Should a Standard Be Developed for United States Place Names?

+15 votes

Currently, there is no specific guidance for the names of places in the USA, United States or United States of America.  Some people include the word County or the abbreviation Co. with the name of the county, and others don't.  Some people spell out United States of America and others don't. 

The only guidance we currently have is that USA should not be included with a place before the United States actually existed.

I propose that we establish standardized guidelines.  There are several reasons:

  • I believe there will ultimately be some sort of mapping capability on WikiTree, and if we don't have standard names, it won't work. 
  • If we export GEDCOMs, the standardized place name will be important.  Standardized names will allow WikiTree place names to match those on other websites.

I propose the following guidelines (with the understanding that we use the name from the correct period):

  • Town or City: the correct name for the town or city COMMA SPACE
  • County: the name of the county (as it was then) WITHOUT the word County, COMMA SPACE
  • State WITHOUT the word State COMMA SPACE
  • USA or United States, not United States of America

Exception: the word County would be included if only the county is known and not the town or township.

So, the standard for Seattle, Washington would be
: Seattle, King, Washington, USA

The correct entry for an unknown place in King County or for an unincorporated place in King County would be:
: King County, Washington, USA

I know that some people prefer using United States of America and not USA.  I propose USA for two reasons:
: it is shorter
: it is not necessary to include the full written out name as it will not be confused with other places. (The standard abbreviation for the Union of South Africa is SA, not USA.)

As far as I can tell, this proposal matches what is currently used on the FamilySearch website for standardized place names.


in Policy and Style by Vic Watt G2G6 Pilot (357k points)
We can now add latitude & Longitude. Please see this profiles death place & click on the widget after the place.
The widget is great, but, unfortunately, the way that is done, you have to click on the numbers to see a map of the place where he died.  You don't actually see the name of the place.

2 Answers

+7 votes
Thanks, Vic. I like what you've proposed. I often add "Township" after the name if it was one as they are smaller and sometimes are in the same county as a town of the same name but not part of that town, just to be clear.
by Abby Glann G2G6 Pilot (728k points)
I definitely agree.  I add Township (not abbreviated) if there is any chance of confusion.
Yes please, don't abbreviate, some of us from elsewhere aren't  familiar with it as a term.

When I first saw Twp on a Canadian census it didn't mean anything to me (actually I kept reading it my head as twerp! )

It took even longer to realise that these were small places not towns.
+7 votes

Vic, The style guide reads

As established on the Name Fields page, a guiding principle is to "use their conventions instead of ours."

Applied to locations, this means using place names in native languages and using the names that people at the time used, even if they now no longer exist.

and Use the full, written out place name for counties, states, provinces, départements, etc. Examples: Rhode Island, not RI; New Brunswick, not NB; Hampshire, not Hants; Seine-et-Marne, not S-M. Abbreviations of country names is acceptable as long as the abbreviation is standard and is recognizable. 

When I was younger my location would have been Chardon, Ohio. That is the way I would have written it. The reality is I was in Chardon Township, Geauga County, Ohio and everyday we said the pledge in school and said our country as United States of America. It is my feeling that we should be as specific as possible when naming locations so that others can find them later. Yes according to the style Guide USA is acceptable, but that is not the name I used at the time.

There is a city of Chardon in Geauga County as well as Chardon Township but while the City of Chardon is in part in Chardon Township not all of the township is inside the city. We also never refer to the county as Geauga but rather Geauga County so in that case the word county should be included.

by Dale Byers G2G Astronaut (1.7m points)
I think we need to be careful not to be too minutely focused here. For instance, I have ancestors from Germany who immigrated in 1882. Should I put "Germany" or should I put "German Confederation" (the name of their republic in 1814-1918) or should I put the current name of Germany, which is "Federal Republic of Germany"?

 I think if USA, Germany, England, Canada, etc. is sufficient for everyone to understand and it meets the standard, then lets keep it simple.
I will go with the name I was using for the last 65 years until I am told not to.
I also prefer that the word "County" be preserved even when a city or township within that county precedes it.

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