Kalamazoo County was created on 29 Oct 1829 (Organized in 1830) and was formed from Unorganized Land. Some early records before 1830 may be located in St. Joseph County. The County was named for the river that runs through it, the Native American form of which was probably "Ke-Ken-a-ma-zoo." A widely accepted translation is "boiling water." Other versions are "otter tail" or "reflected river." The County Seat is Kalamazoo.
Counties adjacent to Kalamazoo County are Barry County (northeast), Allegan County (northwest), Calhoun County (east), Van Buren County (west), Branch County (southeast), St. Joseph County (south), Cass County (southwest). Townships found in Kalamazoo County include Alamo, Brady, Charleston, Climax, Comstock Charter, Cooper Charter, Kalamazoo Charter, Oshtemo Charter, Pavilion, Prairie Ronde, Richland, Ross, Schoolcraft, Texas Charter, Wakeshma Townships. Cities, Towns and Communities include Augusta, Climax, Comstock, Fulton, Galesburg, Kalamazoo, Nazareth, Oshtemo, Parchment, Portage, Richland, Schoolcraft, Scotts, Vicksburg.
Researchers often overlook the importance of court records, probate records, and land records as a source of family history information.
All departments below at located at the Kalamazoo County Courthouse, 201 W. Kalamazoo Avenue, Kalamazoo, MI 49007 , 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.
Kalamazoo County Clerk has the following Records for: Births & Death: 1867 to present, Marriages:1831 to present, Divorces: Contact Circuit Court Clerk's Office, Assumed names; Co-partnerships; Military Discharges . The Office is located at the County Courthouse, see address above for contact information. Phone: (269) 383-8840 .
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.
Kalamazoo County Register of Deeds has Land Records from 1824 and is located at the County Courthouse, see address above for contact information. Phone: (269) 383-8970 .
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.
Kalamazoo County Clerk of the Probate Court has Probate Records from 1830 and is located at 150 E. Crosstown Parkway, Kalamazoo, MI 49001; Phone: (269)383-8666 .
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.
Kalamazoo County Clerk of the Circuit Court has Court Records from 1847 and is located at 227 West Michigan Avenue, Kalamazoo, MI 49007, Phone: (269) 383-8837 .
The Clerk provides a variety of functions for the court such as, but not limited to: filing and maintaing the official record for all cases that come before the court; providing staff to assist in the operation of the court; working with the Jury Commission and notifying all potential jurors to appear for jury duty; and, processing felony criminal cases bound over from the District Court.
County Treasurer - Property tax records at the county level usually date back to the first land records. Either the county treasurer or the register of deeds will be the custodian of these records.
Below is a list of online resources for Kalamazoo County Court Records. Email us with websites containing Kalamazoo 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 Kalamazoo County Vital Records. Email us with websites containing Kalamazoo 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 Kalamazoo 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 Kalamazoo 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 Kalamazoo County Census Records. Email us with websites containing Kalamazoo County Census Records by clicking the link below:
Genealogy Atlas has images of old American atlases during the years 1795, 1814, 1822, 1823, 1836, 1838, 1845, 1856, 1866, 1879 and 1897 for Michigan and other states.
You can view rotating animated maps for Michigan showing all the county boundaries for each census year overlayed with past and present maps so you can see the changes in county boundaries. You can view a list of maps for other states at Census Maps
You can view rotating animated maps for Michigan showing all the county boundary changes for each year overlayed with past and present maps so you can see the changes in county boundaries. You can view a list of maps for other states at County Maps
Below is a list of online resources for Kalamazoo County Maps. Email us with websites containing Kalamazoo 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 Kalamazoo County Military Records. Email us with websites containing Kalamazoo County Military Records by clicking the link below:
The Repositories in this section are Archives, Libraries, Museums, Genealogical and Historical Societies. Many County Historical and Genealogical Societies publish magazines and/or news letters on a monthly, quarterly, bi-annual or annual basis. Contacting the local societies should not be over looked. State Archives and Societies are usually much larger and better organized with much larger archived materials than their smaller county cousins but they can be more generalized and over look the smaller details that local societies tend to have. Libraries can also be a good place to look for local information. Some libraries have a genealogy section and may have some resources that are not located at archives or societies. Also, take a special look at any museums in the area. They sometimes have photos and items from years gone by as well as information of a genealogical interest. All these places are vitally important to the family genealogist and must not be passed over.
