Michigan History and Research Overview

By Family Tree Editors Premium


French explorers were the first Europeans into the area that’s now Michigan, which the Ojibway, Saginaw, Menominee, Wyandot, Ottawa and other Indian tribes had long occupied. In 1688, Jacques Marquette organized the first permanent settlement at Sault Ste. Marie. Fort Pontchartrain, established in 1701, would later be renamed Detroit. The French gave up possession of the area in 1763 to the British, who discouraged settlement just as the French had.

In 1787, the United States acquired the area and added it to the Northwest Territory, but the British retained control of Detroit and Mackinac. In 1796, when Gen. Anthony Wayne took Detroit, all of Michigan was in US hands.

Michigan became part of Indiana Territory in 1800. In 1805, Michigan territory was formed. In 1836, the disputed “Toledo Strip” of land five to seven miles wide on Michigan’s southern border was granted to Ohio

Early settlers came mainly from Canada, New York, Ohio and the New England states. Michigan became the 26th state in 1837, and the population continued to expand. By 1850, large numbers of German and Dutch immigrants were arriving. In subsequent years immigrants continued to pour into Michigan, especially Scandinavian, Irish, Cornish, Polish and Italians, many working in mining and lumbering camps. Eventually, the growth of Detroit and its auto industry would pace the industrial growth of the country.

(click to enlarge)
Michigan state map with county outlines



  • Federal census: 1820, 1830, 1840, 1850, 1860, 1870, 1880, 1900, 1910, 1920, 1930
  • Federal mortality schedules: 1850, 1860, 1870, 1880
  • Special census of Civil War Union veterans and widows: 1890
  • State/territorial census: 1827, 1834, 1837, 1845, 1854, 1864, 1874, 1884, 1894, 1904


  • American Biographical History of Eminent and Self-Made Men: Michigan Volume (Western Biographical Publishing Co., 1878)
  • Church Record Index, 2 vols. (The Society, 1993)
  • County Evolution in Michigan, 1790-1897 by Richard Warren Welch (Department of Education, 1972)
  • Directory of Historical Collections and Societies in Michigan by Wystan Stevens (Historical Society of Michigan, 1973)
  • Genealogical Materials in the Eddy Historical Collection of the Public Libraries of Saginaw by Nelda M. Hinz (Public Libraries, 1975)
  • Genealogist’s Guide to the Capitol Region of Michigan compiled by Victoria Wilson (Kinseeker Publications, 1987)
  • Genealogist’s Guide to the Middle of Michigan compiled by Victoria Wilson (Kinseeker Publications, 1987)
  • Genealogist’s Guide to Northeastern Michigan compiled by Victoria Wilson (Kinseeker Publications, 1987)
  • Genealogist’s Guide to Southwestern Michigan compiled by Victoria Wilson (Kinseeker Publications, 1987)
  • Genealogist’s Guide to the Thumb Area of Michigan compiled by Victoria Wilson (Kinseeker Publications, 1987)
  • Genealogist’s Guide to Upper Penninsula Michigan compiled by Victoria Wilson (Kinseeker Publications, 1987)
  • Genealogy in Michigan: What, When, Where, 2nd edition, by Alloa Caviness Anderson (A. Anderson, P. Bender, 1978)
  • General History of the State of Michigan: With Biographical Sketches, Portrait Engraving and Numerous Illustrations by Charles Richard Tuttle (R.D.S. Tyler, 1873)
  • A Guide to Ancestral Trails in Michigan, 4th edition, by Lucy Mary Kellogg (Detroit Society for Genealogical Research, 1975)
  • Guide to the Manuscripts in the Burton Historical Collection by Bernice Cox Sprenger (Detroit Public Library, 1985)
  • Guide to the Michigan Genealogical and Historical Collections at the Library of Michigan and the State Archives of Michigan (Michigan Genealogical Council, 1996)
  • History of Michigan, 4 vols., by Charles Moore (Lewis Publishing Co., 1915)
  • A History of Northern Michigan and Its People, 3 vols., by Perry F. Powers (Lewis Publishing Co, 1912)
  • A History of the Northern Peninsula of Michigan and Its People, Its Mining, Lumber and Agricultural Industries, 3 vols., by Alvah Littlefield Sawyer (Lewis Publishing Co., 1911)
  • Inventory of the Church Archives of Michigan, The Roman Catholic Church, Archdiocese of Detroit from the Historical Records Survey (Michigan Historical Records Survey, 1941)
  • Men of Progress: Embracing Biographical Sketches of Representative Michigan Men, With an Outline History of the State (Evening New Assoc., 1900)
  • Michigan Biographies from the Library of Michigan (filmed by Microform Systems Inc., ca. 1980)
  • Michigan Biographies (Clearfield Co., 1924, 1999)
  • Michigan Centennial File Index from the Library of Michigan (filmed by Microform Systems Inc., ca. 1980)
  • Michigan, A Centennial History of the State and Its People, 5 vols., by George Newman Fuller (Lewis Publishing Co., 1939)
  • Michigan County Histories: A Bibliography (Michigan Bureau of Library Services, 1978)
  • Michigan Genealogy Sources and Resources by Carol McGinnis (Genealogical Publishing Co., 1987)
  • Michigan’s German Heritage, John Russell’s History of the German Influence in the Making of Michigan by Don Heinrich Tolzman (Heritage Books, 1994)
  • Michigan Historical Collections, 40 vols., from the Michigan State Historical Society (W.S. George & Co., 1877-1929)
  • Michigan Pioneer Records, 1800-1900 (Genealogical Society of Utah, 1973, 1974, 1976)
  • Michigan Research Outline by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (online at
  • Michigan Sesquicentennial Pioneer Files and Indexes, ca. 1986-1988 (filmed by the Genealogical Society of Utah, 1994)
  • The Michigan Surname Index edited by Donald J. DeZeeuw (Michigan Genealogical Council, 1984)
  • Midwest Pioneers, 1600s-1800s (Broderbund, 1999, CD-ROM)
  • Portrait and Biographical Records of Northern Michigan by Rev. E.H. Pilcher (Record Publishing, 1895)
  • The Red Book of Michigan; A Civil, Military and Biographical History by Charles Lanman (E. B. Smith, 1871)
  • Settling the Great Lakes Frontier: Immigration to Michigan, 1837-1924 by C. Warren Vander Hill (Michigan Historical Commission, 1970)
  • Sourcebook of Michigan Census, County Histories and Vital Records edited by Carole Callard (Library of Michigan, 1986)
  • Surname Index, 1600s-1900s from the Western Michigan Genealogical Society (filmed by the Family History Library, 1976)

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From the Family Tree Sourcebook
Also available: the State Research Guide Book, State Research Guides CD and The Researcher’s Guide to American Genealogy.