Search For Your Ancestors in Historical Documents




State of Michigan Genealogy

The State of Michigan was organized as territory on Jan. 11 1805 and entered the union as the 26th state on Jan. 26 1837. It has 83 Counties.

The State of Michigan is bordered by Wisconsin Ohio Indiana Minnesota (across Lake Superior). It has a land area of 96,810 square miles making it the 11th largest state. The capital is Lansing and the official state website is

The 2010 population was 9,883,640 and the largest cities (2010) are Detroit 713,777; Grand Rapids 188,040; Warren 134,056; Sterling Heights 129,699; Lansing (Capital) 114,297; Ann Arbor 113,934; Flint 102,434; Dearborn 98,153; Livonia 96,942; Clinton Township 96,796.

The State of Michigan name is from an Algonquian Chippewa Indian word "meicigama" that means "big sea wate". The State Nickname is the Wolverine State and the State Motto is "Si quaeris peninsulam amoenam circum spice" which means If you are seeking a amenable (pleasant) peninsula look around you.

Select a Michigan County Below

Content on this page requires a newer version of Adobe Flash Player.

Get Adobe Flash player

Alger, Alcona, Allegan, Alpena, Antrim, Arenac, Bay, Baraga, Benzie, Berrien, Baraga, Branch, Barry, Calhoun, Cass, Cheboygan, Charlevoix, Chippewa, Clare, Clinton, Crawford, Delta, Dickinson, Eaton, Emmet, Genesee, Gladwin, Gogebic, Grand Traverse, Gratiot, Hillsdale, Houghton, Huron, Ingham, Ionia, Iosco, Iron, Isabella, Jackson, Kent, Keweenaw, Kalkaska, Kalamazoo, Lake, Lapeer, Leelenau, Lenawee, Livingston, Luce, Marquette, Mason, Macomb, Montcalm, Montmorency, Mecosta, Menominee, Midland, Missaukee, Mackinac, Monroe, Manistee, Muskegon, Newaygo, Oakland, Oceana, Ogemaw, Osceola, Ontonagon, Oscoda, Otsego, Ottawa, Presque Isle, Roscommon, Saginaw, Sanilac, Schoolcraft, St. Clair, Shiawassee, St. Joseph, Tuscola, Van Buren, Washtenaw, Wayne, Wexford

See more information about Michigan's Counties.

Michigan History

Michigan is located in the North Central part of the United States. It is one of the most geographically interesting U.S. states because it consists of two different land masses (peninsulas) with water completely separating them from each other. Also, of the five Great Lakes, four run along the borders of Michigan. In fact, the two peninsulas of Michigan are the Straits of Mackinac, which split Lake Huron and Lake Michigan.

Lakes Erie, Huron, and Saint Clair border the Lower Peninsula of Michigan to the east. It is also bordered by the Saint Clair River and the Detroit River. Ontario, Canada is on the other side of those bodies of water. The southern part of the Lower Peninsula is bordered by the states of Indiana and Ohio, while Lake Michigan borders the peninsula to the West. The Straits of Mackinac, Lake Huron, and Lake Michigan border the peninsula to the north. The Straits of Mackinac and those two great lakes also border the Upper Peninsula to the south. The Saint Mary's River is on the east side of the Upper Peninsula. Lake Superior marks the Upper Peninsula's northern border, while the state of Wisconsin borders it to the west.

On January 26, 1837, Michigan became the 26th state in the Union. At that time, it was known mainly for its fur traders. Later in the 1800s it became known for its agriculture as well. Then, when automobiles were developed in the early 1900s, Michigan became known for its automobile companies and industrial factories.

The Lower Peninsula of Michigan is particularly well-known as an industrial hub. However, the Upper Peninsula of the state is known more for its wilderness and natural surroundings, as well as its mineral deposits.

The state of Michigan gets its name from Lake Michigan. However, nobody is quite sure where Lake Michigan got its name. Some people theorize that it comes from the Algonquian word for “big water,” which is “michigama.” Other people theorize that it is a derivative of the Chippewa word for “clearing,” which is “majigan.” In the early days of the state, trading posts were well-known for wolverine pelts, which is why Michigan is often called the “Wolverine State.”

