Clarification on Proper Style for Location Fields?

+15 votes

Someone has been going through a lot of the profiles that I manage and changing "USA" to "United States" every time.  They've also been adding "county" in the cases where I omitted it (when there's an identified sub-location like a town).  For example:

I fill the birth field as "Lenawee County, Michigan, USA"; they change it to "Lenawee County, Michigan, United States"

I fill the birth field as "Deerfield, Lenawee, Michigan, USA"; they change it to "Deerfield, Lenawee County, Michigan, United States"

I feel like in the second example adding the word "county" isn't super helpful, but I've seen it argued that you should always add the word "county" so I can understand that.

But purposely changing "USA" to "United States" feels weird to me.  I checked the "Location Fields" help page and it says "Abbreviations of country names is acceptable as long as the abbreviation is standard and is recognizable."

Since "USA" is obviously recognizable, doesn't that mean the change isn't necessary?  Or have the style conventions changed?  Basically, I'm wondering:  Should I start using "United States" now?  (I only prefer "USA" because it's faster to type and I'm used to it, but I can make the change if someone gives me a reason to.)

If "USA" is fine then I'm worried that this person doesn't realize it and is wasting a lot of time changing all of these profiles, so I'd like to let them know.  I'm not saying it has to be changed back to "USA"--they mean the same thing--I just wouldn't want to be the guy painstakingly sorting through profiles to make "corrections" without anyone telling me it's not actually a correction.


in Policy and Style by Sarah Heiney G2G6 Mach 5 (53.8k points)

I change lots of profiles that just have a City & abbreviated State name & no Country all the time. I do take the time to look up the correct spelling of City, County, State & add Country; when applicable. Onondaga NY. should be Onondaga Co., New York, USA. or Onondaga County, New York, USA., If you do not know the city. Don't be lazy creating your profiles, they are an investment in all our future. Just because you know what County Akron, Ohio is in doesn't mean everybody else will know it is in Summit Co. . = Akron, Summit, Ohio, USA.

I also check many findagrave links within our profiles. If they have the grave # correct but are also signed into findagrave & try to then make a link. It will appear that something is fishy about that link, as it appears as an https: link. I want my cousins to find the profiles I have created here, don't you ?

 If a visitor searches & finds a profile w/ bad links... they probably LOL & think what a bunch or idiots at wikitree. I always check my work when I feel that I have completed it. Many times the link I have made works correctly, sometimes not. View the profile you are working on as a visitor every time, and you will avoid those mistakes

 NSW is not a state, New South Wales is a state in Australia. KY is not a state, Kentucky is a state in the USA. TX is not a state, although it used to be a Country; Texas is a state in the USA. FL is not a state, Florida is. My understanding was that we are building an accurate record to last a millennium or two. Why would you want your ancestors (Grandchildren, Great Grandchildren, Cousins, Nieces, Nephews) to see a badly edited profile? .

Profiles should have a natural flow of information to them, to many abbreviations and unknowns take away from that flow. I prefer USA to United States of America. Both are correct. Baldwinsville,Onondaga,New York,USA. I will see it & change to: Baldwinsville, Onondaga, New York, USA.  . 

 Be Bold or Be Polite?

Our friends in the Wikipedia community recommend that contributors to the encyclopedia be bold. "In three words: Go for it," they say. Correct mistakes when you see them.

Changing what someone else has written often doesn't feel right. But it's what a wiki is all about. People are informed about changes through activity feeds and they can always change things back to the way they were if a mistake is made. These technological features of a wiki mean that changes don't need to be discussed in advance. The pace of collaboration can be faster than that. This is why, just like at Wikipedia, WikiTree encourages members to be bold.

I have always been BOLD ! I make no excuses & will not apologize for being this way. If you see any profiles that I manage here or elsewhere that need correction, I'll not be offended when you do edit them; or suggest a change. I wear my Big-Boy Pants everyday. The profiles I manage at wikitree belong to us all. They are not mine or yours specifically, they belong to Everybody.