Below is a list of online resources for Kalamazoo County Genealogical Addresses. Email us with websites containing Kalamazoo 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 Kalamazoo County. Some transcriptions are online. A great site is the Kalamazoo 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 Kalamazoo County Cemetery & Church Records. Email us with websites containing Kalamazoo 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 Kalamazoo County Family Trees, web forums and other family type information. Email us with websites containing Kalamazoo County Family Trees, web forums and other family type information by clicking the link below:
Benjamin Harrison and William Henry Harrison each left a mark on history. Benjamin, Bazel's uncle, signed the Declaration of Independence. William Henry, Bazel's cousin, became president of the United States. Bazel, a Maryland native, was Kalamazoo County's first white settler. In the fall of 1828, at the age of fifty-seven, he led an entourage of men, women, children, pigs and sheep to Prairie Ronde, a 14,000-acre Michigan grassland.
Prairie Ronde was the largest of eight prairies whose agricultural potential attracted both pioneers and speculators to Kalamazoo. After traveling through the county in 1833, New Yorker Charles Hoffman wrote, "To no scenery of our country that I have yet seen is the term 'Arcadian' more applicable than to the rich and fairy landscape ... watered by the Kekalamazoo [sic] and the St. Joseph's [rivers]."
One of Kalamazoo's first speculators was Lucius Lyon. A Vermont native who surveyed land in the Old Northwest Territory from 1823 to 1832, Lyon platted the village of Schoolcraft near Prairie Ronde in the fall of 1831. Schoolcraft grew as it served those who settled on the prairie, but it soon fell behind the more centrally located settlement founded by Titus Bronson.
In 1830, Bronson, who was described as a wild eccentric, had purchased a beautiful burr oak plain near the head of navigation of the Kalamazoo River. Bronson's site also intersected the planned Territorial Road, and in 1831, bearing the name of its founder, it was selected as the county seat.
Organized in 1830, Kalamazoo County derived its name from the Potawatomi Indian word for boiling water, Kikamasung. (Boiling water may have referred to the eddies in the rapids of the Kalamazoo River or to a legend about a footrace from the Indian village near Galesburg to the Kalamazoo River that required the runner to reach the river and return before a pot of water began to boil.) The county enjoyed quick settlement, and Bronson became its political, economic and social focus. In 1832 Justus Burdick purchased one-half of the community from Bronson for $850. He then built the Kalamazoo House, a 30' x 40' two-story hotel. The transfer of the land office from White Pigeon, St. Joseph County, to Bronson in 1834 boosted the community's growth. According to one nineteenth-century historian, Bronson became "one great mass convention of men almost raving with land mania." A shortage of accommodations left men pitching tents all over the area, and the Kalamazoo House served meals continuously from morning to night. In 1836 the land office sold 1.6 million acres and collected $2 million in receipts-more than any other land office in the nation.
In 1836 the eccentricity of the town's founder prompted residents to change the community's name to Kalamazoo. Indignant, Bronson moved to Illinois.
A decade after Bronson purchased his land along the Kalamazoo River, Kalamazoo County boasted over seven thousand people, making it Michigan's ninth most populated county. The village of Kalamazoo included 250 houses, 10 dry goods stores, 6 physicians and a newspaper, the Kalamazoo Gazette, which recorded, "youthful bloom and manhood's vigor are everywhere." By 1860, Kalamazoo County's population had reached twenty-five thousand, and its county seat was Michigan's fifth largest town.
