Michigan County Court, Probate, Tax and Other Miscellaneous Records

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.

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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.

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Michigan Court Records

See Also Research In State Court Records

Even today, few people escape mention in court records at some time during their lives as witnesses, litigants, jurors, appointees to office, or as petition signatories. However, Americans of a few generations ago also expected to attend local court proceedings when they were in session. It was a civic duty-and they could be fined if they did not attend......

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.

National Archives/Great Lakes Region holds federal district court records as follows: Eastern District (Flint), 1895—1962; Bay City, 1894—1962; Detroit, 1837—1962; Western District (Grand Rapids), 1863—1962; and Marquette, 1878—1962. An inventory of holdings is available at the archives in Chicago. Documentation of shipwrecks on the Great Lakes, filed in the admiralty case files, are included in these records.

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  • 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.
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Michigan Probate Records

See Also Research In State Probate Records

Probate records include a variety of documents created to support court proceedings in the settlement of an individuals' estates. The number and type of probate records created may vary over time in different jurisdictions and due to the amount of real and personal property involved. The various documents generated in the probate process are rarely filed together......

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.

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Michigan Immigration & Naturalization Records

See Also Research In State Immigration & Naturalization Records

Knowing the immigrant's birthplace or last place of residence before emigrating is essential to finding more information in the native land. Yet, unless the ancestors arrived relatively recently in the United States, family origins may have been forgotten. Because most foreign records are kept at the town level, discovering the name of a native town, county, or parish is an important goal. Without that information, it is impossible to know where to conduct research in the country of origin.......

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.
Membership in the French-Canadian Heritage Society of Michigan (Library of Michigan, 735 East Michigan Avenue, Lansing, Michigan 48913) includes five newsletters per year and the quarterly journal, Michigan's Habitant Heritage.

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 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
  • 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.

Michigan Tax Records

See Also Researching in Tax Records

Things taxed have included carriages and watches, windows and whiskey, land and slaves. Taxes on documents and tea helped start a war. Arkansas Territory’s sudden tax on bounty lands in the 1820s was enacted and due before the news had time to reach out-of-state owners, permitting the quick seizure and sale of “delinquent” lands. As this variety suggests, name lists of such taxes must be used with a cautious understanding of who should be on the list and who should not...

Property tax records at the county level usually date back to the first land records. Either the county treasurer or the register of deeds will be the custodian of these records.

Numerous early tax assessment and general tax rolls are available at the State Archives of Michigan. Organized by county, the records include the name of the owner or occupant of the property, legal description and number of acres, value of land and personal estate, and amount of tax levied. There are tax rolls for some counties for the late 1830s, but most are for the last half of the nineteenth century.

National Archives/Great Lakes Region in Chicago holds numerous federal personal property and corporate tax assessment lists for the state of Michigan

Personal property tax records have been published for a few counties. Tax lists, along with other sources, are being used to reconstruct the lost 1890 federal population census.

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Definitions of Common Court Terms

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