MICHIGAN TRAILS
GENEALOGY and HISTORY

 

 


County Names, Date Established, Name Origins

The boundaries of counties in the U.S. state of Michigan have not changed since 1897. However, throughout the 19th century, the state legislature frequently adjusted county boundaries. County creation was intended to fulfill the goal of establishing government over unorganized territory, but a more important goal was encouraging settlement by surveying the land and dividing it in to salable sections.  The creation of counties generally occurred in two stages. First the boundaries of a county were declared and given a name. The county appeared on maps, even though this may have been the entire extend of a county's tangible existence for several years.  During this period, the as yet unorganized county was attached to another already organized county for administrative purposes. The legislature frequently changed the administrative attachment of these unorganized counties. Residents of such an attached county could petition the legislature for organization, which was the granting of full legal recognition to the county.

NAME DATES ORIGINS
Alcona boundaries declared in 1840 and organized in 1869 from unorganized territory. Alcona was a name created by Henry Schoolcraft.
Was named Negwegon County until 1843.
Alger organized in 1885 from part of Schoolcraft County Alger County is named for Russell A. Alger, a Michigan Governor and U.S. Senator
Allegan boundaries declared in 1831 and organized in 1835 from part of Barry County and unorganized territory Allegan was a name created by Henry Schoolcraft
Alpena formed in 1840 from part of Mackinac County and unorganized territory Alpena was a name created by Henry Schoolcraft
Was founded as Anomickee County. In 1843, the name was changed to Alpena, a pseudo-Native American word - a neologism coined by Henry Schoolcraft, meaining something like "a good partridge country.
Antrim formed in 1840 from part of Mackinac County Antrim is named for County Antrim in Ireland.
Was named Meegisee until 1843.
Arenac formed in 1831 from unorganized territory.  Annexed to Bay County in 1857 and reinstated in 1883. Arenac was a name created by Henry Schoolcraft
Baraga formed in 1875 from part of Houghton County named for missionary Bishop Frederick Baraga, who worked with local Native Americans.
Barry formed in 1829 from unorganized territory Barry is named for William T. Barry, Postmaster General of the United States, is a Cabinet County.
Bay formed in 1857 from parts of Arenac County, Midland County and Saginaw County lies at the head of Saginaw Bay
Benzie formed in 1863 from part of Leelenau County Benzie is an Americanization of the French, Riviere Aux-Bec-Scies, for the local river.
Berrien formed in 1829 from unorganized territory Berrien is named for John M Berrien, Attorney General of the United States, is a Cabinet County.
Branch formed in 1829 from unorganized territory Branch is named for John Branch, U.S. Secretary of the Navy, is a Cabinet County.
Calhoun formed in 1829 from unorganized territory Calhoun is named for U. S. Vice President John C. Calhnoun, is a Cabinet County.
Cass formed in 1829 from unorganized territory Cass is named for territorial governor and Secretary of War Lewis Cass, is a Cabinet County.
Charlevoix formed in 1869 from parts of Antrim, Emmet and Otsego County Charlevoix is named for French Jesuit missionary Pierre Franscois Xavier de Charlevoix
Cheboygan formed in 1840 from part of Mackinac County Cheboygan is named for the Cheboygan River, which itself is of uncertain origin.. It may come from an Ojibwe word zhaabonigan meaning 'sewing needle". Alternatively, it may have come from Chabwegan," meaning "a place of ore."
Chippewa formed in 1827 from part of Mackinac County Chippewa is named for the Chippewa, or Ojibwe, Native American people
Clare formed in 1840 from part of Mackinac County and unorganized territory. Clare is named for County Clare in Ireland.
Was named Kaykakee County until 1843.
Clinton formed in 1831 from unorganized territory Clinton is named for DeWitt Clinton, the Governor of New York under whom the Erie Canal was constructed.
Crawford formed in 1840 from part of Mackinac County and unorganized territory. Crawford may be named for Ford Crawford in Prairie du Chien, Wisconsin, which was in turn named for politician William H., Crawford.  Was named Shawano County until 1843.