Kalamazoo's first major industry was agriculture. During the early 1840s, David Walbridge operated a barge system that transported the county's produce to the mouth of the Kalamazoo River. There it was transferred to larger vessels and sent east. The arrival of the railroad in Kalamazoo in 1846 enhanced the county's agricultural potential, though it made the barge system obsolete. By the mid-1850s, Kalamazoo was one of the state's leading farming counties, ranking third in both corn harvested and pork marketed in 1854. Its harvest of 585,000 bushels of wheat on the eve of the Civil War placed it fifth among all sixty counties.
During the mid-1830s, while most Kalamazoo farmers laboriously harvested grain by hand, attorney James Hascall and pioneer Hiram Moore began operating a mechanical harvester on the Climax Prairie in eastern Kalamazoo County. The machine, built by Moore, could cut, thresh, clean and bag grain at the rate of twenty acres a day. Patented in 1837, the harvester cut a fourteen-foot swath and was drawn by sixteen horses with four drivers. Hascall and Moore built several harvesters (estimates vary). In 1844 the Michigan Farmer and Western Agriculturalist exclaimed, "It would make a Green Mountain boy stare to see one of these noisy voracious monsters, as he clatters along the plain ... as he crosses the bending heads of wheat with his iron teeth, scatters the straw in seeming wantonness around him, and hurls the chaff in clouds."
Locals accurately predicted that no invention ranked "higher in the prospect of future usefulness than the Harvester," but Moore's harvester proved too unwieldy and expensive to compete with other reapers, most notably Cyrus McCormick's. When his patent expired, Moore left Kalamazoo and his mechanical tinkering.
During the antebellum period, Kalamazoo County also established itself as a leader in Michigan education. In 1833 the Michigan Territorial Legislature chartered the Baptist-sponsored Michigan and Huron Institute "to promote the knowledge of all those branches of education usually taught in academies and collegiate institutions." The institute opened in Kalamazoo in 1836. The following year the University of Michigan opened a branch in Kalamazoo. The two academies soon merged, with the university providing financial support to the newly named Kalamazoo Literary Institute. The closing of the university's branches in the late 1840s seemed to spell doom for the institute: however, the school's new principal, Dr. James A. B. Stone, and his wife, Lucinda, not only resolved the institute's financial problems, but actively involved it in contemporary reform movements, such as abolition, temperance and woman's rights. (Mrs. Stone operated the school's female department and was later instrumental in the post-Civil War campaign to enroll women in the University of Michigan.) In 1855 the institute became Kalamazoo College and received the right to confer degrees.
Besides excelling in antebellum agriculture and education, Kalamazoo was the site of Abraham Lincoln's only Michigan speech. Not yet the well-known figure he would become after his 1858 U.S. Senate campaign in Illinois against Stephen Douglas, Lincoln addressed the thousands who gathered in Kalamazoo on 27 August 1856 to demonstrate their support for John C. Fremont, the Republican party's first presidential candidate.
Speaking to an audience described by one historian as "full of hell and hilarity-hell for Democrats and slave-owners, and hilarity for the Young Republicans of Michigan"-Lincoln agreed that in light of the slave controversy in Kansas, the question of slavery "should be not only the greatest question, but the sole question" on their minds. But the Illinoisan refused to incite the crowd's sectional ill-feeling. Others were not so circumspect. Detroiter Zachariah Chandler argued, "Let Kansas come in as a slave state and the North will make it a desert."
Recognizing that a sectional party like the Republican needed Democratic converts to achieve political success, Lincoln concluded by asking his political opponents to realize that their party's refusal to oppose slavery's extension had turned the Democrats "away from their love of liberty." Lincoln urged, "Throw off these things, and come to the rescue of this great principle of equality ... And not to Democrats alone do I make this appeal, but to all who love these great and true principles. Come and keep coming! Strike, and strike again! So sure as God lives, the victory shall be ours!" Fremont lost the 1856 presidential election, though Michigan and Kalamazoo County voted Republican. Four years later, both the state and county again supported the Republican presidential nominee, and Lincoln became president.
