What location to use for someone born in America before 1776 and colony is unknown? British America? [closed]

+14 votes

In reference to the previous questions:

For people born before 1776, for place of birth, do we use the term British America?

1744, born in USA

Hi, during the 2020 Clean-a-Thon I came across a few corrections where the location of "USA" for a pre-1776 birth/death/marriage had been removed for a profile of someone born in one of the original 13 American Colonies and where the specific colony was not known.

By completely removing the location now we have no idea at all what continent the person was born on.  While this corrects the error it also removes valuable information from the profile.

From the two linked threads above the guidance that exists now is to use the name of the colony or province where the event occurred.  But for the cases where the exact colony/province is not known I believe that we should have a specific location name so that we can keep the location on the profile and not leave a blank location field.

Historically, it seems that the American Colonies were referred to as the "Colonies in America."  From The Proclamation of 1763 we see:


October 7, 1763

WHEREAS we have taken into Our Royal Consideration the extensive and valuable Acquisitions in America, secured to our Crown by the late Definitive Treaty of Peace, concluded at Paris the 10th Day of February last; and being desirous that all Our loving Subjects, as well of our Kingdom as of our Colonies in America, may avail themselves with all convenient Speed, of the great Benefits and Advantages which must accrue therefrom to their Commerce, Manufactures, and Navigation, We have thought fit, with the Advice of our Privy Council, to issue this our Royal Proclamation, hereby to publish and declare to all our loving Subjects, that we have, with the Advice of our Said Privy Council, granted our Letters Patent, under our Great Seal of Great Britain, to erect, within the Countries and Islands ceded and confirmed to Us by the said Treaty, Four distinct and separate Governments, styled and called by the names of Quebec, East Florida, West Florida and Grenada, and limited and bounded as follows, viz.

We could use "British Colonies in America."

Wikipedia has abbreviated this and uses "British America."

What would you feel is the best option?  Or do you have a different place name idea?

I'd like to open a dialogue about this and to see if we can come to a concensus on the best place name that accurately describes the location for these profile events.

Thanks in advance for your participation.

closed with the note: Qustion going into many tangents, will re-ask the question with additional qualifiers.
in WikiTree Help by SJ Baty G2G Astronaut (1.1m points)
closed by SJ Baty
Do I really have to keed explaining to replace UK with France, Sweden, Russia, Spain, etc depending on what is needed? Come on people, this is almost getting childish. We could just call it "Turtle Island" lol
Has anyone suggested Northern Atlantic Seaboard Colonies?  That would include all colonies, no matter who settled them, and exclude most of the rest of the world.  Granted it would include some Canadian colonies, but would include all 13 colonies.  Even Pennsylvania had a port that gave access to the ocean.

I know it is long, so maybe just Thirteen Colonies?  I'm not a history major, but have read a lot, and don't recall any other instance of 13 colonies with a more specific designation.  Or Thirteen American Colonies?  That is pretty specific, and I don't recall any grouping of 13 South or Central American colonies.  I know for earlier times, it wasn't 13, but one would probably have a better idea of the birthplace of anyone born that long ago.  If they were probably born before 1622, it would be Virginia, etc.   

Just some random thoughts for a compromise.  This would only be used when the actual colony is unknown, to specify it was not in some other part of the world.  I know I appreciate it when I look for a name, if there are both birth and death places of some kind.  Remember we are talking about pre-1776.
Margaret, that would include Acadie, so not useful for the purpose.
I use "British Colonial America" on FamilySearch and Ancestry.com
I use British Colonial America
Margaret, the idea was to confine it to the smallest possible area when a specific name wasn't given. If someone puts "United States" into a profile that is pre-1776 we want to remove that but replace it with something that doesn't have them wondering if they were in Canada. This is for cases where ONLY "United States" was used.

Gary and Kay, British Colonial America was never used DURING the time that the US was a colony and only briefly while Canada was a colony. That is why we SPECIFICALLY don't use that.
Thirteen Colonies would include part of Acadia, which became part of Maine Territory in the early 18th Century, which was part of Massachusetts.  I still think Thirteen Colonies would fit the problem.  Most places where people lived before 1776 were claimed by at least one colony if not more.  Colonies were formed fairly rapidly in the 17th Century.  The original question concerned someone born in the 18th century.  Personally I use American Colony in Ancestry.com, but agree it is unnecessary if you know the colony.  But we have been talking about instances where you do not know the colony.
But "British Colonial America" provides a better description, as opposed to "Dutch Colonial America", "French Colonial America", and "Spanish Colonial America", all of which had their own day in history.  I think the guidance should not be what the areas were called at the time, but what is most succinctly descriptive, given the benefit of historical hindsight.  :-)

nope, sorry but WikiTree operates on the principle of naming locations per what they were called at the time.  see Location field style guide 

Very proper indeed!

