Van Buren County, Michigan
History, Records, Facts and Genealogy

Van Buren County was created on 29 Oct 1829 (Organized in 1837) and was formed from Unorganized Land. Some early records before 1837 may be located in Cass and Leeawee Counties. The County was named for Martin Van Buren of New York, secretary of state under President Jackson (1829-1831) and later 8th President of the United States (1837-1841). The County Seat is Paw Paw .

Counties adjacent to Van Buren County are Allegan County (northeast), Kalamazoo County (east), St. Joseph County (southeast), Cass County (south), Berrien County (southwest). Townships found in Van Buren County include Almena, Antwerp, Arlington, Bangor, Bloomingdale, Columbia, Covert, Decatur, Geneva, Hamilton, Hartford, Keeler, Lawrence, Paw Paw, Pine Grove, Porter, South Haven Charter, Waverly Townships. Cities, Towns and Communities include Bangor, Bloomingdale, Breedsville, Covert, Decatur , Gobles, Grand Junction, Hartford, Kendall, Lacota, Lawrence, Lawton, Mattawan, Paw Paw, South Haven.

  • The Van Buren County Official Government Website
  • 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!
  • Family History Library - The largest collection of free family history, family tree and genealogy records in the world.
  • 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....

  • Van Buren County, Michigan History Books at

County Court, Probate and Tax Records

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

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.

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 Van Buren County Courthouse, 212 Paw Paw Street, Paw Paw, MI 49079 , 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.

Van Buren County Clerk has the following Records for: Births & Deaths: 1867 to present, Marriages: 1836 to present, Divorces: 1857 to present . The Office is located at the County Courthouse, see address above for contact information. Phone: 616-657-8218 .

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.

Van Buren County Register of Deeds has Land Records from 1836 and is located at the County Courthouse, see address above for contact information. Phone: (269)657-8202 .

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.

Van Buren County Clerk of the Probate Court has Probate Records from 1837 and is located at the County Courthouse, see address above for contact information. Phone: (269)657-8225 .

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.

Van Buren County Clerk of the Circuit Court has Court Records from 1844 and is located at the County Courthouse, see address above for contact information. Phone: (269)657-8218 .

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 Van Buren County Court Records. Email us with websites containing Van Buren County Court Records by clicking the link below:

  • Order County Court, Civil or Criminal Records Online
  • 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
  • Van Buren County, Michigan Court Books at
  • 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 Birth, Marriage, Divorce and Death 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: 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 Van Buren County Vital Records. Email us with websites containing Van Buren County Vital Records by clicking the link below:

  • Vital Records from Birth Records, Marriage Records, Divorce Records and Death Records
  • 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! - 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.
  • Van Buren County, Michigan Birth, Marriage & Death Books at

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 Van Buren 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 Van Buren 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 Van Buren County Census Records. Email us with websites containing Van Buren County Census Records by clicking the link below:

  • Census Records at
  • 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.
  • Van Buren County, Michigan Census Books at
  • 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 Statewide Maps that exist for Michigan

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 Van Buren County Maps. Email us with websites containing Van Buren 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.
  • Van Buren County, Michigan Map Books at
  • 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 Van Buren County Military Records. Email us with websites containing Van Buren 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.
  • Van Buren County, Michigan Military Books at
  • 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 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 Van Buren County Genealogical Addresses. Email us with websites containing Van Buren County Genealogical Addresses by clicking the link below:

  • Van Buren District Library, Webster Memorial Library Bldg., 200 N. Phelps Street, Decatur, MI 49045; has death and marriage indexes and some records on computer. Local History/Genealogy information, location and hours
  • Van Buren Regional Genealogical Society, P.O. Box 143, Decatur, MI 49045
  • 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: 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

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 Van Buren County. Some transcriptions are online. A great site is the Van Buren 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 Van Buren County Cemetery & Church Records. Email us with websites containing Van Buren County Cemetery & Church Records by clicking the link below:

  • Cemetery Records at
  • Find Obituaries in The World's Largest Newspaper Archive at! - 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.
  • Obituary Records at
  • America's Obituaries (1977 to current) at - Obituaries contain helpful information such as names, dates, places of birth, death, marriage and family information. Over 28 million obituaries make this the most complete collection from the 20th and 21st centuries - includes over 1,100 U.S. newspapers. New content added daily!
  • Revolutionary Soldiers Buried in Michigan
  • Van Buren County, Michigan Cemetery Books at
  • Van Buren County, Michigan Church Books at

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 Van Buren County Family Trees, web forums and other family type information. Email us with websites containing Van Buren 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: [ Van Buren 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
  • Van Buren 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.
  • Van Buren County, Michigan Family Books at

Extended History


Van Buren County is located in Southwest Michigan bordering on Lake Michigan on the West and Kalamazoo County on the East. Its Southern border is 21 miles from the Indiana stateline and on the North it borders Allegan County.

Van Buren County has a proud history paralleling the story of statehood. Settled for the most part by New York Dutch and new Englanders, it was formed into a County by an Act of the Legislative Council of Michigan and approved October 29, 1829, in the same Act that created Cass, Berrien and Kalamazoo Counties.

It was not until 1837 that the people of Van Buren County were deemed sufficiently numerous to justify them in assuming the responsibilities of local self government. On March 18, 1937 an Act organizing the County was approved by the Governor of Michigan.

Van Buren County, named after U.S. President Martin Van Buren, has come a long way since its residents traded with the Potawattomi Indians and followed their trails with pioneer roads. Population trends indicate it is located in a growing area of the state.

The County is known as the fruit basket of Michigan. The growing season opens with asparagus harvest in May and closes in the fall with apples and grapes. The Lawton, Porter and Paw Paw area is the grape capital of the County with each accommodating the fruit processors and wineries. Bangor, Bloomingdale, Hartford and Lawrence grow premium peaches and apples; Keeler has extensive strawberry beds, Hamilton produces acres of pickling cucumbers and the large blueberry plantations are located in Columbia and Geneva.

Though Van Buren County is known as an agricultural county, suburbia is invading its borders. Population increases reflects the East side is the growth area and the County's location on the Lake Michigan shoreline indicates the trend of increased tourism.

County Courthouse
The first election of County Officers was held on the second Monday of April 1837 and the following were elected: Wolcott H. Keeler and Jay R. Monroe, Associate Justices; Jeremiah H. Simmons, Judge of Probate; Samuel Gunton, Sheriff; Nathaniel Starkweather, County Clerk and Daniel O. Dodge, Treasurer. The first Courthouse originally fronting the Paw Paw Main Street is now used as the Paw Paw Village Hall and is located at 111 East Michigan Avenue. The present Courthouse was formally dedicated in 1901 and was made possible by a $50,000 subscription by Paw Paw businessmen when South Haven threatened to wrest the County Seat from Paw Paw. Total cost of the present Courthouse and the old Jail was $120,000.

The upper and lower domes of the Courthouse had to be removed from the top of the building for restructuring and repair. This historic project was completed in 1999 at a cost of $249,654.

History of Michigan Townships
Most features of county and township govertnment can be traced back to the colonial period. Some structures were inventions to meet pioneer conditions while other structures were adaption of English models.

The structure of local government in Michigan was shaped by the 1785 Northwest Land Ordinance authored by Thomas Jefferson. The NWO provided the basic framework for the settlement and governance of the Northwest Territory which became the states of Ohio, Michigan, Indiana, Illinois and Wisconsin. Jefferson strongly believed in a citizen government. Government close to the citizens emerged as a cornerstone of governance in the Northwest Territory. Jefferson developed the rectangular grid survey which permitted the identification of property. Survey townships were 6 miles square (36 sections) placing local government in close proximity to its citizens.

Michigan is modeled after the New York Plan of Government combined with provisions of the Northwest Ordinance. This plan provided for a county board of supervisors comprised of the elected supervisor from each township. Townships maintained distinct roles and responsibilities for roads, the poor, elections, fence viewing, tax assessing and collection of property taxes.