P.S. I'll continue to randomly, without notice change profile places / locations. HAGD = Have A Great Day, JPVIV :) 

The help page for location fields that John links to above, specifically says this about country names:

"Abbreviations of country names is acceptable as long as the abbreviation is standard and is recognizable."

So there is no need to change USA to United States.

The same help page says nothing about the use of "County" behind a county name, but I've seen discussion elsewhere where a good case was made for it. But like others, I follow standard genealogical practice, which is to not place "county" in the name UNLESS you've got a case where a) there's a city/town name that is the same name as the county it's in; AND b) you know the county name but not which city in that county.

For example, let's say I know that someone was married in Hartford County, but I don't know what town; I'd use "county" in that case: "Hartford County, Connecticut." But if I know they were married in Hartford, the city, then I'd use "Hartford, Hartford, Connecticut."

John:  I agree with the way you've done it:  "Akron, Summit, Ohio, USA."  And you're right; if someone just puts "Akron, Ohio" that should be changed.

Personally, if I saw a profile that just said "Akron, Ohio" I wouldn't just change it, I would also message the profile manager.  That way you could draw attention to what the proper style is so they wouldn't keep making that mistake.  I bet a lot of those profiles with heavily abbreviated location fields were created by people new to WikiTree who might not know the right style, or they're really early profiles created by someone who knows what it is now and doesn't realize they have a bunch of profiles like that (I know I keep finding mistakes on my early profiles!)  And I feel like for a new member, a message saying "Hey, just so you know here's how you should list locations, [link to the style page], have fun on WikiTree :)" is better than the notification they get from a changes log.

Jillaine:  Yep, I used that same quote in my post!  That's why it confused me when I saw the person changing USA.  I know sometimes things get hashed out on G2G or elsewhere and the style page might not immediately be updated, so I wanted to make sure that wasn't the case.  For all I knew the "United States" person was more in-the-loop than I was!

I don't like to put "county" unless a) I only know the county, like you said or b) it's a duplicate name, so unlike what you said I would put "Hartford, Hartford County, Connecticut, USA."  But that's just a preference. Your way is saying the same thing, it just somehow hurts my brain, haha.

Re: " It will appear that something is fishy about that link, as it appears as an https: link. I want my cousins to find the profiles I have created here, don't you ?"
HTTPS is is a protocol for secure communication, i.e. the data is sent encrypted. It does not mean your cousins won't see the web page.

Surely nobody should be putting "United States" without stating "of America" as it is a wooly description. In the future we may have United States Of Europe and then where will all the editing have got us?
thank you for this discussion, in that I now know the duplicated place names (which often have extra spaces and/or commas between them) aren't an error caused during a gedcom import.

I just posted an answer to someone this morning where I fessed up that I'm more family historian than genealogist. Given the wide range of knowledge among WikiTree members, I think including county would be helpful (it would've helped me - and although I'm not in the "genealogist" section of the knowledge spectrum, I thought I was toward the high end of the family historian section... apparently not, since I had no clue that "Hartford, Hartford, Connecticut" meant Hartford, Hartford County, Connecticut or that not including County was "standard genealogical practice" - is that why so many profiles will also say something like Thisplace, Herefs, England? I won't tell you how long it took me to figure out where the heck Herefs was!).
From a non-USA perspective the use of city, county (just the name without adding "county"), state, country is a local custom, and the extension to international locations a nuisance. It presumes as common knowledge that whatever unknown place name comes after the town is a county, a presumption that in my opinion is not justified. The extension to international locations led to something I just recently came upon like "Birkenfeld, Birkenfeld, Birkenfeld, Rheinland-Pfalz" - I'm German and I have no idea what the second and third Birkenfeld are supposed to mean. So please, if you want to use the county make sure that everybody not in the USA knows that you mean a county.

