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Michigan Court Records – A Guide to Courthouse Research

State Courthouse RecordsMichigan Government records cover a broad range of genealogy subject areas that can help you as part of your research, such as land ownership, courts, taxes, and naturalization’s. Given that Michigan court records cover such a wide selection of topics, they could aid you in many different ways. As an example, they could aid you in finding ancestors’ residences, identify occupations, locate financial information, determine citizenship status, or shed light on relationships between individuals. The whole thing relies upon on the type of court records that the ancestors” names show up in. For Definitions of all court terms see the Genealogy Encyclopedia.

Michigan Courthouse records change extensively from county to county in both level of quality and volume. You will find different kinds of court records that are most likely to possess information related for your genealogical research below.

State Court Records

Michigan Court Records

The circuit court clerk’s office or the county clerk’s office holds records from the county circuit court. State indexes for those records are not available. However, more information can be found in State Archives Circular No. 37, Circuit Court Records.

The following federal district court records can be found at the National Archives—Great Lakes Region:

  • Eastern District (Flint), 1895–1962
  • Bay City, 1894–1962
  • Detroit, 1837–1962
  • Western District (Grand Rapids), 1863–1962
  • Marquette, 1878–1962

The archives in Chicago can provide a full listing of the holdings. Those records also include admiralty case files about Great Lakes shipwrecks, which can contain some useful genealogical information. See Also Research In Court Records.

State Land Records

Michigan Land Records

Both Detroit and Mackinac have records of private land claims from before Michigan came under U.S. control available. The National Archives holds those records, which are mainly for “ribbon farms.” Those were long, narrow plots of land along Michigan’s river banks.

In 1818 settlers purchased the first public domain land in the state. An ordinance was passed several years prior to that, in 1785. That ordinance listed methods for selling land in regions that recently came under United States control. The land was split into townships, which were each 6 square miles. Each one of those was then split into 36 different sections of land. An east-west line known as a base line was the first line surveyed. That was followed by the principal meridian survey, which was a north-south line. The land was then sold off for $2 per acre at the Detroit land office. Buyers were allowed to pay in installment plans, in some cases. As of 1820, the cost was lowered to 1.25 per acre, but payments had to be made in cash and buyers had to buy a minimum of 80 acres each. Bank notes, drafts, gold, and silver were typically used in those land purchases. After the land was purchased, a clerk would sign a patent for it and then send the appropriate paperwork to the new owner of the land. In 1841 a pre-emption law was put into place allowing squatters to buy 160 acres of land each.

Online records of federal land patents are available. The Michigan State Library also holds copies of those records on microfilm. The records in question list the first owners of all land given out by the federal government in Michigan.

Patent records for state land can be found at the State Archives. However, researchers must be able to provide a legal description of the property in order to access those records. Many land transaction records can also be found at the State Archives of Michigan. Among those records are original federal surveyor maps, which can be useful for viewing physical features of the land from 1815 to 1855. Land grant abstracts from 1837 to 1900 are also available, along with swamp land purchase tract books. Regular land tract books for the years of 1818 to 1962 are also available, as well as private claims surveys from 1807 onward.

Each county registrar’s office recorded land transactions for any land in that county that was sold or otherwise transferred after that land was out of the government’s hands. Deeds in the “Toledo Strip,” which included parts of the counties of Killsdale, Lenawee, and Monroe, may possibly be recorded in both Michigan and Ohio. See Also Guide to U.S. Land Records Research

State Probate Records

Michigan Probate Records

The probate court office holds Michigan probate records. However, the probate judge’s office may hold some records, instead. Those records are not indexed at the state level. However, the regional depository and the state archives each have several records available, particularly those pertaining to estate cases. See Also Guide to U.S. Probate Records Research

State Tax Records

Michigan Tax Records

Around the time that each county started recording its first land records, they each also started recording their first records of property taxes. Those records are kept by the register of deeds or the treasurer in each county.