This was in reference to the "Turtle Island" comment earlier by Steven Tibbetts.

5 stars on behalf of indigenous people everywhere!

5 Answers

+16 votes
See the spreadsheet at


Note the heading says British Colonial America was Never used of US lands, and barely for Canadian lands.

You have to scroll up and down for the state and scroll left  for the earliest dates, as names changes.

Otherwise, if no region is provided, probably Colonial America or Colonial North America.
by Chris Hoyt G2G6 Pilot (778k points)

I agree! However, why do we need to add anything when they were mostly just referred to by their state names? As a Data Doctor, I just delete the USA or United States from the “too early” dated births, marriages and/or deaths and leave the state name. I think it is more accurate and more acceptable. I am from New Jersey, born and bred. Most of my family back three generations are born and bred in New Jersey. I research family back to very early New Jersey, Connecticut, Massachusetts and Maine, and I very, very rarely see anything added to the state names. So I am agreeing with Bobbie (below) too.

Missy smiley

You need something more than just the state or an early name because homesick Bits insisted on naming every where they went after their home towns or village. Everything isn't just US centric. The dutch use their own names adding New in front except they didn't it was in their own language. Having a date reliant location has its drawbacks when to the documents locations are held in a modern location. How is Nova Caesarea etc etc etc going to make for early matching.
I like "Colonial America" or "New England." Personally, I use the colony of residence and then mark Uncertain. If you put the colony of residence it at least gives the researcher a good starting place. It is frustrating to see both birth and death fields empty but you look in the sources or bio and they lived in the Province of Pennsylvania. If they have sources or bio. It's harder to research them if nothing is there.
This topic is covering the instance where there is no specific colony, only a wrongly applied USA.

Hi Steven, 

Part of the original conversation was started during the Thon when a few were deleting USA and not putting anything. When those profiles were looked at there were locations for marriage and/or residence in the biographies. I was pointing people to your spreadsheet for guidance smiley

Yes. I refer to that spreadsheet all the time. Very valuable.

See also the companion WikiTree Space page, North American Place Names.

Having said that, I have noticed from reading many probate records, that "New England" is often specified. As in, "Taunton in the County of Bristol in the Province of the Massachusetts Bay in New England." 

+14 votes

In one particular area that I have thoroughly researched and studied, most documentation I have found for pre-1776 records states specifically - New England. In the rare occaisions where a document's location description continues on, it will say in "America". I can state emphatically I have never found "British Colonial America" on any document in the New England region.

If a location is needed at all, I would suggest using Colonial America. But since there is no document to prove the location, why would one enter it in the data fields? That's making undocumented assumptions. Put it in the bio only, or it becomes another internet fallacy.

by Bobbie Hall G2G6 Pilot (273k points)
edited by Bobbie Hall
North American Colonies of England. See? That was easy!!!
ROFLOL Steven.

To all who have answered this post, I hereby bestow upon you this Sticker of Honor.  Proudly display it on your Profiles as I do on mine.

{{Occupation |image=Operation_Carpetbagger_Images-1.png |text=spends way too much time on WikiTree. }}
Added it. LOL

here it is

One problem with leaving the location blank is that when people are searching for people, they could miss someone that has no location.  Using the Mini view of a person will show dates and locations, if they are entered, so if a location is only entered in the biography, it won't help people looking for that information.
LJ - template is great!!
Quite frankly, this smacks of US arrogance. I am an American, but I am not a USA citizen and do not and never have lived in the USA. Neither was I born in the USA, nor are my parents USA citizens, yet I am just as much of an American as those citizens of the USA who choose to try to reserve "American"for themselves.
@John, did you read the various replies or just the question and make up your mind that this is just another case of 'American Imperialism'.

