Should WikiTree use FamilySearch's place names database?

+32 votes

Hi WikiTreers,

There have been a lot of recent discussions about our location matching and the style of place names in our location fields. I'm sorry I haven't been more involved in these. I do want to make sure that anyone discussing these issues knows what's going on behind the scenes.

There is a long history here. Since the beginning of WikiTree we've known that at some point we would need to "normalize" location names. That is, in order to enable sorting and searching profiles by location, we would need a system for knowing when the various strings of text for place names mean the same thing as other strings of text, and ideally, when one is contained within another.

We could do simple text matching, e.g. "London" to "London", but that breaks down quickly when there is a London, England, and a London, Great Britain, and a London, Ontario, and a London, Ont., etc., etc.

In the past I was inclined to think that we would use Google's location API to match various place names with geographic coordinates. But they're not set up to handle historical place names.

We could create our own place names database. We have a start in this in our regional categories, but despite the immensity of this hierarchy and all the hours generously contributed by those who have worked on it, it would have a long way to go to be what we need. Developing this into an historical place names database with name alternates and corresponding geographic coordinates or other meta-data would be a huge undertaking, technically, and for the community. It would become a huge part of what we do at WikiTree.

A few years ago we talked to Dallan Quass about leveraging the historical place names database he started for the WeRelate wiki. Unfortunately, Dallan has moved on to other projects and isn't supporting that database any more.

There is another historical place names database that's designed for genealogy and made available for free: FamilySearch's Place Research Tool.

At this point I am inclined to think that we should use FamilySearch's database and not build our own. A massive amount of programming and volunteer hours have already gone into their database, and they appear committed to continuing the work and keeping it free for others to use.

I think that we could still adhere to our most basic style rule: to use their conventions instead of ours. We have always aimed to use names that the people themselves would have used in their time and in their language.

This could get tricky. It would be much easier to use FamilySearch's database if we just wanted to use English names. But they do have place names in other languages and they're continuing to build on those.

Regarding how we would use their database, the first thing we'd aim to do would be use their API to automatically suggest and hopefully automatically fill-in location names when creating or editing profiles.

This would make it easier for WikiTreers to use FamilySearch's place names -- to avoid typos and use standardized versions.

We would probably also create a tool that makes it easy to search your Watchlist for non-standard location names that you might want to edit. (If Aleš doesn't beat us to it, which he probably would. See

It's unlikely that we would force you to choose one of FamilySearch's place names when entering a location. The place name you're entering might not exist in their database. If it doesn't, hopefully there would be (already is?) an easy mechanism for feeding it back to FamilySearch, but that's their domain not ours.

But -- and I suppose this gets to the real question I'm asking the community -- we would be adopting their place name style as our official style.

For example, the FamilySearch place names database has "London, Middlesex, Ontario, Canada." That would become WikiTree's style for writing London, Ontario. If you entered "London, Ontario" or whatever else on a profile we would aim to someday change it to "London, Middlesex, Ontario, Canada." Not that it would be necessary in this case, because FamilySearch's database can match those two, but the latter would be the ideal way to write it.

For more on what style rules mean, see, e.g. "Is it forbidden to break the style rules?"

Back to the technical aspects: By using FamilySearch's standardized names, we could later use FamilySearch's database to index place names for searches and sorting. This means more than just better text matching. FamilySearch connects their location names to geographic coordinates, and has them organized in hierarchies. Theoretically we could do what FamilySearch does (and what Ancestry may be doing, using FamilySearch's database), e.g. match someone born in London, Ontario with someone born in Ontario, or just born in Canada, etc., or with someone born in London, Canada West, British Colonial America, etc.




in Policy and Style by Chris Whitten G2G Astronaut (1.3m points)
I'm all for it. I don't believe one style is necessarily better than another, it's consistency that we need and this would go a long way to providing that. As you say, LDS is unlikely to go away. And if they are linking to geographic coordinates that is the icing on the top as far as I'm concerned.
I think it's a great idea for consistency's sake. Right now you can enter anything into the location fields, including things that may not be correct.
I say a hearty YES!! to using the FamilySearch database.

