court records.
Most of us don’t think of court records as the rich source of personal history that they are. But America’s English heritage established a tradition of court processes in which the people have a right to participate actively—and we always have. With relative freedom from royal supervision and with court enforcement of religious as well as civil laws, American courts tried many matters that were not subject to court action in other parts of the British empire and that are now considered too minor to warrant criminal action.
When a person dies, every state has laws that provide for public supervision over the estate that is left, whether or not there is a will. The term “probate records” broadly covers all the records produced by these laws, although, strictly speaking, “probate” applies only when there is a will.
Family historians use probate case files far more than any other kind of court record. Probate case files are logical sources because they tend to include so much personal data, and because Americans have depended on the courts to settle their estates since North America was colonized. According to Val Greenwood in his Researcher’s Guide to American Genealogy, “All records which relate to the disposition of an estate after its owner’s death are referred to as probate records. These are many and varied in both content and value, but basically, they fall into two main classes: testate and intestate” (page 255). Probate case files generally provide names, addresses, and biographical data for the deceased, but frequently provide the same information for other relatives named in the papers. Relationships, maiden names of wives, married names of daughters, past residences, and place of origin in a native country are just a few of the details that can be discovered in probate files. And probate files can be found in courthouses and archives across the United States.
When requesting probate information from the county clerk, it is important not to limit yourself by asking for a person’s “will.” The clerk will usually take you at your word and not copy other papers in the probate file that may have equally important information if there is no will.
Even if your ancestor is not mentioned in a probate case, consider all of the other procedures which might have resulted in him or her appearing in court records:
Michigan Church Records - 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. The Moravians, the first Protestant group in Michigan, assembled in Mount Clemens in the late 1770s. The Congregationalists in 1800 and the first Michigan Methodist minister in 1803 followed them.
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 records for the Central Methodist Church and St. Paul's Cathedral begin in 1820. The St. Joseph, Michigan Catholic Mission records of 1720-72 are at this repository.
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.
Michigan Cemetery Records - 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.
Cemetery records and gravestone inscriptions are a rich source of information for family historians. Cemetery and other sources of information associated with death include:
Michigan Land Records - Private land claims based on grants made prior to U.S. sovereignty are found for Mackinac and Detroit. These records are in the National Archives. Most were "ribbon farms," very narrow but very long to ensure river frontage.
The first public-domain land was purchased by settlers in Michigan in 1818. The Ordinance of 1785 had provided the methods for dividing and selling the recently ceded regions. The land was first surveyed into six-mile-square townships, each containing thirty-six sections. The townships were surveyed from an east-west line called a "base line" and a north-south line called a "principal meridian." These public domain lands were offered, at the first land office, in Detroit, for $2 per acre, with a minimum purchase required. "Installment plans" were available. In 1820 the cost per acre was lowered to $1.25, with "cash only" and a minimum purchase of eighty acres. Land was usually paid for with silver, gold, bank notes, or drafts. A "patent," usually signed by a clerk, for the U.S. president, would be sent to the landowner, giving title to the previously federal property. A "pre-emption law" in 1841 gave the "squatters" the right to purchase 160 acres at a minimum price.
Microfilm copies of the federal land patent records are at the Michigan State Library. These provide information on the first ownership of all federal lands in the state. The Office of the Great Seal, Department of State, 717 West Allegan, Lansing, Michigan 48918, has the original state land patent records. It is necessary to have an exact legal description of the property to utilize either of these valuable sources.
Subsequent land transactions, no longer under federal control, are recorded in the appropriate county register of deed's office. Deeds for southeastern Michigan's "Toledo Strip", encompassing portions of Monroe, Lenawee, and Hillsdale counties, may have been recorded in Ohio and Michigan.
Excerpts From the Book "Family History Made Easy"
U.S. House of Representative Private Claims, Vol. 1, Vol. 2 or Vol. 3
The right to own land has always been one of the great incentives for living in the United States. Yet researchers often overlook the importance of land records as a source of family history information. Written evidence of people’s entitlement goes back in time further than virtually any other type of record family historians might use.
