Resources for Michigan Research

by Claudia Breland | Aug 15, 2013

Admittedly, I'm very biased because of my love for the state of Michigan (and my extensive ancestry there), but I think Michigan is one of the best states you can research in! The natural beauty and the great resources make it my favorite state of all for genealogy research.

Michigan has had a colorful past, with people coming into the state for many different reasons: French trappers, Polish and German emigrants, lumberjacks and autoworkers. Whatever the reason, Michigan has attracted people for centuries.

General Information

You can request vital records from the county clerk's office. The Michigan County Clerk's Directory lists information on each clerk's address, phone number, open hours, cost of copies, identification requirements, and restrictions on research.

However, if you are not sure of the county where the event took place, you may have to order from the Michigan Department of Community Health. Certified copies are $26; the state office has birth, marriage and death records since 1867 (although coverage of those early years may be spotty) and divorce records since 1897.

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The USGenWeb is a great resource for state and county records. The Michigan GenWeb has numerous resources. There is a map of Michigan counties and a clickable list of the counties in alphabetical order. Also be sure to check out the Michigan Tombstone Photo Project.

The Archives of Michigan and Seeking Michigan

The Archives of Michigan collection Seeking Michigan is their collection of digitized images such as maps, Civil War photographs, state census records and death certificates. The collection of nearly 1 million death certificates spans the years 1897 to 1920 and is searchable by last name, given name, father's last name, county of death, year of death and year of birth. Even if your ancestor's last name was misread and indexed incorrectly, you can still find the record by searching on other fields.

The Indexes page has a naturalization index for numerous counties, an index of thousands of portraits held by the Archives of Michigan, and several military indexes.

Recently the Archives released digital images of the 1884 and 1894 state census records. Because of record loss over the years (including a 1951 office fire in downtown Lansing), not all counties are covered.

Library of Michigan

The Library of Michigan has transferred the majority of its Michigan-specific genealogical material to the Archives of Michigan. However, it still has materials of interest to genealogists, including county histories and plat maps.

The Library of Michigan has a page about their newspaper holdings, which includes a list of papers organized by county and by city. Most newspapers on microfilm are not loaned out, but if you have an exact date for a marriage or death, you can request a copy of the marriage announcement or obituary through your local library's interlibrary loan.

You can learn more about the Library of Michigan's genealogical holdings on its Genealogy page

Local History Collections

Many libraries throughout Michigan have excellent local history collections, and are starting to put them online to make access easier. Here are some examples:

Fremont Area District Library (Newaygo County)  has a terrific database of marriages and obituaries, with photocopies of the articles available upon request.

Niles District Library (Berrien County) has an obituary database with over 133,000 names.

Pigeon District Library (Huron County) has the Joan Haist collection, a collection of births, marriages, and deaths from Pigeon newspapers, 1897 to 1980. These abstracts are in Word documents, arranged alphabetically; photocopies of the articles available upon request.

Benzonia Public Library (Benzie County) has a name index to the Benzie County Record Patriot, 1888 to 2010.

Orion Township Public Library has digitized, searchable issues of Lake Orion Review, 1935 to 2003, with a few older issues.

The Loutit District Library in Grand Haven has an online index of birth announcements (1891-1959) and obituaries (1891-1979), plus other resources such as an 1876 plat map.

No list of libraries in Michigan would be complete without mentioning the Detroit Public Library's Burton Historical Collection. If your ancestors lived in Wayne County or Detroit, you'll want to visit this website, and if possible, the library!

Michigan County Histories and Atlases Digitization Project is sponsored by the University of Michigan. It's a great place to find plat maps, land records and biographies written and published before 1923.

Most counties have an active historical society, and several counties have banded together. One of my favorites is the Western Michigan Genealogical Society, which covers Muskegon, Newaygo, Montcalm, Kent, Ottawa, Ionia, Allegan, and Barry counties. They have several online databases that are free to use, including an index to obituaries in the Grand Rapids newspapers from 1910 to today.

Conclusion

Michigan has a rich history of people from numerous cultures. Events that have happened here have helped shape the nation. Michigan researchers are fortunate to have so many resources available to help them find their heritage.


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