Much of the state's early history revolved around its various waterways. Those included inland lakes, the Great Lakes, and multiple rivers. In fact, Michigan's waterways more or less controlled the food supply and the transportation in the area. They even played major roles in battles and conflicts. Settlements were also constructed based on the layout of Michigan's waterways. In 1825, the Erie Canal opened, which caused many people to immigrate to the area. Soon, the area began to develop, thanks in large part to the state's mineral deposits drawing people to the region. The fact that Canada was so close to Michigan also increased early exploration of the area.

From 1518 to 1622, when the first explorers from France came to Michigan, around 15,000 Native Americans were living in the area. Those tribes included the Huron (Wyandot), Miami, Ottawa, Ojibway, Chippewa, and Potawatomi tribes.

Étienne Brulé is believed to be the very first European explorer to come to what is now Michigan. However, he wasn't sent from Europe. He was actually sent by Samuel de Champlain of Canada in 1618 or 1619. In 1634, Jean Nicolet, a French Canadian explorer, came to the area. Explorers were drawn to the area for industry, wealth, adventure, and to set up missionaries. In fact, in 1668 and 1671 missions were established at Sault Ste. Marie and St. Ignace. Late that century several French forts were constructed in what is now Michigan as well. Several French Canadian families lived around the forts, grew crops, and participated in the fur trade in the region.

In 1701, the territory that is now Michigan was owned by France. A French explorer came to the area that year to protect the area from British invasion and to establish trade. His name was Antoine de la Mothe Cadillac, and he established the first permanent settlement in Michigan, Detroit.

Throughout the 1700s the United States, France, and Great Britain all kept warring over ownership of what is now Michigan. Several Native American tribes in the area also took sides during those battles. From 1760 to 1796 Michigan was under British rule, despite the fact that the area was ceded to the United States in 1783. The Northwest Ordinance of 1787 defined the area that is now Michigan, but it didn't call the land by that name. Michigan was governed by the Northwest Territory auspices between 1796 and 1800. Most of the settlers at that time were French. They mainly lived either on Mackinac Island or in Detroit. Although, many members of the merchant class were either Scottish or English. Several French farmers were living near the Raisin River to the south of Detroit around that time. However, that area was part of Indiana Territory from 1803 to 1805. Michigan Territory was founded on January 11, 1805, and Michigan fell under British control again soon after that, during the War of 1812. However, the United States gained control of the region again as of 1813.

After the United States regained control of Michigan, it became known for its mining and lumber industries. The expansion of those industries led to new settlements popping up. That, in turn, led to the establishment of the first land office in Michigan, which began operating in 1818. Nevertheless, the difficult terrain kept major migrations from occurring in Michigan for quite a while, since Lake Erie was considered to be more difficult to travel on than the Atlantic Ocean at that time.

The federal government of the United States funded several improvements that lead to the Great Lakes being more widely traveled. Those improvements included work on Michigan's harbors and lighthouses. They also funded construction of the Erie Canal. After the Erie Canal was opened, many immigrants began traveling to Michigan from New England and New York. The construction of more roadways in the state also led to more people coming to the area from other states, such as Indiana and Ohio. Many of those immigrants were young, middle class, married farmers wanting to start new lives with their spouses.

Prior to Michigan becoming a state, not many foreign people settled in the area. However, there were some areas with Irish, German, and Quaker settlers. Many settlers also came from New England and other parts of the United States.

The state government of Michigan was established in 1835. However, statehood itself was stalled by the Toledo War, which was really an Ohio and Michigan border dispute. No fatalities occurred during the dispute, despite armed men being prepared for a physical conflict. The result of the dispute is that Ohio received certain southern Michigan land and Michigan received the Upper Peninsula as it is today. The state government was in place throughout that conflict, but statehood wasn't actually gained until January 26, 1837.

From the 1840s through the 1880s many immigrants were attracted to Michigan by the iron and copper industries, as well as the lumber industry. That led to many people coming to the area from Poland, Sweden, Italy, Norway, Finland, and Ireland. Also, a group of refugees from Holland seeking religious freedoms came to the area. They were skilled farmers and craftsmen. So, they helped to increase farming and other industries in Michigan.

As the 1900s began, the forests had been mostly cut down in Michigan and most of the iron ore had been mined. However, the automobile industry was booming. Many African Americans came from the south to work in the automobile factories, along with eastern European immigrants. To this day, Detroit remains a major automobile manufacturing hub and a heavily populated part of the state.

Copyright © 2014,