  • Almena Township - Jonas Barber became the first actual settler in 1835, building a cabin and a sawmill. When the township was set off in 1842, F.C. Annable, then in the legislature, named it after an Indian princess of whom he had heard. Pioneer Samuel B. Fisk operated a grist mill, and it was from these mills that the village was also known as Almena Mills. The first Almena Centre post office was established on April 5, 1848 with John A. Chase serving as postmaster. The office operated until February 8, 1849. On October 26, 1861 the Brewerville Post Office was transferred to and renamed Almena and operated until September 14, 1905. (Ellis; PO Archives)
  • Antwerp Township - Antwerp Township was first settled by Joel Tomlinson in 1834 and Joseph Woodman in 1835. The Township was organized in 1837 and named by its then oldest inhabitant, Harmon Van Antwerp, after Antwerp, Belguim. Reason Holmes, the tavern keeper, became its first postmaster on May 23, 1842. On January 5, 1849 the office was moved and renamed Mattawan.
  • Arlington Township - William N. Taylor made the first land purchase in the area. In 1835 he returned to New York to get married and brought his bride back in 1837. Arlington Township was organized in 1842 and named at the suggestion Revolutionary War veteran James Stevens after his native town in Vermont. The Chicago & Western Michigan Railroad made a stop in the Township. Calvin C. Biglow became the first postmaster on May 7, 1852. The office was closed on December 27, 1859 and later restored and operated from March 5, 1860 to February 28, 1871.
  • Bangor Township and City - The township was first settled by Charles U. Cross in 1837, followed by John Smith, John Southard and Caleb Northrop; all later that year. The town was named after the township which was erected in 1853, organized in 1854, and named after Bangor, Maine. Joseph Nyman became its first postmaster on February 9, 1859. Nyman made the first plat of the village and recorded it in 1860. Cross recorded the second plat in 1867. The village of incorporated in 1877.
  • Columbia Township - The area was first settled in 1864,platted in 1870 and recorded in 1871 by A.J. Pierce, the county surveyor, on land owned by William Dickinson and Samuel Rogers.
  • Covert Township - Covert Township was first settled by Benoni Young in 1845. The development of the town center dates from 1866 when Hawks & Lambert of Niles, bought timberlands and built mills here. In 1868 Alfred H. Packard, Jr. bought the mills and additional lands and formed Packard & Company. Thomas Hawks became the first postmaster on March 24, 1868. The South Haven & Eastern Railroad made stops at Covert's depot. The township was first called Deerfield by renamed Covert, both names recalling the days when deer roamed it forests.
  • Hartford Township and City - Ferdino Olds became the first settler in the township in 1837. In 1840 he named it Hartland after his native town in New York. As there was already a Hartland in Michigan, and at the suggeston of another 1837 settler Burrill A. Olney, it was renamed Hartford. The hamlet was first called Bloody Corners due to its early unsavory reputation for liquor. The first Hartford Post Office was organized on March 31, 1856, with James E. Griffen as its first postmaster. The town was first platted by Truman Stratton, W.W. Shepard and others in 1859 and given a station on the Pere Marquette Railroad in 1870. Hartford was incorporated as a village in 1877. (Ellis; Rowland; PO Archives)
  • Lawrence Township and Village - A Short Nineteenth century history of Lawrence
    In June 1835, John Allen of Ann Arbor, Michigan, entered a forty-acre tract of land on section ten in Lawrence Township on the south side of the Paw Paw River. He laid out a village, naming it Mason in honor of the state’s governor and sent a manager to build a log cabin. By November of 1835, Allen and his family arrived and built the second cabin and the village’s first sawmill. The town grew slowly, with only ten families resident by 1843. In 1846, John R. Baker, a lawyer from Paw Paw, came into possession of much of the village in foreclosure from Allen, and he replatted and renamed it Lawrence. Baker devoted block number six to public purposes and it has remained the village park. By 1869 the village was incorporated by an act of the Michigan legislature. The town hall, built of brick, remains facing St. Joseph Street, to the west of the 1894 Water Works building.