It would save so much time, eliminate spelling errors, and give us complete location data.
I use the Familysearch place names already, so I am 100% behind this change.
I like it, Chris.  Consistency would be a big plus.
Yes, please (-:
I use how they put it, makes it easier I think.
I've just had a try with that tool, of three places I looked up, only one gave me a correct result. one of the other two results gave me two different forms for one place, so not really "standardised" yet.

I support standardizing place-names as an aid to searching.

Even though i STRONGLY DISLIKE the four-part verbiage of "London, Middlesex, Ontario, Canada", I DO support WT's use of FamilySearch's place-name standards.  I do hope that WT's implementation will enable WT users to choose a verbosity level.  I.e., the "standard" will be deterministic from the db point-of-view, but it can be viewed in short-form by users.

Chris Whitten, it is unclear from your post whether old place-names are "respected" by FamSearch ("use names that the people themselves would have used in their time and in their language"), or do they roll up old- and new-names into a single place-name?

'Multiple place-names' is quite a thorny problem.  Here's an example from Wikipedia's entry for Vilnius:

The city has also been known by many derivate spellings in various languages throughout its history: Vilna was common in English. The most notable non-Lithuanian names for the city include: PolishWilnoBelarusianВiльня, German: WilnaLatvianViļņaRussianВильнюсYiddishווילנע (Vilne)‎, CzechVilno. An older Russian name was Вильна/Вильно (Vilna/Vilno),[3][4] although Вильнюс (Vilnius) is now used. The names WilnoWilna and Vilna have also been used in older English, German, French and Italian language publications when the city was one of the capitals of Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth and later of Second Polish Republic. The name Vilna is still used in Finnish, Portuguese, Spanish, and Hebrew. Wilna is still used in German, along with Vilnius.

So... I would like any WT implementation to have synonyms.  

I'm probably in the minority in never having done a place name
search.  What matters to me is appearance.  Does my ancestor's
profile look nice?  Professional?  Accurate?  Part of this is having
consistency of presentation and a standard for place names helps with

I struggle whether to weigh all of my U.S. colonial profiles with
"British America", something that I think would shock and probably
educate many people who forget that Virginia was once a colony.
I'd be happy if the edit could be automatically applied.  

Getting the right address for the time period matters to me.  My
English ancestors in Yorkshire are examples (West Riding or not, etc.)
Anything that helps get that right would be good.

I detest the fact that genealogy programs exercise a tyranny over
where I live, insisting that New England towns belong inside counties
and that it matters.  Many residents are unsure what county their town is in.  
I'd like to educate people that the county virtually never matters in
certain places while yes, it matters a great deal elsewhere.  Anything
that helps with that is good.

Thus the problem I have with strict four part regimentation (if that's what is
being proposed) is that it can lead to stupid things.
London, Middlesex, Ontario, Canada sounds like it might be stupid.
It is in no way "ideal" in my mind. (If there are two Londons in Ontario it's not dumb, of course.)
Staten Island, Richmond, New York, USA is dumb.  It adds no value.
Richmond, no county, Virginia, USA is dumb.  It adds no value.
Names like this detract from my ancestor's profile.

Another way to think about this is whether the address is sufficient
and unambiguous.  London, Ontario, Canada may be sufficiently unique.
Your database probably knows that and could allow it.  I could
put down my birthplace as Syracuse, New York, USA and not get
pestered to provide a county that, again, adds no value to the reader.

Steve, The  FamilySearch's Place Research Tool is just a tool where if you put in a location it will suggest appropriate names based on dates. you would then select which one would apply and copy and paste the wording into the location field.  I, myself, am not totally pleased with the way they word things but I can deal with it if it helps make the profiles look better.

18 Answers

+5 votes
Best answer
Let me propose a technical solution to the issue.  Right now we have a Data Entry page which you see when you click on "Edit."  And we have a Display page which anyone sees when they come to the profile.

Starting at the Edit page, for place of birth, marriage and death, the first line of each would remain the initial entry.  The person completing the profile would put in whatever they think is appropriate, be it modern village in Idaho, or a suburb of Constantinople, Eastern Roman Empire.  