Delta formed in 1843 from part of Macinac County and unorganized territory. Delta is named for the Greek "Delta" symbol, because the original shape of the county was triangular (i.e. like a delta.)
Dickinson formed in 1891 from parts of Iron County, Marquette & Menominee County. Dickinson is named fro Don M. Dickinson, U.S. Postmaster General under Grover Cleveland.
Eaton formed in 1829 from unorganized territory Eaton is named fro the United States Secretary of War John H. Eaton, is a Cabinet County.
Emmet formed in 1840 from part of Mackinac County Emmet is named for Irish patriot Robert Emmet.
Was named Tonegadana until 1843.
Genesee formed in 1835 from parts of Lapeer County, Saginaw County and Shiawassee County. Genesee was named after Genesee County, New York, home of many original settlers.
Gladwin formed in 1831 from unorganized territory Gladwin is named for Henry Gladwin, British military commander at Detroit during Pontiac's War.
Gogebic formed in 1887 from part of Ontonagon County. Gogebic probably comes from the Ojibwe language word bic, meaning rock.
Grand Traverse formed in 1851 from part of Omeena County. Grand Traverse is an Americanization of the French phrase grande travers, meaning long crossing, and originally referring to Grand Traverse Bay.
Gratiot formed in 1831 from unorganized territory Gratiot is named for Charles Gratiot, the military officer who built Fort Gratiot at the present site of Port Huron.
Hillsdale formed in 1829 from unorganized territory Hillsdale is a hilly area.
Houghton formed in 1845 from parts of Marquette and Ontonagon. Houghton is named for Douglass Houghton, Michigan geologist and May of Detroit from 1842 and 1843.
Huron formed in 1840 from part of Sanilac County. Huron is named for Lake Huron.
Ingham boundaries declared in 1829 and organized in 1838 from parts of Shiawassee County, Washtenaw County and unorganized territory. Ingham is named for United States Secretary of the Treasury Samuel D. Ingham, is a Cabinet County.
Ionia formed in 1831 from part of Mackinac County and unorganized territory. Ionia is named for the ancient Greek region Ionia.
Iosco formed in 1840 from unorganized territory. The county was organized in 1857. Iosco was a name created by Henry Schoolcraft
Iosco is a Native American work meaning "water of light". It was used by Schoolcraft to refer to Indian men and boys. In 1840 the county was set off as Kanotin County, and renamed Iosco in 1843.
Iron formed in 1885 from parts of Marquette County and Menominee County. Iron is named for the iron resources found widely in the county.
Isabella formed in 1831 from part of Mackinac County and unorganized territory. Isabella named for Queen Isabella of Spain, who patronized Christopher Columbus.
Jackson boundaries declared in 1829 and organized in 1832 from part of Washtenaw County and unorganized territory. Jackson is named for Andrew Jackson, seventh President of the United States.
Kalamazoo formed in 1829 from unorganized territory. Kalamazoo is named for the Kalamazoo River. See Etymology of Kalamazoo for a discussion of the river's name.
Kalkaska formed in 1840 from part of Mackinac County. Kalkaska  was a name created by Henry Schoolcraft.
Was named Wabassee County until 1843.
Kent formed in 1831 from part of Mackinac County and unorganized territory. Kent is named for New York jurist James Kent, who represented the Michigan Territory in its dispute with Ohio over the Toledo Strip.
Keweenaw formed in 1861 from part of Houghton County. Keweenaw is named for an Ojibwe work Gakiiwe-wewaning meaning protage.
Lake formed in 1840 from part of Mackinac County. Lake has several small lakes and lies near Lake Michigan.
Was named Aischum until 1843.
Lapeer formed in 1822 from parts of Oakland County and St. Clair County. Lapeer is said to be an Americanization of the French la pierre meaning flint.
Leelanau formed in 1840 from part of Mackinac County. Leelanau was a name created by Henry Schoolcraft.
Lenawee formed in 1822 from part of Monroe County Lenawee is a Henry Schoolcraft neologism signifying a Native American word for man -- either from the Delaware "leno or lenno" or the Shawnee "lenawai."
Livingston boundaries declared in 1833 and organized in 1836 from parts of Shiawassee County and Washtenaw County. Livingston is named for United States Secretary of State Edward Livingston, is a Cabinet County.