  • South Haven Township and the City of South Haven - Carnegie Center [Click here to view full size picture] The present township of South Haven was organized in 1855. It contains eighteen full sections and seven fractional sections along the shore of Lake Michigan. It is bound on the north by Allegan County, on the east by Geneva, on the south by Covert and on the west by Lake Michigan.
    Along the shore of the lake are bluffs from thirty to fifty feet in height. The principal stream is the Black River which flows across the northern part of the township and empties into the lake at the City of South Haven. It provides a harbor for great lakes shipping and pleasure crafts.
    The population of the township, outside the city as given in the 1910 census was 1218, in 1980 was 4,152 and 4,046 in 2000. Census totals for the City were 5,563 in 1990 and 5,013 in 2000.
    South Haven was the western terminal of two railroads; the South Haven Division of the Michigan Central Railroad running from Kalamazoo through the northern part of Van Buren County and the Kalamazoo, Lakeshore and Chicago line running from Kalamazoo through the central part of Van Buren County to the City of South Haven. The Michigan Central was discontinued in the early 1970's.
    Indians first inhabited South Haven. The traditional Indian account was written on birch bark by Chief Simon Pokagon, a Pottawatamie, and sold to the Columbian Exposition in Chicago in 1893.
    South Haven was incorporated as a village of an Act of the Legislature on April 5, 1869. It was later re-incorporated March 18, 1871 due to flaws in the first incorporation.
    The city has a good water and sewage system and generated their own electricity in early years beginning in 189?. The fire department was established in 1898. The first street paving was begun in 1903. In 1901 a dispute developed over location of the county seat, and a campaign to move it from Paw Paw to South Haven developed. The passage of a $50,000 bond issue by Paw Paw voters left the County Seat in Paw Paw. South Haven's most colorful era was from the mid-1880's to the 1930's when the summer resort business flourished. During the early 1900's thousands of visitors arrived daily by steamer and train to enjoy a vacation. Lodgings were available in magnificant lake fron hotels, farm resorts, family homes or summer cottages. The summer resort business declined as the use of automobiles grew and it ended when the passenger steamer service ended in 1940. The old farm resorts are gone and the summer hotels have been replaced by condominiums and private homes.
  • Bloomingdale Township; A HISTORY OF THE BLOOMINGDALE COMMUNITY - When Van Buren County was organized in 1838, it was made up of six townships, the northeastern of which was known as the township of Clinch. Subsequent divisions made this original township into four, namely Waverly, Almena, Pine Grove, and Bloomingdale, latter comprising the territory designated in the United States survey as town one south, range fourteen west.
    Bloomingdale Township was organized in 1845. There were twenty-two persons on the assessment rolls as tax payers that year.
    The surface of the township is rolling, and originally was heavily timbered with pine, hemlock, maple, beach, whitewood, ash, and walnut. The soil is fertile sand and clay loam so that in the quality and extent of its production, Bloomingdale township takes a front rank among the northern tier of townships in Van Buren County.
    The first settlement in the township was made in the month of December, 1837, by a Myers family, consisting of mother, four sons, and two daughters from Oneida County, N.Y. where their father had died in 1826. In the spring of 1836 two of the sons started on foot and walked the entire distance from Genessee County, N.Y. via Canada to Michigan. One of the sons later that same year returned to New York and brought back the rest of the family. They located at first in White Pigeon, but one year later arrived amid snowy and wintry blasts in Bloomingdale Township “with no shelter awaiting them other than that afforded by the mighty monarchs of the forest”. The frozen earth—after snow one foot in depth had been melted away by a rousing fire—afforded them a resting place for the night. The next day a rude cabin was built which was followed soon after by a more substantial log house, 14 X 33 feet. Their nearest neighbors were seven miles distant.
    The eldest son of the Myers family, Mallory, was twenty-three years old when he settled in the township, and in 1845 he became its first supervisor.