If you read the various replies the content is to make sure that a agreed upon name for those born in the colonies that later make up the United States are not confused with the other colonial possessions of not only Britain, but Spain, France, etc.  We good?
John, I live in Europe and people from all the different European countries ask me "Where are you from," and when I reply, "United States," they say, "Oh, you're an American."

This has nothing to do with Americans or arrogance.  The world over, people from the United States of America are identified as Americans.  If you put an Argentine, a Canadian, and a United Stateser in room and say to anyone, "Can you get the American's attention," no one, save for the guy with the Che Guevara t-shirt and an axe to grind about colonial-imperialism will have any confusion as to who you are referring.

This topic has gone completely off the rails; this seems like the perfet time to close it down and try again with a different question.
I agree with using "Colonial America" or "American Colonies". Either of these are probably the broadest that could reasonably be used to indicate a location pre-1776 in the now United States.  I also believe either would capture other colonies that were not in the northeast, like French Louisiana (La Louisiane) or Spanish Florida, both which were established prior to the 1776 declaration.

I would not, however, be in favor of placing another name indicating who possessed a certain colony.  For example, "British Colonial America" as this does not accurately reflect all colonies that existed at various times since the first arrivals from Europe.
+4 votes
I've always referred to the country as Colonial America.
by Brad Cunningham G2G6 Pilot (151k points)
lol, that could also apply to the French colonies of the time.  Which extended from what is now Québec and Ontario all the way to Louisiana.
+7 votes
I am going to open the can of worms because this kind of discussion goes on and on and on...  Why?  Because for some reason that really makes no sense for a whole lot of reasons... mainly that most users are not geo historians and most family lore does not use precise geo political geographic naming conventions.  

We can solve this with one added field.  A current location name field.   Then we could drop in Colonial United States because that is what would call it today....   

One little change would solve all the Germany problems, among other countries who did not exist but we talk about family coming from there.....
by Laura Bozzay G2G6 Pilot (729k points)
+7 votes
It's perfectly proper to address what little information one has in the biography -- that is where it belongs.  The data field is there to put data in, which in this case is quite sparse.  One believes that the individual was born in North America.  What is the basis of this belief? If one has no source for the birth, one is conjecturing based on other facts.  Fine, include the other facts, and if he died in a colony or state, put that in the death place.  Or if you have an emigration record from Ireland or Germany that says he "went to America" then put that in the bio.  From that you know that he INTENDED to migrate to America and those he left behind believe he did so, but you don't know that he actually arrived.  

Any information in the data field should reflect sourced information in the biographical narrative;  that's the place to discuss incomplete and speculative data.  

There's no need to fill empty data field spaces just for the sake of filling them.  Everyone was born "somewhere", but I don't expect to see "somewhere" in WikiTree data fields as a default!
by Jack Day G2G6 Pilot (405k points)

Stephen and I developed both the US Historical Place Names and the Canadian Provincial Place Names spreadsheets. I did the research on "British North America, British Colonial America, Colonial North America - Why Not To Use Them". For whatever it's worth, I totally agree and endorse this answer.

I agree with Jack.

Our location data fields represent specific events - birth, marriage, death. If one can't source those events, one should leave the related fields blank.

edit: changed you to one, twice

Jack, your answer is outside of the question. I'm not asking if we should speculate if data fields should be based on speculation. The question simply asks, when we know they were born in one of the 13 colonies but we aren't sure which one, what place name should we put in the data field?
SJ, I thought my answer to the question was clear:  Put nothing in the data field.  The information you have is not sufficient for a data field entry.  It needs to be discussed in the narrative under Biography or Research Notes.  

Having said that, of course all profiles are works in progress, and when we don't like something in a profile it's an invitation to research.  So you could enter in the data field, "North America (now United States)", and I wouldn't remove it or recommend others remove it.  If it irritated me, that would motivate me to research the profile further and see if I could narrow the place down.  Or I would leave it alone.

My passion on this particular issue reflects a fear that the minute you identify a preferred entry for the profile you mention, people will start using it as an overall entity.  So let's say you enter, "English colonies in North America" to serve your purpose.  No problem.  But three weeks later, I'm likely to see someone correct an entry that just says "Maryland" to "Maryland, English colonies in North America."  And THAT will drive me up a tree.
Put nothing in the data field?  If we don't know if someone was born in Hamburg or Berlin we don't write down they were born in Germany?  The data I have is sufficient for the data field.  The question says, in part, "... a profile of someone born in one of the original 13 American Colonies and where the specific colony was not known."  Someone "born in one of the original colonies" means that in the bio, there is enough evidence to support that they were not born in England but rather, they were born after landing in the colonies.  The only question is which colony they were born in.

