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Mason County, Michigan Genealogy

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Guide to Mason County, Michigan ancestry, family history, and genealogy birth records, marriage records, death records, census records, family history, and military records.


Mason County, Michigan
Map of the U.S. highlighting Michigan
Location of Michigan in the U.S.
Founded April 1, 1840
County Seat Ludington
Mason County courthouse.jpg
Address Mason County Courthouse
304 E Ludington Avenue
Ludington, MI 49431
Phone: 231-843-8202
Fax: 231-843-1972
Mason County Website

County Information[edit | edit source]

Description[edit | edit source]

The County was named for Stevens T. Mason, Governor of Michigan. The County has Ludington as its seat and the County was created 1840. The County is located in the west area of the state.[1]

Mason County, Michigan Record Dates[edit | edit source]

Known Beginning Dates for Major County Records[2]
Birth* Marriage Death* Court Land Probate Census
1867 1867 1867 1867 1740 1855 1820
Statewide registration started in 1867 for births and deaths. General compliance by 1915.

County Courthouse[edit | edit source]

County Clerk has birth, marriage, death, divorce and court records from 1867.
City Clerks have burial records.
Probate Court has probate records.
Register of Deeds has land records.[3]

History[edit | edit source]

Parent County[edit | edit source]

1840--Mason County was created 1 April 1840 from Mackinac County. Formerly Notipekago County, until the name was changed to Mason 8 March 1843. It was attached to Ottawa County prior to organization 13 February 1855. County seat: Ludington [4]

"The Native Americans who lived on the shores of what would become known to us as the Pere Marquette Lake were the first mariners. They were the first to travel along the Michigan lakeshore and also to cross the narrow and shallow harbor entrance that existed at the base of the hill coming down from the bluffs to the narrow strip of land eventually known as the Buttersville Peninsula.

Not a pe ka gon as this area was called translates as “River with heads on sticks.”This was the name given to the area by the Ottawa Indians after a fierce battle between the Ottawa and Mascouten in the 17th century in which several thousand were killed. The victors then went about the task of severing the heads of the defeated Mascouten and placed them on sticks along the river and lake as a warning to all who might come afterwards.

The next event of any historical nature involves Father Marquette. He was a Jesuit Missionary who travelled also by canoe through out the Great Lakes to bring Christianity to the new world. On his way back to St Ignace he became ill and passed away on the shores of the lake that would eventually bear his name.

Early Trappers and Shingle makers made their way into the area by the lake route as early as 1835 with William Quevillion leading the way. They arrived in small schooners and traveled by canoe. Burr Caswell was the first permanent settler of European Descent to arrive in 1847 with his family aboard the Schooner Eagle.

The arrival of Burr Caswell and his family in 1847 marked the beginning of the settlement of the area and of our recorded maritime history. When Burr Caswell arrived the area was a virtual wilderness, giant pines crowded the shores of the lake, wolves wee common and travel was hard. There were no roads to bring travelers to the new settlement that would begin to develop in the midst of the wilderness.

The only sure way to travel was by boat, whether it was by schooner or canoe. The alternative was to travel Indian paths and deer runs, or along the beach where each river and creek had to be crossed in some fashion.

In describing what met the family on their arrival we quote from the 1882 edition of the History of Manistee Mason and Oceana Counties “Nothing could be wilder and more uncivilized then the surroundings of the first family of white settlers.

Their home was in the midst of dense wilderness, their neighbors a tribe of Ottawa Indians. There were two or three white men at work up the river [making shingles] but there were no white settlers nearer then Manistee. The Indians introduced Mr. Caswell to the mysteries of their religious rites.”

Sand Sawdust and Sawlogs by Frances Caswell Hanna relates the story of their arrival here in 1847. “On a balmy day in the late summer of 1847, The Eagle, a sailing schooner northbound from Chicago, with a family of six aboard, stood off the entrance to Pere Marquette Lake.

Unable to sail through the shallow channel, the captain sent the family ashore in the yawl. Their oxen, cows, and pigs were forced overboard, and after circling the schooner once or twice, swam ashore.
A year’s provisions for the family were brought to land in row boats. Such was the dramatic arrival of the Burr Caswell family, first permanent white settlers in the region about Pere Marquette Lake. Burr was forty years old, his wife, Hannah Green, a year or two younger. Of their four children, Mary was fifteen, George thirteen, Helen ten, and Edgar seven.”

The history of the carferries in Ludington begins much earlier then the completion of the first steel hulled carferry in 1897. Much work by many hands had to be accomplished in the early years of settlement in order to make that event possible. The tiny village that began to form up around the saw-mills and crude buildings became known as the Village of Pere Marquette.