Land records meet the needs of researchers in different ways and contain a variety of genealogical and historical data. They are a major source of information for many family histories and provide primary source material for local history as well. They are closely related to probate and other official court records and should be investigated in connection with them. Land and property are leading issues in the settlement of estates, and the majority of civil cases in the courts deal with real and personal property. Although land records rarely yield vital statistics, in many instances they provide the only proof of family relationships. Often they include the names of heirs of an estate (including daughters’ married names and a widow’s subsequent married name) and refer to related probates and other court cases by number and court name. In some places where other records are scarce, the land records take on extra importance. Occasionally these documents disclose former residences and more often provide the new address of the grantors or heirs at the time of the sale of the property.
Land records provide two types of important evidence for the family historian. First, they often document family relationships. Second, they place individuals in a specific time and place, allowing the researcher to sort people and families into neighborhoods and closely related groups. One of land records’ most important qualities is that they are sometimes the only records that allow us to distinguish one person of a common name from another.
The National Archives has bounty-land warrant files, donation land entry files, homestead application files, and private land claim files relating to the entry of individual settlers on land in the public land states. There are no land records for the original thirteen states or for Maine, Vermont, West Virginia, Kentucky, Tennessee, Texas, and Hawaii. Records for these states are maintained by state officials, usually in the state capital. Searching for the record of a particular land grant from the federal government requires contacting both the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and the National Archives (NARA).
The State Archives of Michigan is the repository for military records in the state. Mail inquiries are answered. The Descriptive Rolls of Michigan Units, 1838-1919, are available for any individual serving in a Michigan unit during that time period. Their files also include records of fraternal organizations for veterans of the Civil War and the Spanish-American War. Muster rolls of these organizations include names of members and their military history. A census taken of Civil War veterans in 1888 include county, name of soldier, rank, military unit and post office address. The state archives have extensive information on the Veterans' Facility, initially called the Soldier and Sailors' Home. It was established for Civil War veterans, but now serves veterans of all wars in which the United States has been involved. Records, many of which are indexed, span a period of 1885-1986. Individuals in those records are inhabitants of the facility; wives, widows, and mothers of veterans; and ex-nurses. The case files may include complete application forms with military and family information.
The state archives also has unpublished indexes for the Spanish-American War and World War I.
Search Revolutionary War 1775-83 Service Records, Rejected Pensions, Loyalists Records, 1775-1783 Pay Rolls, Courts-Martial, Officers, Pension Index, 1841 Pensioner Census
Civil War - The State Archives of Michigan has no pension records for Civil War veterans. They do have, however, a file of grave registrations gathered by the Civil War Centennial Observance Commission. The forms, filed by county and by name of soldier, include name, enlistment and service records, place and date of birth and death, name and location of cemetery, and additional remarks. They also have Muster Rolls of the Grand Army of the Republic Posts in Michigan. The archives have portraits of Civil War Soldiers, indexed by unit and by surname.
In the state archives' collection classified as Civil War Manuscripts, certificates, diaries, discharges, journals, letters and miscellaneous documents can be found. The following published finding aids can be obtained from the state archives for their military collections:
The Burton Historical Collection holds extensive records for Civil War soldiers, but they are not cross-indexed. One group of their records is for U.S. General Hospital (1864-65), which includes a register of sick and wounded soldiers taken to Harper, St. Mary's, and the Post Hospital in Detroit.
Below is a list of online resources for Michigan in the Civil War. Email us with websites containing information on Michigan in the Civil War by clicking the link below:
The site U.S. Wars list conflicts dating from earliest to 1865. Wars covered that are availibele are:
Excerpts From the Book "Family History Made Easy"
Military records have originated at the federal, state, and local levels. Whether created in time of war or in time of peace, these records provide unique facts and insights into the lives of men and women who have served in the military forces of the United States. Almost every American family, in one generation or another, has seen one or more of its members serve in America’s armed forces. From regimental histories, which provide blow-by-blow accounts of a unit’s participation in military actions, to the personal details contained in the service and pension files of individual men and women, military records provide valuable information concerning a large and significant portion of the American population. And because military records have been preserved and made available at and through a number of research institutions, much information awaits the well-prepared researcher.
