Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Water Cooler Wednesday #2 - Standardized Place Names

File:Union flag 1606 (Kings Colors).svgA contentious issue in genealogy right now is the standardization of place names. Genealogists are taught to record events with the proper name of the place for when the event took place. For example, if an event occurred in 1734 in Virginia, the place would be properly recorded as "Colony of Virginia, British Colonial America, United Kingdom". On the other hand, if the event occurred in 1792 then the place should be recorded as "Virginia, United States".

File:Flag of Virginia.svgSome modern genealogy programs try to force you to choose a standard name for place, so you either always use "Colony of Virginia, British Colonial America, United Kingdom" or you always use "Virginia, United States". This can make the source citations appear misleading and frustrate future research, especially if there were changes to the jurisdiction. If a city changed counties or state, you might end up searching for records in the wrong courthouse.

In our Genealogical Repository Index (GENRI) and Raven projects, we won't be using standardized place names. Instead, we will index both the modern and historical names, pointing them to the same underlying location. We will also allow the coverage and jurisdiction boundaries to change over time, removing the need for rigidly enforced standardization. Whether you search for "Virginia" or "Virginia Colony", you will end up at the right place.

For further reading, James Tanner has blogged about this issue manymany, many, many, many, many times.

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