Michigan, state in the East North Central United States. It is unique among the states because it consists of two peninsulas completely separated by water and bordering on four of the five Great Lakes. Between Lakes Michigan and Huron lie the Straits of Mackinac, which separate Michigan’s two peninsulas. The Lower Peninsula is bounded on the east by Lakes Huron, Saint Clair, and Erie and by the Detroit and Saint Clair rivers, all of which separate the state from the Canadian province of Ontario. This peninsula is bounded on the south by Ohio and Indiana, on the west by Lake Michigan, and on the north by Lakes Michigan and Huron and by the Straits of Mackinac. The Upper Peninsula is bordered on the east by the Saint Marys River, on the south by the Straits of Mackinac and Lakes Huron and Michigan, on the west by Wisconsin, and on the north by Lake Superior. Lansing is the capital of Michigan. Detroit is the largest city.
When Michigan was admitted to the Union on January 26, 1837, as the 26th state, it was primarily a fur-trading territory. Its rich agricultural resources were not developed until later in the century. Its industrial prominence dates from the beginnings of automobile manufacturing in the early 20th century.
The way of life in Michigan’s Lower Peninsula, with its vast industrial development, has come to symbolize the 20th-century United States. The Upper Peninsula is a less populated region of great natural beauty that is known as a recreation and wilderness area. It is also noted for its mineral wealth.
The name of the state is taken from that of Lake Michigan. The source of the lake name is disputed. Traditionally it is said to have been derived from the Algonquian term michigama meaning “big water” or “great lake.” Others say the word comes from the Chippewa term majigan, meaning “clearing,” which was given to an open area on the shores of the lake in the 17th century. Michigan is called the Wolverine State, because of the importance of wolverine pelts to early trading posts in the region.
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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.
For some counties, there are two years listed for “Date Formed.” The first is the year the county was created, the second is the year it was fully organized if it differs from the creation year. Under the heading “Formed From ,” the name/s listed may be the county or counties from which the respective county was formed, or it may be names by which the county was originally known. “Unorganized” denotes that it was formed from non-county lands. A county name in parentheses is the county to which the unorganized land may have been attached at that time. Counties listed with an asterisk (*) are those in which you may also find records for the respective county. It may have been “attached” to that county for some period of time.
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. Choose from the counties below to view the county information.
|Schoolcraft||St. Clair||Shiawassee||St. Joseph||Tuscola|
Water dominates Michigan's early history. The Great Lakes, the numerous inland lakes, and the extensive arrangement of rivers were means of transportation, sources of food supply, determinants of the climate, battlegrounds, the impetus for industry, and a strong force in the settlement patterns. Immigration was accelerated by the opening of the Erie Canal in 1825. Diverse soils and vast mineral deposits added their influence to the development of the area. Proximity to Canada also played a large part in the early exploration of the state.
The first French explorers arrived in the area between 1618 and 1622 and found approximately 15,000 Native Americans. Principally, the nations of the Chippewa or Ojibway, Potawatomi, Miami, Ottawa, and Huron or Wyandot had held claim to the land for generations.
The first European explorer thought to have actually visited the area that is now Michigan was Etienne Brule, sent from Canada by Samuel de Champlain, late in 1618 or early the following year. Another French Canadian, Jean Nicolet, ventured into the area in 1634. The rationalization for French exploration of the land included the adventure, visions of wealth and empire, and the determination of their missionaries. Catholic missions were established at Sault Ste. Marie in 1668 and at St. Ignace in 1671. French forts were built in the late seventeenth century. The French-Canadian families, brought by the fur trading industry and living in or near the forts, raised large families and enough crops for their own use.
The earliest permanent settlement, however, was made at Detroit in 1701, established by Antoine de la Mothe Cadillac. He arrived with a small group of followers to develop trade on the Great Lakes and defend the (then French) territory from the English.
During the eighteenth century Michigan was involved in international wars, as the French, the English, and the Americans fought for supremacy in the area. Many of the Indian tribes became involved in these battles. The British flag flew over Michigan from 1760 to 1796, although the United States had actually been ceded the area in 1783. Michigan was defined, although not named, in the Northwest Ordinance of 1787. From 1796 to 1800, Michigan was governed under the auspices of the Northwest Territory. At that time the principal population settlements were at Detroit and Mackinac Island, and most inhabitants were of French ancestry. English and Scottish nationalities were most prevalent in the merchant class. Along the Raisin River, south of Detroit, was a community of French farmers. From 1800 to 1803, Michigan was considered both Indiana Territory and Northwest Territory, but from 1803 to 1805 it was totally included in Indiana Territory. On 11 January 1805, Michigan Territory was established. The War of 1812 again put Michigan in British hands, but it returned to the United States in 1813.
Michigan then became a lumbering and mining state, and with the new industries new people and new settlement came too. The first land office opened in 1818, but the difficulty of traveling to the territory hindered extensive migration. It was considered more dangerous to attempt to navigate Lake Erie than the Atlantic Ocean.
Federally funded lighthouses and harbor improvements, steam navigation on the Great Lakes, and the completion of the Erie Canal were instrumental in increasing the flow of Americans to Michigan. New Englanders and descendants of New Englanders, having previously migrated to New York, began moving to the area. New roads within the state and others connecting to adjacent states made Michigan even more accessible. For the most part, settlers came from New York, Ohio, and Indiana. They were not the very rich or the very poor and were typically farmers, generally young, and usually married.
There were, in addition to Yankees, several communities of settlers with German or Irish ancestry, many Quakers, and a few Southerners. The number of foreign-born immigrants was small before statehood.
In 1835 a state government was created, but the Toledo War delayed the actual statehood process. The "war" involved a border dispute between Michigan and Ohio which led to mobilization of armed men. There were no fatalities, and Ohio received the disputed land and Michigan received land which is now the Upper Peninsula. Although the state government functioned during that period, Congress officially declared Michigan a state on 26 January 1837.
Lumber, copper and iron-ore industries became a major attraction for immigrants between the 1840s and 1880s, augmenting the population with Irish, Finns, Norwegians, Swedes, Italians, and Poles. A group of religious refugees from Holland brought their skilled crafts and farming experience.
By the beginning of the twentieth century, when the iron had been heavily worked and the forests cut, the automobile industry generated a new commodity for Michigan's economy, bringing eastern Europeans and blacks from the South. The Detroit area, the site of Cadillac's settlement, remains the most densely populated in the state.
This section provides an list of Michigan counties that no longer exist. They were established by the state, provincial, or territorial government. Most of these counties were created and disbanded in the 19th century; county boundaries have changed little since 1900 in the vast majority of states.
The destruction of courthouses greatly affects genealogists in every way. No only are these historic structures torn from our lives, so are the records they housed: marriage, wills, probate, land records, and others. Once destroyed they are lost forever. Even if they have been placed on mircofilm, computers and film burn too. The most heartbreaking side of this is the fact that many of our courthouses are destroyed at the hands of arsonist. However, not all records were lost.
Below is a list of Michigan Counties and the years the Courthouses were subjected to a disaster. This does NOT mean that ALL RECORDS were lost. Often, folks took their documents again in for recording after a disaster and later deeds will contain long chains of title, etc.