How to Find Military Records
When and where did the individual live? Did the family keep evidence of military service? Certificates, letters, journals, diaries, scrapbooks, newspaper clippings, photographs, medals, swords, and other memorabilia kept in private collections may provide the basic facts needed to begin searching in military record collections.
Military Time Lines
Evidence of Military Service in Hometown Records
In addition to the standard histories, local public libraries and historical societies usually preserve and make available other types of publications that document the military history of the geographical areas they serve. Historical agencies collect biographies, letters, diaries, journals, and all sorts of memorabilia from military units and servicemen and -women. The personal accounts found in some collections are a fascinating means of stepping back in time. Firsthand accounts afford a better understanding of the day-to-day drudgery, loneliness, fears, and satisfactions of military life.
Evidence of Military Service in Cemeteries
Evidence of Military Service in Court Records
Military Records in the National Archives
A wonderful array of federal military records are available in major libraries and archives and through microfilm rental programs. (Heritage Quest, a division of AGLL, Inc., PO Box 329, Bountiful, UT 84011-0329, is a source of rental microfilms.) With sufficient identifying information, you may request a search of the registers of enlistments or the compiled military service records. The minimum information required for a search is (1) the soldier’s full name, (2) the war in which he or she served or period of service, and (3) the state from which he or she served. For the Civil War, you must also indicate whether the person served in Union or Confederate forces. A separate copy of the form must be used for military service, pension, and bounty-land warrant applications. Submit requests for information about individuals who served in the military before World War I on NATF form 80 (Order for Copies of Veterans Records). Write to the National Archives and Records Administration, General Reference Branch, Washington, DC 20408 to obtain copies of NATF form 80. Always ask for “all records” for an individual.
Make requests for information about U.S. Army officers separated from the service after 1912 on standard form 180 (Request Pertaining to Military Records) and send it to the Military Personnel Records Center, 9700 Page Boulevard, St. Louis, MO 63132.
U.S. Military Records
Records of state militias and the National Guard
Michigan Vital Records - Marriages, recorded in the county where they occurred, are the earliest public vital records in Michigan since a marriage registration law was enacted in 1805. A later law required marriages to be collected by the county clerk after 1 April 1867 and forwarded to the Secretary of State. Births and death records begin in January, 1867, although registration of all vital records was certainly not totally enforced. A 1905 law was much more effective. Divorce records begin in 1897.
Photocopies of these registrations can be ordered from the Michigan Department of Public Health, Office of the State Registrar and Center for Health Statistics, P.O. Box 30035, Lansing, Michigan 48909. Birth records in Michigan are available only to the individual to whom the record pertains, the parent(s) named on the record, any heir, legal guardian, or any legal representative of an eligible person. Relationship to the person named on the birth record, and date and place of death for the person named on the birth record, must be supplied. Photocopies of death, marriage, and divorce records are available to any individual or agency upon written application and payment of the fee.
Marriages registered before mandatory recording (1867) in some counties may be ordered from the appropriate county clerk. Charges for searches and/or copies will vary from county to county but must not exceed the state fees. Some township clerks also recorded births and deaths.
The Michigan Death Record Project, a joint endeavor between the Michigan Department of Public Health and the Michigan Genealogical Council, is in a developmental stage. The resulting index of some 500,000 early death registrations will include name of the deceased, book number, date of death, and county of death. It is hoped to have the index released to the public in increments, very likely in a microform format.
Microfilm copies of indexes to specific groups of Michigan vital records are at the Library of Michigan, State Archives of Michigan, Burton Historical Collection of the Detroit Public Library, and the Allen County Public Library in Fort Wayne, Indiana:
The government archive records at the Burton Historical Collection include the forms for Wayne County Marriage Returns. Completed by a minister or civil authority, the forms were sent to the county clerk between 1818—88, although most are dated 1860—77. The forms include the date of the marriage and names of the bride and groom with their color, residence, age, place of birth, and occupation.