This thread seems to be wandering off from the original question which is what place name to use when we know for certain that someone was born in the 13 colonies we are just unsure of which one.  Wether or not there is enough info in the bio for this or that profile is not the question.

Just from personal experience.... When this thing was still in existence, I spent some volunteer time reviewing Matchbot's sometimes extravagant suggested merges. This is the single experience, by the way, which gave the most depressing (and durable) impression of the poor quality of many WikiTree profiles (this concerned, mostly, profiles entered early on, say before 2015, and never touched since). 

How I wished that more of these profiles had something, anything, that identified where they were from. Sometimes you could click away at twenty family members, 3 or 4 generations removed, and still not find a location on any of them. You could have two Joe Smiths with similar dates of birth and death, and no clue if they were from England, Kansas or Australia.

So yes, I would definitely support having a "default" location that would represent "any place in the colonies that would later become the United States". Even if it's something imperfect. I assure you anything would be better than nothing. I assure you it makes a difference. I assure you it helps.

I agree, Isabelle.  Some information is better than no information.  

And while putting detail in the narrative is useful when one is viewing the profile, it is no help at all during a search that yields, for example, a long list of John Browns with no dates and no locations.

My main concern is that we not create something that ends up looking like an official name, and then gets added willy-nilly to colonies by well meaning people.  So if something must be entered for place of birth, how about "One of the 13 colonies"?  That would provide the information that is desired when you're doing a search on people with the same name, and it would not be mistaken for any kind of official designation.  

"My main concern is that we not create something that ends up looking like an official name, and then gets added willy-nilly to colonies by well meaning people."

Do you mean official like "United States", "England", or "Germany?"  People use these "willy-nilly" all the time.  Does this mean we shouldn't use them if we can't say for sure New York, London, or Berlin?

No, I mean official-sounding fake names like "British Colonial America."

It is as fake as using England for a mid-18th century location name instead of "The Kingdom of England."

... all Our loving Subjects, as well of our Kingdom as of our Colonies in America, may avail themselves with all convenient Speed ...

If we can use as a place name "England" for, what the English King and Parliament called "our Kingdom," what is the difference to insert British American Colonies for "our Colonies?"  I doubt the King called 'his' virgin Islands the British Virgin Islands.  If a proper name is British Virgin Islands why not British American Colonies?

Other than the word order, British American Colonies is the same thing as British Colonial America, just as saying a red hat is the same as saying a hat that is red.  There is nothing fake about it, and is no different than using (interchangeably) America, United States, and The United States of America.  

We have to weigh what is the bigger risk (problem) - a few folks "over-abusing" a place name, or hundreds (thousands?) of profiles that were born in the 13 colonies with a blank location field and we now can't tell if they were born in Australia or South Africa.  How many duplicates will it bring us when we strip out USA from a GED import and then 6 months or 3 years later the same FS/Ancestry tree is imported and the two names don't match because one is born Unknown and the other USA?  If during a GED, the bot recognizes the location USA is trying to be imported for a pre-1776 profile, could offer the suggestion, "do you mean "British American Colonies?"  This would reveal the duplicate and would be healthier for the tree and would help folks connect ancestors.
It isn't really that important and once again, it is a tangent and not part of the question.  We already have people naming the location of pre-USA colonies and there are a wide range of place names being used already.  Having everyone use the same name isn't going to cause WikiTreers to suddenly lose all sense of order and just willy-nilly start naming every birth as British American Colonies.  At least if everyone is using the same name a reader will understand what the location was meant to be.
To bring more support to SJ, consider the bazillion profiles with incorrect locations such as "Germany" way before Germany was official, same for Italy; I regularly come across profiles which put Lorraine, Avignon, Savoy, or Mulhouse in France, way before they were part of France, etc. etc. It's not very nice, but infinitely better than if there was no location at all.

And though I can immediately recognize an incorrect German (Holy Roman Empire, really) location, I am not going to remove it from the profile unless I can replace it with a more correct version. If I don't know how to do this, then it stays like it is, incorrect as it is.

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