The WikiTree computer would then check whatever database we are using and enter the resulting place name in  a new second line, which is intended to convey where the location is NOW.  For the modern village in Idaho it would probably be the same thing.  For Constantinople it would be blank, because Constantinople no longer exists.  Or the computer might know that Constantinople is now Istanbul.   Or you might manually enter Istanbul, the present-day place, or, if you know it, the exact GPS Coordinates.   For any computations or aggregations that one wants about present-day locations, this would be the data you would want.

On the display page, Constantinople, Eastern Roman Empire would appear just as it does now.  Below that would NOT appear Istanbul, because that's offensively inaccurate, but there could appear the present GPS Coordinates, which if you click on them would present a little mini-map showing where in the world the place is today.  Or the display page itself could just present the minimap.  

Perhaps this would satisfy both the historians like me who insist on some degree of accuracy about the place at the time, and the geographers who want to know where to find the place today.
by Jack Day G2G6 Pilot (385k points)
selected by Marj Adams
+10 votes
I like this change because most of my sources come from the familysearch database anyway. I just edited the latest profile I worked on in the manner that would become the new standard, cutting and pasting the location names from their cite this source section in this profile, Lipe-43

The only problem I see is that they themselves sometimes do not enter a country name so this could be a minor problem.
by Dale Byers G2G Astronaut (1.6m points)
edited by Dale Byers
Thanks, Dale! Very helpful.
I am going to try and find one that is a little older next.
For a profile that has a pre 1776 date see
+4 votes
How much different is the Familysearch style from the style.  I use Family TreeMaker as my personal database and it connects with, so when adding names/profiles, I tend to cut and paste their locations.  For instance do they allow USA as the country name?  It looks like they skip the qualifiers like "county" and "township"  which is good as it saves time entering and space when you have to put many items in a profile.  Otherwise I'd like it.
by Dave Dardinger G2G6 Pilot (410k points)
Dave, they spell out United States, and I feel that is a good thing because it minimizes confusion. On my browser when entering location fields it "remembers" what I typed before and has a pop up hint list so when I see what I am looking for I just have to select that and it enters it for me to reduce my typing and speed things up.
Oh, well, if it's not automated, at least it would result in lots of profile points!  BTW, United States isn't actually unique.  I think what we generally call Brazil is officially (translated into English) the "United States of Brazil." And there may be others.
Dave I agree, and that is why in most of my edits to date I have typed out United States of America, there is no confusion there. But if there is a standard that allows me to just enter a location name into a search field and then copy and paste the correct style I am all for it. I have had several typing errors in this comment due to loss of feeling in my fingers so every little bit helps.
+9 votes
I agree that we do need a standardized naming system. And I see no problem with using the LDS database.

My main question is how would this be applied to all the profiles already here? How could the standardized names be applied retroactively? I certainly would not look forward to going through the almost 3000 profiles in my watchlist and changing all the place names to our standardized format once it's in place.
by Shirley Dalton G2G6 Pilot (500k points)
Shirley, I have over 4500 profiles on my watch list, but I am going to take Chris at his word and not worry about what I have already done and use the new method on profiles I edit in the future. I may never get back to all of the already edited one's, but all future edits will use the new style.
+13 votes

I think this change would be very beneficial to WikiTree, Chris.  Adding a standard will help tremendously with sorting and with providing consistent location names. 

The time and effort to create our own locations database could detract from the many other efforts needed in WikiTree.  While the FamilySearch database is not perfect, it is extensive, it is constantly being updated, and it is so much more than we have now.