5 Answers

+10 votes
Hi Sarah

I just checked, if you click on the map pin for USA and it indicates the correct location. Perhaps you can check if it does the same if you use United States, if it does it surely is a waste of time and it is not really a correction.
by Esmé van der Westhuizen G2G6 Pilot (152k points)
Yeah it seems like they're interchangeable!
+10 votes

Hi Sarah,

Under the Changes tab, you can see who is making those changes.  You can then reach out to them and engage them in a polite discussion on what is proper.  If the person is a Profile Manager or on the Trusted list then you can work out an agreed style based on WikiTree's Style Guide which can be found under help pulldown menu.

Genealogically speaking, it is generally recommended to drop the County. City, County, State, USA or United States being acceptable in the US.  

Incidentally, I use United States. However we have had a lot of discussions on G2G as to what is proper without any real clarification.  My reasoning is that we do not abbreviate City, County or State.  Thus Greeneville, Greene, Tennessee, United States and not Greeneville, Greene County, TN, USA.

Others suggest United States of America as there is the United States of Indonesia. 

For more of these discussions, read here

Be sure to look at the questions at the bottom of that discussion for other discussions.  It is a long discussed tradition on WikiTree.

by Michael Stills G2G6 Pilot (535k points)

Thank you Michael!  Wow, I did not realize this had been addressed so many times before!  A "tradition" indeed.

I wish WikiTree's style guide would just go ahead and pick one to recommend.  They don't have to "enforce" it, but since there's apparently already people going around changing one (USA) to the other (United States), it would be nice to have something like a "strong suggestion" to point to as far as which is preferred. 

It doesn't look like there's a clear consensus in any of those G2G posts though.  Maybe that's why WikiTree seems like it's dodging the issue, haha.

I'm on "Team 'USA.'"  I get the symmetry of spelling out the state and country names, but I feel like "United States" is indeed too vague (there are lots of states that are united).  Also USA is short and isn't confusing to foreigners (most Americans don't know what "NSW" is and most non-Americans don't know what "AK" is, so I understand countries being the only exception).  So I would prefer either "USA" or "United States of America."  Which is one of the reasons why it kinda bugs me that someone is changing all of my "USA"s to "United States"s, haha.

I know who's doing it.  I will be sending them a polite message :)  I just wanted to make sure that wasn't the one doing it wrong, and evidently I'm not.  If they say "No, it DEFINITELY should be 'United States' and USA is WRONG and all abbreviations should be changed" then I can direct them here.  But if they're just like, "This is the way I prefer to do it"...then they can keep changing them.  I've got the feeling this person thinks they're making corrections, otherwise they wouldn't bother, right?  But if they read this and they want to keep changing them...welp, they can keep doing it!  They do mean the same thing after all :) 

Hi Sarah, Reaching out and communicating is always the first step. There is a process if you run into difficulty if they do not respond.  Let us know.

So I am glad we agree, use USA for the Union of South Africa. <<Grin>>.
Nooooooo!  Hahahaha
+11 votes
I don't know where things stand on the standardization, or why we can't at least get some interim guidance on the parts that are decided.  It's driving me nuts trying to not edit locations while we're waiting.

Anyway, WikiTree will be making a huge mistake to eliminate the use of "County" in all locations.  There are people already doing that when it is just county and state (no town/ciity/parish) and it results in unnecessary ambiguity.  I always want to correct the ones I find but no point if that is going to be the approved style.  Similarly the word Parish must be included too, to avoid confusion.  Parish has a different context in Colonial Virginia than in Louisiana.
by Living Anonymous G2G6 Mach 5 (52.1k points)

 Back in March, Chris Whitten wrote in another thread: "If you're entering a county name without a town include the word "County," e.g. "Essex County, Massachusetts." Otherwise the word "County" is optional."

But it looks like perhaps the help page hasn't been updated yet. 