    In this township is a typical Michigan village, that of Bloomingdale, a little to the west of the geographical center, located on what was known as the South Haven branch of the Michigan Central railroad, but later of the New York Central. This road ran from Kalamazoo to South Haven. Van Buren County Road No. 388 is the main east-west road through the village and County Road No. 665 is the main north-south highway.
    The village is situated in the midst of productive general, fruit and dairy farm lands as well as orchards, and is surrounded by numerous near-by lakes, any of which may be reached by a few minutes drive, and which have made Bloomingdale the center of a thriving tourist and resort area.
    Among the first settlers on land near what came to be known as the “Center” were Joseph Peck and family of Monroe County, N.Y., who in 1838 settled to the northwest. Later his brother Carlos and family came in the same locality, which became known as Pecktown.
    Two miles to the south on Bear Lake, another group, established a settlement, the main industry of which was lumbering, and this settlement was called “Bear Lake Mills”.
    To the north about two and one half miles, near Eagle Lake a third nucleus was located. Here were the families of Marcus Lane, Samuel Lane, and Harvey Howard.
    Others pioneering in or near what came to be the village were the families of Harrison Cooley and Austin Melvin from Lorraine Couity, Ohio in 1852. Edmund Baughman and wife Catherine Baxter Baughman, who with his father and mother, David and Hetty Maria Baughman settled in the Evergreen District in 1853. Augustus Haven and bride Emily McLallun Haven from Shalersville, Ohio, who settled in 1854, located a mile west of where the village now is. Milton Healy who came in 1853 from Ohio, his wife Maria and her mother Mrs. Azuba Cooley, who came in 1855, and the Egbert Cooley family from southern Illinois, who made the long journey in 1857 with a covered wagon drawn by a yoke of oxen.
    Other early settlers were Rufus M. Brown, Warren Haven, George W. Haven, Russell Loomis, James Baxter, Aaron K. Tedrow, Hyman Shaw, and Eli Bell, who all came with their families.
    The first to actually settle upon the site of Bloomingdale was Henry Kilhefer from Ohio. About 1854 Davis Haven, Portage County, Ohio and the father of Augustus Haven, purchased 160 acres in the vicinity of the present Village, and soon after that the north half of Section 17. As an inducement to Mr. Kilhefer to settle here Davis Haven gave him an acre of land now embraced in the Depot grounds.
    When Samuel Lane and wife Orrit, who had come a short time before from Monroe County, N.Y. to settle in Cheshire Township, arrived one spring day to make a new home in this settlement, they came into the pioneer region from the north down what has since been known as “Wiggins Hill”. Orrit, no doubt in sentimental and poetic mood, was much moved by the beautiful wild flowers growing abundantly through the woodlands and valleys and also with the hills and dales, exclaimed rapturously “Why, this place should be called Bloomingdale!” and Bloomingdale it has been ever since.
    In the very early years of the settlement, there was but little contact with the outside world. Supplies had to be brought in from Paw Paw, fifteen miles to the south east, and since there were no roads, only Indian paths and trails through the forest, the pioneers had to make the fifteen mile journey on foot and carry home, with considerable effort, their supplies, generally in a strong bag slung across their shoulders. This journey consumed the greater part of a day, as they started early in the morning and many times did not return until late at night.
    When it was necessary to make a new path, they did so by “blazing their way.” They would cut notches, or blazes in the trees, and use them to follow the path. Travelling by foot was followed by horseback and ox teams, which after roads begun to be constructed gave way to wagons, and still later to buggies. But even then travel was difficult during the winter because of snow and ice, and in the spring and fall because of mud, hub deep in many places.
    “Pathmasters and overseers” of the highway were appointed at the yearly “town meeting” who were responsible for having certain stretches of road kept in passable condition. “Poll tax” was worked out during the fall and spring days of “working on the road”.
    There were no doctors nearer that Paw Paw at first, but neighbors were helpful when sickness came, and medicinal herbs were gathered by the women, dried, and stored for time of need. These pioneers were well skilled in the use of home remedies.