The railroad even which had begun to extend from Flint Michigan towards the east coast of the state was incorporated as the Flint & Pere Marquette. It was the railroad which terminated in Ludington that chartered the first break bulk ship to move goods for the railroad and solidified the need for an ever expanding fleet of boats, eventually creating the largest fleet of carferries in the world.

Quoting from the pages of “Lumber Lath and Shingles” as written by Luman Goodenough. “Lumber was the reason for the existence of the town. The mills scattered along the banks of the little lake were the means. A lake area two miles in length by half or three quarters of a mile in width afforded ample shore space for all the timber industries the adjacent forests could support or the river float in logs and bolts. “
The development of the Maritime Industry in Ludington was directly related to the need to move goods to market and to move settlers and lumberjacks in search of work to remote areas that could only be easily accessible by water.

This is how the original trade and shipping routes wee established and the continued need for bigger and better ships to carry both freight and passengers year around across the lake. Trappers arrived as early as 1835, shingle makers by the 1840’s and the first permanent settler in 1847. Change was happening but by today’s standards it was coming slowly to the region. Traveling overland was difficult as roads were non existent in Northern Michigan at the time.

The most efficient form of travel was by boat and as lumbermen began to come into the area the need was great to find a way to quickly move timber, supplies and people. Large tracts of pinelands were being bought by men who had the vision to see the need and the future market for the seemingly unlimited pine forests. There were millions to be made for those willing to take the gamble and lives to be forged for immigrants willing to work long hours in the Pinery.

Schooners and lumber hookers provided most of the transportation needs in those early years up to about 1865. Population growth was slow and although it seemed that the lumbering concerns were moving a mountain of pine they had in reality barely scratched the surface. Even by 1873 Mammoth White Pines crowded the shores of Pere Marquette Lake.

A man by the name of Ford purchased the land surrounding Pere Marquette Lake to establish a sawmill and had taken out a note with James Ludington a Milwaukee businessman to fund the construction and early operation of this enterprise. Around the same time another player by the name of Eber Ward entered the game as he purchased large tracts of pines in the Mason County area. Ward was Detroit’s first millionaire and had been investing in lumber and mining through out the Midwest.

Ludington and Ward were Captains of Industry, both were forces to be reckoned with and they were joined by yet another man who was a giant of the times, Charles Mears. Mears had already managed to secure the removal of the County Seat from its former location on the peninsula to the Village of Lincoln which he controlled.

The next event of any consequence was the default of Ford in his note with James Ludington who foreclosed and took possession of the properties owned by Ford. Much of the land that Ludington came to own in 1859 encompassed most of what would become known as the City of Ludington.

In 1859 there was a mill, some shanties and lumber shacks, a sawdust road and very little else. Even the harbor entrance was too shallow and this made it difficult to get the products to market. The little lumbering community that had started to build up around the lake must have intrigued James Ludington, he wanted to build not just a business but a community. In 1859 the little village held the name Pere Marquette after the fallen Jesuit Missionary who had died there centuries before and Ludington had his plans.

There were powerful men with powerful designs on the development of the area, a collision of giants was coming to the wilderness. Once James Ludington took possession of the sawmill at Pere Marquette he needed someone to manage it. He made an offer of a two year lease to Charles Mears to operate the mill in exchange for development of the channel.

Mears jumped at the chance to take control, but it was his biggest mistake as that decision would ultimately lead to his financial and political demise. Over the next couple years Mears had the channel widened and deepened. Schooners could now navigate the channel much easier and the commerce started to flow into Pere Marquette as well as new families and lumbermen. When the lease was up, Ludington took back control of the mill and the new improved harbor.

Charles Mears was a Chicago businessman who had built mills at Pentwater in Oceana County, the Village of Lincoln, and at Hamlin in Mason County. He had successfully lobbied and won the vote to have the County Seat of Mason County moved to the Village of Lincoln which he controlled. Mears had the hopes of being able to control every harbor and channel from north of Muskegon to Hamlin. In 1859 the Village of Lincoln was on the move and was out distancing the Village of Pere Marquette in commerce and growth.

Mears originally entered all of the lands surrounding the Big and Little Sable Rivers because the land at Pere Marquette was taken by Joseph Boyden and the lands at Freesoil were taken by Wheeler and Harris. By 1860 Charles Mears employed about 500 in his operations, seasonally other men and farmers in the county would also work for Mears in the woods.