During the post-Civil War period, though Kalamazoo lost its battle with Grand Rapids to become western Michigan's main metropolis, it continued to grow and developed a wide range of industries based on the county's entrepreneurial and agricultural resources.
Taking advantage of the area's bountiful water resources, in 1867 the Kalamazoo Paper Company opened its first mill. According to historian Larry Massie, the company provided a training ground for paper makers and "was one reason for the amazing proliferation of paper mills throughout the Kalamazoo Valley." The area's proximity to Chicago, its excellent railroad network and its large labor force further aided the industry's development. By the early twentieth century, Kalamazoo County was the state's dominant paper producer. According to 1904 state census figures, its five paper and wood pulp mills (one-sixth of the state's total) represented 25 percent of the industry's capital value. By World War I, Kalamazoo was the center of the largest paper-producing area in the United States. The industry employed one-half of the city's labor force.
Kalamazoo's carriage and windmill industries also benefited from the area's hardwoods and rail network (five railroads and one hundred daily passenger trains in the 1880s). In 1887 the City of Kalamazoo had eighteen carriage firms, which produced 87,000 buggies. During the same decade, boasting worldwide distribution and an annual production of 4,000, the city became the self-proclaimed windmill center of the world.
Among the entrepreneurs who spurred Kalamazoo's growth were Doctors Henry U. and William E. Upjohn, sons of Doctor Uriah Upjohn of Richland. In 1885 they opened the Upjohn Pill and Granule Company and began marketing a pill that was easily crushed into powder and digested. (Most other medical pills were composed of a dough like substance that often was undissolvable.) Sales of the Upjohns' "friable" pill flourished, undoubtedly aided by demonstrations that included collecting competitors' pills that had passed through a patient and driving them into pine boards like nails.
Two other significant turn-of-the-century Kalamazoo industries produced corsets and guitars. The Kalamazoo Corset Company, which offered twenty styles of corsets, employed eight hundred women and became the largest corset factory in the world. The Gibson Mandolin-Guitar Manufacturing Company was founded by Orville Gibson after he revolutionized the production of fretted musical instruments by perfecting a mandolin with a flat back. While the corset industry died as women's fashions changed, Gibson remained a world-renowned manufacturer of guitars.
Gibson experienced remarkable growth in the 1950s, aided in part by the introduction of the famous Les Paul guitar in 1952. Named after the famous guitarist, it was designed to his specifications. The company’s success continued during the 1960s, when it manufactured over 1,000 guitars a day and employed nearly 1,000 workers, but a sharp nationwide decline in guitar sales contributed to Gibson’s difficulties during the 1970s and 1980s. The company moved its headquarters to Nashville, Tennessee, in 1981, and three years later it closed the Kalamazoo plant.
Four former Gibson employees soon formed a new company, Heritage Guitar, Inc., and set up shop in part of the old Gibson plant. With Gibson’s retreat to Tennessee, the success of Heritage Guitar guarantees that Orville Gibson’s trade will continue in Kalamazoo indefinitely.
Like many Michigan communities, Kalamazoo was struck by the automobile manufacturing boom of the early twentieth century. Two of the city's more impressive early automobiles were the Michigan, with a 22-coat finish of "Michigan, golden, auto brown" and the Roamer, an imitation of the British Rolls Royce. Movie stars Mary Pickford and Buster Keaton were two of the Roamer's most celebrated owners.
Though Kalamazoo's automobile manufacturing industry never flourished, the city became the home of the Checker Cab Manufacturing Corporation in 1923. Boasting that its cabs never wore out, Checker combined innovation and quality to become one of the nation's leading cab manufacturers in the late 1920s.