There are a few issues that have been discussed previously in G2G that this will not address.  I don't think they are deal breakers, but we should be aware of them. For example:

  • U.S. locations end with "United States", not "United States of America".  Since Mexico calls itself "Los Estados Unitos de Mexico" or the United States of Mexico, United States alone could be confusing to some, though FamilySearch consistently uses "Mexico".
  • FamilySearch does not list "county" after a county name.  It lists "Luzerne, Pennsylvania" for Luzerne County, Pennsylvania, and "Luzerne, Luzerne, Pennsylvania" for the town in that county.  If someone in WikiTree lists "Luzerne, Pennsylvania" now, I'm never sure if they mean the county, the town (and didn't list the county), or if they mean the town in Fayette County, Pennsylvania.  No matter what locations system we use, we can have that issue, though.
  • There are many place names for small villages that are listed in FamilySearch twice with two different formats, such as:
    • Minesite, Lower Macungie Township, Lehigh, Pennsylvania, United States and Minesite, Lehigh, Pennsylvania, United States
    • Leather Corner Post, Lowhill Township, Lehigh, Pennsylvania, United States and Leather Corner Post, Lehigh, Pennsylvania, United States
  • Some locations are much more exact, such as:
    • City Hospital, East Liverpool City, Columbiana, Ohio, United States
    • City Cemetery, New Haven, New Haven, Connecticut, United States
by Star Kline G2G6 Pilot (567k points)
edited by Star Kline
+6 votes

I tested this FamilySearch utility with a few historical place names that I thought might be problematic. It gave me a good collection of substitute names, with appropriate dates, for "New York state" (although I do wish that it wouldn't insist on geolocating the state in New York City -- I'd much prefer a location in the geographic center of the state) and also for "Scituate, Plymouth Colony." But it failed miserably on a few of the problematic locations where I'd most like this kind of utility to return accurate results:

  • Watervliet, New York - This is the name of a present-day city and also the name of a much-larger town that was formed in 1788 and was gradually split off to form other towns and finally was dissolved in 1896 (when several new towns were formed and the part of town known as West Troy became the city of Watervliet). When I searched for Watervliet, New York, I got a good entry for the modern city and one entry for the former town: "Watervliet, Albany, Colony of New York, British Colonial America Town," with a geolocation that is almost identical to the geolocation of the modern city of Watervliet (which is in a corner of the very large former town). As for the name, "Colony of New York, British Colonial America" is completely wrong, since Watervliet was formed as a town after American independence.
  • West Troy, New York (see above; I figure that this should be interpreted as an old name for the city of Watervliet) - Search results are a couple of entries for the city of Troy, New York, plus "West Troy, Albany, New York, United States" and  "West Troy, Albany, Colony of New York, British Colonial America". Both of these are geolocated in the city of Troy, which is in Rensselaer County (not Albany County), and is not the city of Watervliet. And the "Colony of New York, British Colonial America" language is totally wrong for a place that existed with that name until 1896.
  • Barrington, Massachusetts - This town is in an area that was once part of Massachusetts but got shifted into Rhode Island. It should geolocate to Barrington, Rhode Island. Search results are "Rehoboth, Bristol, Massachusetts, United States Town 1776 - PRESENT" and "Rehoboth, Bristol, Massachusetts Bay Colony, British Colonial America Town 1691 - 1776." Both of these geolocate to Rehoboth, Massachusetts. (No hint of Rhode Island.)

I see that they allow users to submit information to improve the system. Does anyone have experience with this? (Does user input get results?)

by Ellen Smith G2G Astronaut (1.3m points)
Like Ellen I ran a few test places. With less than sterling results. They do not acknowledge that New Haven was ever a colony of it's own.

And British Colonial America, is not their conventions.
I entered "Aix-la-Chapelle".   It correctly associated Aix-la-Chapelle with Aachen, but did not have a separate entry for Aix-la-Chapelle or the dates for which this was the name of the same place that also is known as Aaachen.  There was a long list of names or similar names, some without dates, presumably current, and others with a begin date running to the present.  There were few, if not none that has a time period in the past.  

So it looks like the database is intended to cover what we might need, but it has a ways to go to get there.
It certainly can't cope with the idiosyncratic variations used historically nor smaller places  even those used currently, in Dorset England.

It doesn't like Shaston (Shaftesbury)  but manages Shaston St Rumbold (aka Cann) Likewise it 'knows' some of the Piddle/Puddle variants but not others.   If I try Winterborne Keyme  it directs me to every other Winterborne but  Winterborne Came.  Ockford Fitzpaine doesn't translate into Okeford Fitzpaine yet google immediately gives me the wills of three people written there.