Fill out the appropriate application form from the MDCH web site. Make check or money order payable to State of Michigan. Copies of most records since 1867 may also be obtained from the County Clerk in the county where the event occurred. Fees vary, or you can reciebve the certificates in as little as 2-5 days by ordering on line through Vital Chek Services
Photocopies of these registrations can be ordered from the Michigan Department of Public Health. Birth records in Michigan are available only to the individual to whom the record pertains, the parent(s) named on the record, any heir, legal guardian, or any legal representative of an eligible person. Relationship to the person named on the birth record, and date and place of death for the person named on the birth record, must be supplied. Photocopies of death, marriage, and divorce records are available to any individual or agency upon written application and payment of the fee.
Official forms are required for either a certified copy of any vital record or genealogical research copy of a marriage, death, or divorce record.
Some township clerks also recorded births and deaths.
The government archive records at the Burton Historical Collection include the forms for Wayne County Marriage Returns. Completed by a minister or civil authority, the forms were sent to the county clerk between 1818-88, although most are dated 1860-77. The forms include the date of the marriage and names of the bride and groom with their color, residence, age, place of birth, and occupation.
Ordering Vital Records Online - Getting documents by mail can take a long as six weeks or more. Through VitalChek Express Certificate Service you can get Birth, Marriage, Divorce & Death Certificates Signed, Sealed, & Delivered in as few as three business days!
Facts on Birth Records - Most early birth records contain very little biographical information. Typical early New England town and church records, for example, give little information beyond the name of the child, date and place of birth, and parents’ names. Some localities listed only the name of the father.
While early birth records can be discouragingly lacking in information, by the mid-nineteenth century birth records in the United States began to include more information. Even though births were not widely recorded during the early years of America’s existence, the records that do exist may be the only source of a birth date for an individual and should always be consulted.
Delayed births are also important vital registrations that you should consider for obtaining biographical information. When Social Security benefits were instituted in 1937, individuals claiming benefits had to document their birth even if the state of their birth did not require registration when they were born. Individuals who were not registered with state or county agencies at the time of their birth often applied for a delayed birth registration. Obtaining passports, insurance, and other benefits also required proof of age.
Applications were accompanied with full name, address, and date and place of birth; father’s name, race, and place of birth; and evidence to support the facts presented. The evidence could be in the form of a baptismal certificate, Bible record, school record, affidavit from the attending physician or midwife, application for an insurance policy, birth certificate of a child, or an affidavit from a person having definite knowledge of the facts. Delayed birth records are usually filed and indexed separately from regular birth registrations, and it may be necessary to request a separate search for them.
Facts on Marriage Records - Because of the importance of the legal distribution and control of property, most states and counties began to record marriages before births and deaths. The recording of a marriage is a two-step process. Traditionally, couples apply for a license to marry, and the applications are usually filed loose among other applications or in bound volumes. Marriage returns are filed once the marriage has taken place. The latter document is the proof of a marriage (not the license application).
Marriage applications are often filled out by both the bride and groom and typically contain a significant amount of genealogical information. They may list full names of the bride and groom, their residences, races, ages, dates and places of birth, previous marriages, occupations, and their parents’ names, places of birth, and occupations.
Marriage certificates are issued by counties after the marriage ceremony is completed, and these are usually found among family items. While the certificates tend to have less biographical data than the application, the name of the individual officiating at the wedding may lead you to religious records by revealing the denomination. The religious records, in turn, may reveal the names of witnesses and other useful information.
Early American records sometimes include marriage bonds, which served as a protection for the future children of the marriage. A bond obligated a prospective groom to pay the bond if he were discovered to be a bigamist or imposter or otherwise ineligible to contract a valid marriage. As long as the marriage was legal, the bond was void. Bonds generally include the groom’s name, name of the surety, the sum, and the date of the agreement.
Facts on Death Records - Early death records in the United States provide little more than the name of the deceased, the date of death, and the place of death. Obituaries and cemetery, court, and other records often provide more information about the deceased than do most official death records created before the last quarter of the 1800s.
By 1900 death records included more details. They often include the name of the deceased; date, place, and cause of death; age at the time of death; place of birth; parents’ names; occupation; name of spouse; name of the person giving the information; the informant’s relationship to the deceased; the name and address of the funeral director; and the place of burial. Race is listed in some records, and modern death certificates generally include a Social Security number.