Luce formed in 1887 from parts of Chippewa County and Mackinac County. Luce is named fro Michigan Governor Cyrus G. Luce.
Mackinac formed in 18918 from part of Wayne County. Originally named Michilimackinac, believed to be a French interpretation of the Native American name for the place. Was named Michilimackinac until 1837.
Macomb formed in 1818 from part of Wayne County Macomb is named for U. S. General Alexander Macomb, a notable officer of the War of 1812.
Manistee formed in 1840 from part of Mackinac County. Manistee was named for the Manistee River, which in turn is from the Ojibwe name, ministrigweyaa meaning (river) at whose mouth there are islands.
Marquette formed in 1843 from parts of Chippewa County and Mackinac County. Marquette is named for French Jesuit missionary Pere Jacques Marquette.
Mason formed in 1840 from part of Mackinac County. Mason is named for Michigan Governor Stevens T. Mason.
Was named Notipekago County until 1843.
Mecosta formed in 1840 from parts of Mackinac County and Oceana County Mecosta is named for Mecosta, a Native American leader.
Menominee formed in 1861 from part of Delta County. Menominee is named for the Menominee Native American people.
Was named Bleeker County until 1863.
Midland formed in 1831 from part of Saginaw County and unorganized territory. Midland is located near the midpoint of the Lower Peninsula.
Missaukee formed in 1840 from part of Mackinac County. Missaukee, is named for Missaukee, an Ottawa leader who signed land-grant treaties in 1831 and 1833.
Monroe formed in 1817 from part of Wayne County Monroe is named for James Monroe, the fifth U.S. President.
Montcalm formed in 1831 from part of Mackinac County and unorganized territory. Montcalm is named for the Marquis de Montcalm.
Montmorency formed in 1840 from part of Mackinac County and unorganized territory. Montmorency is probably named for a historical figure named Montmorency, but which one is unknown.
Was named Cheonoquet County until 1843.
Muskegon formed in 1859 from parts of Oceana County and Ottawa County Muskegon is named for the Muskegon River, named for the Ojibwe language word mashkiigoong meaning in the swamp or in the marsh.
Newaygo formed in 1840 from parts of Mackinac County and Oceana County Newaygo was either named for a Chippawa leader who signed the Saginaw Treaty of 1819 or for a Native American word meaning much water.
Oakland boundaries proclaimed on January 12, 1819 and officially organized on March 28, 1820 from part of Macomb County. Oakland was named for the many oak openings in the area.
Oceana formed in 1831 from part of Mackinac County Oceana is thought to be named for Lake Michigan, a freshwater "ocean.:" However, some apparently have speculated that the name may be related to the title of a controversial 1656 book by James Harrington, the Commonwealth of Oceana.
Ogemaw formed in 1840 from unorganized territory. Annexed to Iosco County in 1867 and reinstated in 1873. Ogemaw is named for the Ojibwe word ogimaa, meaning chief or leader.
Ontonagon formed in 1843 from parts of Chippewa County and Mackinac County Ontonagon is named for a river called Nantounagon on an early French map.
Osceola formed in 1840 from part of Mackinac County. Osceola is named for the Native American leader Osceola of the Seminole nation.  Was named Unwattin County until 1843.
Oscoda formed in 1840 from part of Mackinac County and unorganized territory. Oscoda was a name created by Henry Schoolcraft thought to be a combination of two Ojibwa words, "ossin" (stone) and "muskoda" j(praire) -- hence 'pebbly prairie.'
Otsego formed in 1840 from part of Mackinac County. Ostego is named for Ostego County, New York.
Was named Okkudo County until 1843.
Ottawa formed in 1831 from part of Mackinac County and unorganized territory. Ottawa is named for the Native American Ottawa people.
Presque Isle formed in 1840 from part of Mackinac County. Presque Isle is an Americanization of the French term almost island, indicating a peninsula.
Roscommmon formed in 1840 from part of Mackinac and unorganized territory. Roscommon is named for County Roscommon in Ireland.
Was named Mikenauk County until 1843.
Saginaw formed in 1822 from part of Oakland County. Saginaw is a Native American term, perhaps having reference to the Sauk tribe who lived at the moth of the river. Another source opines that: "There are two possible derivations: form 'Sace-nong' or 'Sak-e-nnog' (Sauk Town) because the Sauk (Sac) once lived there, or from Chippewa words meaning 'place of the outlet' from 'sag' (an opening) and 'ong' (place of).