 And Troytown, with  an enormous signpost that I seem to spend hours looking at in traffic jams on the A35  doesn't exist though could be in Yorkshire, if I write it as Troy Town
+7 votes

I am concerned about international places in time and location. This is what I get looking for Rudolfstadt/Rudolfov: 

  • Rudolfstadt, Budweis, Bohemia, Austria
  • Rudolfov, České Budějovice, South Bohemian Region, Czech Republic
  • Rudolfov, České Budějovice, Bohemia, Czechoslovakia
  • Rudolfov, České Budějovice, South Bohemian Region, Czechoslovakia
  • Rudolfov, České Budějovice, Českobudějovický, Czechoslovakia

Are we retreating from "using place names in native languages and using the names that people at the time used, even if they now no longer exist?" Also, a quick search for Cyrillic or Greek towns reveals only Latinized versions and none in the local script. Αθήνα results only in Athens, Attikí, Greece.

by Helmut Jungschaffer G2G6 Pilot (552k points)

Hi Helmut,

I would hope that we could keep our basic style rules, but this does add complication.

Did you experiment with changing the language? It's hidden under the gear icon. When I changed to Greek I got Αθήνα, Αττική, Ελληνική Δημοκρατία.


I had not noticed the language options before. It does address some of my concerns.

I answered a very short time ago a question about the history of Birkenfeld and so used this as another test. Putting in Birkenfeld with the language selection German it offers 57 results, 8 of which refer to the town in question, the results are somewhat unsatisfactory, though, typical hits are:

  • Birkenfeld, Birkenfeld, Birkenfeld, Rheinland-Pfalz, Deutschland
  • Birkenfeld, Birkenfeld, Birkenfeld, Birkenfeld, Oldenburg, Deutschland

Rheinland-Pfalz is the current state it is in, it belonged to Oldenburg from 1817 until 1937. What about before 1817 and between 1937 and 1946 when none of the options apply? And I also have a hard time with the repeats of Birkenfeld, one as a county or its historical equivalent I could understand but three additional Birkenfelds?

Helmut, those historical location names ( to me) are optional. It's important that we do know how these places were called in history and also what the contemporary name is now.

In my old Hungarian 1800's profiles which were once in Czechoslovakia, then Slovakia, I opted to use the most modern location version in the fields as it will geocode easily. Then I put the historical name in the biography or sources somewhere.

Still, I'm German and I have no idea what all the Birkenfelds in Birkenfeld, Birkenfeld, Birkenfeld, Rheinland-Pfalz, Deutschland mean and I do have a conceptual problem with saying somebody was born in a political entity that did not exist at the time of their birth.


I had some similar problems with Bilfingen and nearby Esslingen near Karlsruhe. My ancestors are from that area and date from the 1840s and earlier. The historical names imply Germany instead Duchy of Baden (If I have that correct). I'd be fine with German language spelling also.If it was present.

I think the main issue here is the maturity of the historical names in this database. Seem like as good a starting point as any, though.  

The Style Guide could indicate only certain countries are included until such time that the content for other countries is deemed mature or satisfactory, but it seems like a good start.

Are we retreating from "using place names in native languages and using the names that people at the time used, even if they now no longer exist?"

That was what I was wondering too. I have people who were born in Wooden Box which is now renamed Woodville, Sheepshead that became Shepshed.....people who were born in villages or hamlets that have been subsumed by enlarging towns, people who were born in places that were in Derbyshire but are now in Leicestershire, people whose census addresses bear road names that have been renamed and people born in places that no longer seem to exist at all......we should not be ignoring that heritage just so we get a clickable link to another web resource, it has to be done in the right way and not standardisation for standardisation's sake. I sometimes put the old placename then the current placename in brackets, always followed by county and country and a full stop but it can be quite confusing knowing what to do for the best, especially when the place is now a trading estate on the outskirts of Birmingham or is under the M1 motorway or under Rutland Water.

