Recording a Place Name in a Genealogy Program

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Properly recording the place of a life event (birth, death, etc.) in genealogy programs, websites, or research papers is a critical part of proper record keeping for all family historians. There is no one standard way to record life’s vital events. Researchers have the freedom to use the approach they wish to use. Generally (and somewhat over-simplistically), this information has included the city, county, and state for localities in the United States, and the city, province, and country for localities outside the United States. This is further complicated as some countries, such as Germany, had multiple villageswith the same name which often requires including an additional level of jurisdiction to accurately identify the location. However, these places have and can change in large and small ways which may cause confusion about the precise time period and place when and where the event occurred.

Recommendations and Standards[edit | edit source]

Societies and organizations have had varying opinions as to what the standard should be. Historically, the Genealogical Society of Utah has made different recommendations for the way to record an event place. The original recommendation was to use the place name as it was at the time of the event. For example, a person was born in 1860 in what is now Salt Lake City, Utah, the usual three levels of locality (city,county, and state) would be recorded as Great Salt Lake City, Salt Lake, Utah Territory. The current recommendation is to use the locality as found in FamilySearch Places as the standard place name used in Family Tree.

The most common recommendations are: the name at the time of the event, the contemporary name, or the then-and-now format. They are discussed in more detail below.

Name At the Time of the Event[edit | edit source]

Record the location as it was at the time of the event.

Example: In 1880, Kunzendorf, was a village in the district of Neustad, government district of Oppeln, province of Silesia, in the country of Prussia. It is now Trzebina, in the municipality of Lubrza in Voivodeship Opole in Poland.

Following the name at the time of the event method this would be recorded as Kunzendorf, Neustad, Oppeln, Silesia, Prussia.

Pros:

  • Allows researcher to identify the jurisdiction in which the records would be found

Cons:

  • Can be confusing for researcher to know where that location is today
  • Does not use a standardized place that can be found in current records

Contemporary Name[edit | edit source]

Record the current location for the event in question, regardless if it was in another country or jurisdiction.

Example: In 1845 San Diego was part of the province of Alta California, Mexico.

Using the contemporary name this would be recorded as San Diego, San Diego, California.

Pros:

  • Easy to tell where that location is today
  • May assist in locating records if they have moved from the original location to current jurisdiction

Cons:

  • If the records are still with the original government authority, it is not clear where the records are located

Then and Now[edit | edit source]

In the place name, use the "then and now" statement to clarify what the location was before, and what it is now known as today.

Example: "Thomasin/Tam(a)sin/Tamsen Carpenter was born about 1659 to 1663 probably in Pawtuxet (Warwick), Colony of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations (that part now in Kent Co., RI). She died after 30 Jan 1710/11 (living that date in Madnan’s Neck, Hempstead [now Great Neck, North Hempstead]), Queens (that part now Nassau) Co., Long Island." - written by Eugene Cole "Gene" Zubrinsky[1]

Using the then and now method these would be recorded as:

  • Then, Pawtuxet (Warwick), Colony of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations, British Colonial America, now Warwick, Kent, Rhode Island
  • Then, Madnan’s Neck, Hempstead, Queens, Long Island, British Colonial America, now, Great Neck, North Hempstead, Nassau, New York

Pros:

  • Clarifies and identifies the location at the time of the event, and what that place was called at the time of writing. One example where this is particularly useful: British Colonial America
  • This works well in textual form, such as in a report or an article

Cons:

  • When standardization of locations are used by the genealogy program, it does not allow for both places to be recorded and would only be allowed in research reports and notes.
  • Later jurisdictional changes, such as towns being split, can further complicate identification

Additional Information for This Example[edit | edit source]

  • Pawtuxet was renamed to Cranston (formally the City of Cranston) in 1754. See Cranston, Rhode Island in Wikipedia for more information.
  • Providence Plantations was the first permanent European American settlement in Rhode Island. It was established 1636 by a group of colonists led by Roger Williams who left Massachusetts Bay Colony in order to establish a colony with greater religious freedom. Providence Plantations became the Colony of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations in 1663, which became the State of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations after the American Revolution. Rhode Island and Providence Plantations became the state of Rhode Island as a part of the United States of America in 1776.
  • The Colony of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations was one of the original Thirteen Colonies established on the east coast of America, bordering the Atlantic Ocean. It was an English colony from 1636 until 1707, and then a colony of Great Britain until the American Revolution in 1776, when it became the State of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations (commonly known as Rhode Island).
  • The town of Warwick was divided in 1913 into Warwick and West Warwick, and are both located in Kent County.
  • The city of Cranston is in Providence County.

Comparison of Methods[edit | edit source]

Here is a comparison of the above examples written in each of the three styles.

Name at Time of the Event[edit | edit source]

  • Kunzendorf, Neustad, Oppeln, Silesia, Prussia
  • San Diego, Alta California, Mexico
  • Pawtuxet, Colony of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations, British Colonia America
  • Madnan’s Neck, Hempstead, Queens, Long Island, British Colonia America

Contemporary Name[edit | edit source]

  • Trzebina, Lubrza, Opole, Poland
  • San Diego, San Diego, California
  • Warwick, Kent, Rhode Island
  • Great Neck, North Hempstead, Nassau, New York

Then and Now[edit | edit source]

  • Then, Kunzendorf, Neustad, Oppeln, Silesia, Prussia, now, Trzebina, Lubrza, Opole, Poland
  • Then, San Diego, Alta California, Mexico, now, San Diego, San Diego, California
  • Then, Pawtuxet (Warwick), Colony of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations, British Colonia America, now Warwick, Kent, Rhode Island
  • Then, Madnan’s Neck, Hempstead, Queens, Long Island, British Colonia America, now, Great Neck, North Hempstead, Nassau, New York

References[edit | edit source]