St. Clair formed in 1820 from part of Macomb County. St. Clair is either named for Arthur St. Clair, first governor of the Northwest Territory, or for Saint Clair on whose feast day Lake St. Clair was discovered.
St. Joseph formed in 1829 from unorganized territory. St. Joseph is named for Saint Joseph, the patron saint of New France.
Sanilac formed in 1822 from part of St. Clair County Sanilac was probably named for a Wyandotte leader named Sanilac.
Schoolcraft formed in 1843 form parts of Chippewa & Mackinac Counties. Schoolcraft was named for explorer and ethnologist Henry Schoolcraft.
Shiawassee formed in 1822 from parts of Oakland and St. Clair Counties Shiawassee is named for the Shiawassee River, and means 'river that twists about.'
Tuscola formed in 1840 from part of Sanilac County. Tuscola was a name created by Henry Schoolcraft. Once called 'Tusci' by Native People, "Les Pays Plat' by the French, and Flat Country by the English, the name seems to mean plateau.  Chief Otusson's reservation was partly in Tuscola County. His name means bench. Caro, the county seat, was called by Native Pepole "High Banks".
Van Buren formed in 1829 from unorganized territory Van Buren is named fro United States Secretary of State (and later President of the United States) Martin Van Buren, is a Cabinet County.
Washtenaw boundaries were proclaimed on September 10, 1822 and officially organized effective December 31, 1826 from parts of Oakland County and Wayne County. Washtenaw comes from the Native American term O-wash-ten-nong.
Wayne existed in three incarnations: the first established in 1796, as one of the original units of the Northwest Territory, technically ceased to exist in 1803 when Ohio became a state and the orphaned area of Wayne County was merged into Indiana Territory; the second Wayne County was subsequently re-organized as part of the Indiana Territory and was abolished by Governor William Hull after Michigan Territory was established in 1805; the third was established by Hull's successor Governor Lewis Cass in 1815 and included all lands within Michigan Territory that had been ceded by Native Americans through the 1807 Treaty of Detroit. Wayne is named for U. S. General "Mad" Anthony Wayne.
Wexford formed in 1840 from part of Mackinac County. Wexford is named for County Wexford in Ireland
Was named Kautawaubet County until 1843.
  DEFUNCT COUNTIES  
NAME DATES ORIGINS
Brown formed in 1818 from unorganized territory when Michigan Territory was expanded to include area west of Lake Michigan upon formation of the state of Illinois. Transferred to Wisconsin Territory in 1836 and continues as Brown County, Wisconsin  
Keskkauko formed in 1840 from part of Mackinac County. Renamed Charlevoix County in 1843, Annexed to Emmet County in 1853. Reformed at Charlevoix County from Emmet County in 1869.  
Crawford formed in 1818 from unorganized territory when Michigan Territory was expanded to nclude area west of Lake Michigan upon formation of the state of Illinois. Transferred to Wisconsin Territory in 1836 and continues as Crawford County, Wisconsin  
Des Moines formed in 1834 from unorganized territory. Transferred to Wisconsin Territory in 1836 and continues as Des Moines County, Iowa.  
Dubuque formed in 1834 from unorganized territory. Transferred to Wisconsin Territory in 1836 and continues as Dubuque County, Iowa.  
Iowa formed in 1830 from part of Crawford County. Transferred to Wisconsin Territory in 1836 and continues as Iowa County, Wisconsin.  
Isle Royale formed in 1875 from part of Keweenau County. Returned to it in 1897.  
Manitou formed in 1855 from parts of Emmet County and Leelenau County. County government was disorganized in 1861 and attached for administrative purposes to Mackinac County. In 1865, it was attached to Leelanau and reattached to Mackinac in 1869. County was abolished in 1895 and absorbed by Charlevoix County and Leelanau County.  
Milwaukee formed in 1834 from part of Brown County. Transferred to Wisconsin Territory in 1836 and continues as Milwaukee County, Wisconsin.  
Omeena formed in 1840 from part of Mackinac County. Annexed to Grand Traverse County in 1853.  
Wyandot formed in 1840 from part of Mackinac County. Annexed to Cheboygan County in 1853.  

 

    

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