The Michigan State Archives is home to many early tax rolls and tax assessments, which are all organized according to the counties where the records were first recorded. Those records may include the property occupant’s name, as well as the property owner’s name, in cases where the property was occupied by someone other than the owner. Records also list the size (in acres) of the land and a description of it, along with the amount of tax charged and the over all value of the estate. Most of the extant tax rolls are from around 1850 to 1900. However, there are some records for as early as the late 1830s still available for certain counties. State Archives Circular No. 1, Tax/ Assessment Rolls at the State Archives lists all of the available tax rolls at the State Archives, as well as at regional archives depositories. Tax records can be difficult and time consuming to research. So, researchers should be prepared to travel to the State Archives and look up the records of interest in person. Many Michigan corporate and property tax records can also be found in Chicago, at the National Archives—Great Lakes Region. See Also Guide to U.S. Tax Records Research

State Immigration Records

Michigan Immigration & Naturalization Records

Eastern and northern European immigrants came to Michigan in large groups between the 1840s and the turn of the 20th century. They were looking for freedom of religion, as well as employment opportunities. Records of naturalizations of those immigrants are organized according to the counties where the naturalizations took place. Indexes are available for 25 counties. Citizenship documents are arranged chronologically, except for declarations of intentions, which are typically organized according to the last name of the applicant. The State Archives of Michigan has records on file for more than 20 counties and records for 13 of those counties can be found on its website as well. A current list of holdings can be found on their website or in State Archives Circular No. 10. See Also Guide to U.S. Immigration Records Research

State Government Records

Michigan County & City Government Links

Michigan contains 83 counties. Each county is the local level of government within its borders. The links in the table below link to county and city government offices and is limited to government-maintained websites. If you know of a Michigan county that has an official government web site but is not linked, or if the link is in error, please contact us so we may edit our database. Michigan State Government is located in Lansing.

State of Michigan County & City Government Links
County Seat
County Seat
Alcona Harrisville Lake Baldwin
Alger Munising Lapeer Lapeer
Allegan Allegan Leelanau Suttons Bay Township
Alpena Alpena Lenawee Adrian
Antrim Bellaire Livingston Howell
Arenac Standish Luce Newberry
Baraga L’Anse Mackinac St. Ignace
Barry Hastings Macomb Mt. Clemens
Bay Bay City Manistee Manistee
Benzie Beulah Marquette Marquette
Berrien St. Joseph Mason Ludington
Branch Coldwater Mecosta Big Rapids
Calhoun Marshall Menominee Menominee
Cass Cassopolis Midland Midland
Charlevoix Charlevoix Missaukee Lake City
Cheboygan Cheboygan Monroe Monroe
Chippewa Sault Ste. Marie Montcalm Stanton
Clare Harrison Montmorency Atlanta
Clinton St. Johns Muskegon Muskegon
Crawford Grayling Newaygo White Cloud
Delta Escanaba Oakland Pontiac
Dickinson Iron Mountain Oceana Hart
Eaton Charlotte Ogemaw West Branch
Emmet Petoskey Ontonagon Ontonagon
Genesee Flint Osceola Reed City
Gladwin Gladwin Oscoda Mio
Gogebic Bessemer Otsego Gaylord
Grand Traverse Traverse City Ottawa Grand Haven
Gratiot Ithaca Presque Isle Rogers City
Hillsdale Hillsdale Roscommon Roscommon
Houghton Houghton Saginaw Saginaw
Huron Bad Axe Sanilac Sandusky
Ingham Mason Schoolcraft Manistique
Ionia Ionia Shiawassee Corunna
Iosco Tawas City St. Clair Port Huron
Iron Crystal Falls St. Joseph Centreville
Isabella Mt. Pleasant Tuscola Caro
Jackson Jackson Van Buren Paw Paw
Kalamazoo Kalamazoo Washtenaw Ann Arbor
Kalkaska Kalkaska Wayne Detroit
Kent Grand Rapids Wexford Cadillac
Keweenaw Eagle River

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