In 1859 a group of Manitowoc residents came to Pere Marquette Village aboard the Steamer Gazelle to look into the possibilities of cross lake shipping. The idea of cross lake routes was on the minds of many early in the areas development. There were two ships that serviced the community of Lincoln on a regular basis, The Charles Mears built in 1856 and the Schooner Blackhawk.

Growth was slow during the war years of 1861 to 1865 but started to boom shortly there after Veterans of the Civil War took advantage of the homestead act and many came to Mason County after the war to start a new life. Businesses were built, homes were constructed, and farms established on newly cleared land. In a short time the Village of Lincoln was left holding its hands out as its population declined along with its political influence.

During these years as the drama was unfolding between Mears and Ludington Eber Ward was inching ever closer with the new railroad. It was a much anticipated event, everyone knew that having the railroad coming to the village of Pere Marquette would benefit all.

When the time came for the Village to have a Post Office the paperwork was filled out with the name of Ludington. The village retained its name but the Post Office was named for James Ludington. In 1865 Ludington started to plat out the layout of the city that would eventually bear his name. Ludington donated funds to promote almost every cause that would improve the social and economic growth of the village.

In 1869 James Ludington certainly must have felt that he had the upper hand in the negotiations with Eber Ward over a terminus in Ludington. While he had managed to get the upper hand over Charles Mears he was about to find himself on the same end of the stick that he knocked Mears down with.

The crews of Ludington were cutting what was called a round forty. What that meant is that in the areas where the lands of Ludington and Wards met Ludington’s crew was cutting trees down on the wrong side of the property line. Eber Ward probably didn’t care for how the negotiations were going with Ludington over a terminus for the railroad and he was not a man that you trifled with.

Ward knew that Ludington’s crew was taking some of his lumber and he waited until James Ludington came to Detroit to complete some business. When he arrived he was arrested and jailed.

The result of this action was that James Ludington’s health suffered greatly and was now severely impacted by these events and the loss of 650,000.00 from the subsequent lawsuit by Eber Ward against him. Ludington salvaged what he could, Ludington Lumber Company was formed with James Ludington as a stockholder but with the enterprise in control of others that he had previously conducted business with.

The road was wide open now for Eber Ward to secure land for a terminus in Ludington on the Pere Marquette Lake. The newly formed Ludington Lumber Company donated the needed property valued at 100,000.00 to the Railroad. As a bonus Ward secured some of the property for himself and constructed two sawmills on the lake to process the many thousands of acres of pines that he owned.

IN 1873 when the village became chartered Ludington offered to donate 5,000.00 to the city should it be named after him. 1873 was a good year for the most part for Ludington, the city bore his name, it was growing in leaps and bounds, and the railroad was almost here and the County seat was moved from Lincoln to Ludington.

Several years before Michael Engleman had prepared the way for cross lake traffic by establishing his routes to Chicago and Wisconsin and now there was nothing to stop Ward from moving forward in his plans to establish a permanent cross lake link between Michigan and Wisconsin through the railroad. Eber Ward finished his railroad, established his mills at Ludington, and made arrangements to charter the Sidewheel Steamer John Sherman before he passed away January 1st 1875. He did not live to see the creation of the carferry fleet but he played his part and set the stage for the cross lake service that would change the region forever. "

Introduction from the book Ludington Carferries by David K Petersen Arcadia Publishing used with permission of the author

Boundary Changes[edit | edit source]

For animated maps illustrating Michigan county boundary changes, "Rotating Formation Michigan County Boundary Maps" (1790-1897) may be viewed for free at the website.

Record Loss[edit | edit source]

There is no known history of courthouse disasters in this county.

Places/Localities[edit | edit source]

Populated Places[edit | edit source]

For a complete list of populated places, including small neighborhoods and suburbs, visit HomeTown Locator. The following are the most historically and genealogically relevant populated places in this county:[5]

Unincorporated communities

Neighboring Counties[edit | edit source]

Lake  • Manistee  • Newaygo  • Oceana

Resources[edit | edit source]

Cemeteries[edit | edit source]

Tombstone Transcriptions Online Tombstone Transcriptions in Print List of Cemeteries in the county Family History Library
USGenWeb WorldCat Billion Graves
MIGenWeb Archives
Tombstone Project
Billion Graves
See Michigan Cemeteries for more information.

Mason County History Companion - Database with over 25,000 residents of Mason County Cemeteries. Click "Cemetery Database" under "Navigation" on the right hand side of the page.