    In the fall of 1857 Henry Kilhefer (later spelled Killifer), who had been given an acre of land here, came on from Putnam County, Ohio, and erected a small building on what is now Haven Park, establishing his family in the second story, while he opened a store with a small stock of boots, shoes, and groceries on the first floor. He soon built a second store building, and later a third. Shortly afterward he was appointed postmaster and held the office until 1862.
    In 1860 Messrs. Merwin and Brown opened a store on the hill about two blocks east of the present business section, and prior to 1869, Messrs. Barber and Lane established a mercantile business. Here also were two hotels, a drug store and dress making shop. A fire in 1868 destroyed a number of these buildings, and in 1870, when the railroad came through, the town moved west so as to be near the depot.
    One of the first industries was that of lumbering. From an article in the Kalamazoo Gazette of March 12, 1939, we quote “There were two steam saw mills operating night and day.” (The first one was a portable one set up in 1870, and sweating horses laborously drew over primative roads, furrowed with deep ruts, what seemed an endless supply of sawlogs. These loads of timber scaling 100,000 board feet daily, were literally fed in a steady stream to the saw mills which in 1874 were filling contracts for 3,000,000 feet of ash, whitewood, and cherry lumber.
    Another industry was that of cheese making. Augustus Haven, who was interested in dairying, began in 1860 with a herd of twenty cows the manufacture of cheese, the first to be made in the state. In 1870 he began using the milk from his neighbors cows, and by 1872 he had sold 26,000 pounds of cheese. In 1873, cheese was made from the milk from 200 cows. The first recorded sale of cheese was at ten cents a pound, butter brought the same price. Other early industries were a cooper shop, brick kiln, a planing mill, a shoe making shop, a cabinet shop where, among other articles, coffins were made, two blacksmith shops, a washing machine manufacturing shop which put out a wooden machine known as the “Little Big Washer”, and an apple evaporating plant.
    Later came a creamery, a canning factory for fruits, a pickle factory which later was changed to a salting station, and a feed mill. Still Later there was organized in 1903 the Lumber and Produce Company. In 1914 the Adams Cement Burial Vault business, in 1920 the Standard Oil Bulk Station , the Maplewood Dairy, the corn dryer for drying certified hybrid seed corn, and a Green House.
    The line of a railroad was located in the Village in 1869 and the first passenger train arrived on the fourth of July, 1870, which imbued the Village with new life, attracting new businessmen and helping the town to prosper. By 1912 business was booming, with three daily passenger trains running each way during the week and two on Sundays. A fourth handled the freight. By 1929 hard times fell and train travel was limited to one train per day..
    On August 13, 1938 Oil was discovered on the Wiggins farm at the north limits of the Village. Over 108 wells were drilled within the Village , many being successful. By 1939, two refineries were erected in the Village, the Fortdale and the Glenco. Most products were shipped out by tanker truck. Also as many as 84 railroad tanker cars of crude oil were shipped per day by rail. Two to three trains per day kept the oil moving to Kalamazoo to another refiner. There were no producing wells south of the rail road tracks.
    By 1941 the boom was over and the end of the oil business came in 1963. The end of the railroad was in sight when South Haven began receiving coal by boat instead of rail. Kalamazoo to South Haven rail road service ended in March of 1971 and the rails were removed in 1977.
    In 1988 the Village received a $100,000 grant to renovate the Depot. The dedication of the Depot and Museum, registered as a Michigan Historical Site, was September 19, 1987 with The Honorable Meyer Warshawsky, 36th District Judge, giving the address. At the same time the Kal-Haven Trail Club worked hard to establish the biker, walker and snowmobile trail on the old railroad bed and was successful in getting the State to buy the road bed which is now the first linear State Park in Michigan. Thousands of bikers, walkers and snowmobilers now use the Trail each year.
    Today many small and medium sized businesses can be found. Commercial services such as a bank, full service grocery store, restaurant, convenience stores, funeral home, realty and insurance services,
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