I opt on the side of no abbreviations. Abreviations are not always universial. I attempt to always use the full city/county/state/Country for the birth/marriage and death dates.  I tend to use the correct name... instead of Virginia, I put Commonwealth of Virginia cause it's not a state.I tend to make these changes on profiles where I know the County and local entity are the same... but then I usually will not work on profiles that aren't mine  (meaning I'm one of the profile managers) or belong to people that are non-collaborative. I believe is a person feels that strongly about using the abbreviation, they will change it back.

I'll drop my two cents worth in here.  In New York (and a few other states) there is a division between city/village and county.  Correctly it's a township but most often called simply "town".  Many of my profiles look like "Alexandria Bay, Alexandria, Jefferson, New York, United States" which might be confusing to some but not to others.  *I* don't have a problem when someone lists a birthplace as "Alexandria, Jefferson, New York, ..." that simply indicates they were born in the township of Alexandria outside the boundaries of any particular village.

I also tend to spell out "United States" since for a while there was another "USA", the Union of South Africa" and they too have had an interest in genealogy - USA is not unique and IMHO should be spelled out.

I have two pet peeves relating to location: 

I use the location where the even occurred when it occurred.  I get right properly incensed when someone changes my "Croton on Hudson, Westchester, New York, British North America" to "Croton..., Westchester, United States" for events that took place in 1730.  ((Poor example, Croton on Hudson wasn't incorporated until 1898, I just pulled a location "out of the air" for an example - a poor one, sorry))

The other has been discussed here and I tend to go against the grain.  I dislike it when someone changes my earlier example of Alexandria Bay, Alexandria, Jefferson, New York" to "Alexandria Bay, Alexandria township, Jefferson county, New York".  I presume we're all basically computer literate, it doesn't take a rocket scientist to Google Alex ... New York to see what the two extra's are - one town, one county.  In a bit of pique - go educate yourself, I spend as much time learning as I do entering information.

Just for clarification: is this recommendation to add 'County' for US places only? Because I have removed 'County' after British counties, as we just don't use the word like that. For example we would say Kent, or at a pinch County of Kent, but not Kent County.
I'm not one of the higher-ups here, that decides such things, so this is just my simple vote - I like adding 'County' in the USA, because that's generally how we say a county name, but not including it elsewhere (like the UK), unless it's included in normal usage.  But I've never thought of it as an important issue either way, and wouldn't correct it unless I'm correcting something else too.

I'm definitely in the 'USA' camp, not the 'United States' camp.  I don't usually bother changing it, but always enter it as 'USA'.  I can't imagine anywhere it would not be clear, even in South Africa.  Wouldn't it be confusing there if someone referred to South Africa as USA?  A possibly ignorant question, don't South Africans have a simpler and therefore better abbreviation in 'SA'?
+3 votes

Hello, Sarah!

Could you post WikiTree IDs for a couple of the affected profiles so we can look at the Changes logs to see just why this or these overly zealous fellow profile managers feel compelled to make these changes without at least letting you know about it beforehand?

I, for one, would like to know if this is the work of some of my fellow Data Doctors who are attempting to force their (rather one-sided) views regarding collaboration and privacy on everyone.

For now, we are not required to standardize our location data to the drop-down locations, so there is no legitimate reason for any profile manager to "correct" already correct and currently accepted location data.

That's my opinion, at least!

by Lindy Jones G2G6 Pilot (260k points)
Hi Lindy,

I actually posted this question almost a year ago, before Location Fields had suggested place names and before the Data Doctors Project was created.

The culprit was actually someone who started a One Name Study (changing the location fields and throwing a template onto the profiles of everyone with that very common last name).  She worked on the "study" for two days and then apparently abandoned it, so I don't think it will be a problem anymore.
+3 votes
This may not be the case for you as it sounds like it's happened to several of your profiles, but it may be a simple matter of the editor going with the shortcut of clicking on the location prompt when making a change such as fixing a typo or spelling out an abbreviated state name.
by Stephanie Ward G2G6 Pilot (121k points)

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