Census[edit | edit source]

State Census

Church[edit | edit source]

Church records and the information they provide vary significantly depending on the denomination and the record keeper. They may contain information about members of the congregation, such as age, date of baptism, christening, or birth; marriage information and maiden names; and death date. For general information about Michigan denominations, view the Michigan Church Records wiki page.

Court[edit | edit source]

Ethnic[edit | edit source]

American Indian[edit | edit source]

Mason County, Native American: Births, Deaths, and Marriage Index. by Oceana County Historical and Genealogical Society. FHL book 970.1 M381m WorldCat

Mason County Indian Church Records: Registers of Baptisms and Marriages. manuscript located in the Rose Hawley Museum. FHL film 1306232  WorldCat

Mason County, Native American

Emigration and Immigration[edit | edit source]

Land[edit | edit source]

Land and property records can place an ancestor in a particular location, provide economic information, and reveal family relationships. Land records include: deeds, abstracts and indexes, mortgages, leases, grants and land patents.

See Michigan Land and Property for additional information about early Michigan land grants. After land was transferred to private ownership, subsequent transactions were usually recorded at the county courthouse and where records are currently housed.

Local Histories[edit | edit source]

Local histories are available for Mason County, Michigan Genealogy. County histories may include biographies, church, school and government history, and military information. For more information about local histories, see the wiki page section Michigan Local Histories.

Mason County History Companion - A listing of printed matter and published books pertaining to the Mason County Area

Maps[edit | edit source]

Manistee CountyLake CountyNewaygo CountyOceana CountyMI MASON.PNG
Click a neighboring county
for more resources

Military[edit | edit source]

Civil War[edit | edit source]
World War I[edit | edit source]

Newspapers[edit | edit source]

Ludington Daily News; Archives from 1867 to 2007 are available on the Google News Archives. This is a great resource; you can use a screen capture to save your family obituaries and columns for transcription

Finding More Michigan Newspapers[edit source]

Additional newspapers abstracts can sometimes be found using search phrases such as Mason County, Michigan Genealogy newspapers in online catalogs like:

Obituaries[edit | edit source]

Probate[edit | edit source]

In most counties in Michigan, probate records have been kept by the county judge. They include wills, fee books, claim registers, legacy records, inheritance records, probate packets, and dockets. The records are available at the county courthouse.

The FamilySearch Catalog lists films of probate records. To find the records for this county, use the Place Search for Michigan, Mason and search for Probate records in the list.

Note: Not every county in Michigan will have Probate Records in the FamilySearch Catalog.

Online Probate Records

Taxation[edit | edit source]

Vital Records[edit | edit source]

Vital Records consist of births, adoptions, marriages, divorces, and deaths recorded on registers, certificates, and documents. A copy or an extract of most original records can be purchased as shown below:

Birth Records and Death Records from the Michigan Department of Community Health (from 1867) or the County Clerk's office of the county where the event occurred.
Marriage Records (from 1867) and Divorce Records (from 1897) from the County Clerk.

Birth[edit | edit source]
Marriage[edit | edit source]
Death[edit | edit source]

Societies and Libraries[edit | edit source]

  • Mason County Historical Society
    1687 S. Lakeshore Drive
    Ludington, MI 49431
    Phone: 231-843-4808
  • Mason Area Historical Society and Museum
    PO Box 44
    200 E Oak Street
    Mason, MI 48854
    Phone (Museum): 517-676-5974

Family History Centers[edit | edit source]

Family History Centers provide one-on-one assistance and free access to premium genealogical websites. In addition, many centers have free how-to genealogy classes.

Websites[edit | edit source]

References[edit | edit source]

  1. Wikipedia contributors, "Mason County, Michigan" in Wikipedia: the Free Encyclopedia, ",_Michigan."
  2. Handybook for Genealogists: United States of America, 10th ed. (Draper, Utah: Everton Pub., 2002), Mason County, Michigan . Page 343-351 At various libraries (WorldCat); FHL Book 973 D27e 2002; Alice Eichholz, ed. Ancestry’s Red Book: American State, County, and Town Sources, Third ed. (Provo, Utah: Ancestry, 2004), 346-349.
  3. Handybook for Genealogists: United States of America, 10th ed. (Draper, Utah: Everton Pub., 2002), Mason County, Michigan page 348, At various libraries (WorldCat); FHL Book 973 D27e 2002.
  4. The Handybook for Genealogists: United States of America,10th ed. (Draper, UT:Everton Publishers, 2002).
  5. Wikipedia contributors, "Mason County, Michigan," in Wikipedia: the Free Encyclopedia,,_Michigan, accessed 01 November 2019.