Berrien County Genealogical Society
Amelia Island Genealogical Society
Berrien County Records
Click on the link under the heading title on the left for each specific type of record.
MARRIAGE RECORDS:  The original marriage certificates County of Berrien.  The records dated 1831 through 1929 are stored at the Berrien County Historical Association in Berrien Springs, Michigan.  Marriage records from 1930 to the present are stored at the Berrien County Administration Building in St. Joseph.  Territorial laws required Michigan counties, as they were organized, to keep records of marriages.  Berrien County was established (its boundaries laid out) in 1829, but not organized (its own political system created) until 1831.  From 1829 to mid-1831, Berrien County was attached to Cass County for governmental purposes, so records for those first two years remain at the Cass County Courthouse in Cassopolis.  Berrien County’s marriage records originate in 1831 and continue to the present time.  Early marriage records were usually handwritten on any scrap of paper the clergyman or justice of the peace had available.  Information included names of the bride and groom, their ages and places of residence, the date and place of the marriage, the names of at least two witnesses, and the signature of the official who performed the ceremony.  The official prepared two copies; he gave one to the bride and groom, and mailed the other to the county clerk, who transcribed it for the official county record.  The certificates are the original certificates completed by the official.  The county clerk began numbering the certificates in 1868, which helps locate the documents in the files.  In 1888, the county began requiring that the bride and groom file an application for a marriage license.  The applications usually include the same information as the marriage certificate itself, but on occasion they will provide a little more data.  Marriages are grouped according to the original filing order created by the county clerk at the time he received the certificates from the officials.  A marriage performed in 1846, for example, might be filed that same year if the official was punctual about sending in the certificate.  It might not be filed until the next year, however, or even five or ten years later, if he procrastinated.  A few certificates are filed a year or two prior to the marriage date, apparently because the county clerk had not yet closed the file from the previous year.  The handwriting of these officials often left something to be desired, and names are sometimes obviously misspelled: “Barbary” for Barbara, “Phebe” for Pheobe, and the like.  Others, especially men’s names, are abbreviated: “Wm.” for William, “Thos.” for Thomas, and so on.  
DEATH RECORDS:  The original death returns belong to the County of Berrien.  The records dated 1867 through 1929 are stored at the Berrien County Historical Association in Berrien Springs, Michigan.  Death records from 1930 to the present are stored at the Berrien County Administration Building in St. Joseph.  Beginning in 1867, Michigan’s state government required county clerks to record the deaths that occured in their county each year.  Each township, village and city clerk would record the deaths in his township on preprinted forms, then submit the completed forms to the county clerk after the end of the year.  The county clerk used these forms to create the official county death records.  The original forms, entitled “Returns of Deaths,” included: the name of the deceased; date and place of death; age, race, sex and marital status; cause of death; occupation; birthplace; parents’ names; and parent’s place of residence.  In many cases, especially for older individuals, the parents’ names were unknown; the recording clerk then left that space blank, or wrote “unknown”.  The first name of some individuals is given as “unnamed” or “_____”.  In almost all cases, these are either stillborn children or children under the age of five years.  Because the official county death records sometimes contain errors in transcription, the Returns of Deaths are generally a more accurate source.  In Berrien County, a single death is recorded for 1855: that of Philander B. Pierson of Coloma.  Why the Coloma clerk recorded this single death remains a mystery.