+5 votes
I like this very much.

Start a broad search,then with elements of refinement target the entries you are seeking.


A  record in Familysearch works in the UK on the basis of the Parish where a BMD occurred and first registered, broadened for search purposes into Counties and then further widened for England, Wales and to a lesser extent Scotland. Census records shadow the BMD entries

From searches I have made in other countries, Familysearch follows the same principle.
by Living Woodhouse G2G6 Pilot (260k points)
+11 votes

I see WikiTree's own database as a good starting point to build time aware  place database. Here you can check Statistics of location fields.

We have 10,732,026 locations entered and probably another million from protected profiles. That is 1,593,039 different locations 

  • Unique locations (appears only once): 976,373
  • Repeated locations (appears more than once): 616,666
That makes over half a million repeated location, that are probably correct. With this locations, we could extract valid timeframes for locations. And that would make good starting point to use our time aware database. That could be later refined with more precise dates.
In one day i managed to identify 85 % of addresses to a country, so with more work we could increase that percentage. 
  • Unidentifiable to country: 1,557,806 (14.52%)
  • Identifiable to country: 9,174,220 (85.48%)
    I checked Ljubljana on FS and didn't like the result (and I live in Ljubljana). As I wrote in Location errors thread Ljubljana would look in local and english language like this in different times (there were a few more different names during WWII,...):
    • Ljubljana, Slovenia, Yugoslavia  [english language before 1991, Slovenia was republic in YU]
    • Ljubljana, Slovenija, Jugoslavija  [local language before 1991, Slovenia was republic in YU]
    • Ljubljana, Jugoslavija, (Slovenija) [local language before 1991, This would follow guidelines, but I would prefer previous case]
    • Ljubljana, Slovenija [after 1991] 
    • Ljubljana, Austria-Hungary, (Slovenia) [before 1918] 
    This way after entering a date and Ljubljana, correct form of location would be used. Maybe even remembered by ID, so if location entry in database would be corrected, it would change automatically.
    This could be a solution but would require a lot of initial work with possible automatic database conversion (80%). The rest would stay as it is and would be manually corrected (or not) in the future. And we would have our own time aware location database.
    by Aleš Trtnik G2G6 Pilot (661k points)
    +7 votes

    "Anson, Colony of North Carolina, British Colonial Americamap"

    That's really poor.  If that's an example of LDS style, I would vote no.

    by Living Anonymous G2G6 Mach 4 (47.5k points)
    And just how would you word it better?
    Anson County, North Carolina
    Mikey, our current standards do not use the word "county" and call for a country name. Before 1776 the use of United States of any variation of that would be incorrect ans so the use of British Colonial America is the best thing to use to prevent another from adding United States to your example. Also having  the same standard as the familysearch database makes searching for sources much easier for most of us. I do not agree with some of their conventions, but I use them because they are better than having a free for all.
    Before 1776, North Carolina was the country.  There was no entity above it.
    +5 votes
    The FamilySearch database is sort of OK for Australian States.  As an example it lists New South Wales, as New South Wales, British Colonial Australia** 1788 - 1901 and then New South Wales, Australia, 1901 - current.

    Even has variations on Van Diemen's Land (previous name for Tasmania)

    However it doesn't give the same options for cities.  Sydney is just Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

    ** Technically though British Colonial Australia is incorrect, there never was such a place.
    by John Atkinson G2G6 Pilot (537k points)
    John, Actually there was no North Carolina or South Carolina. They were both part of the Carolina Colony chartered by England. The Govenor was appointed by and served at the pleasure of the King of England.
    +4 votes
    Another big thumbs up. This seems well thought out. The place names will become longer so changes to UI to make the location names longer when in edit mode would be appreciated. they are already to short when you start adding counties.

    Without moving down other content you could move the certain/uncertain radio buttons currently to right of birth and death location to just below the field with other radio buttons.
    by Marty Acks G2G6 Pilot (129k points)
    +7 votes
    I started to write a long series of questions that have been asked or have not been considered fully but after rereading Chris's explanation and the many other discussions here and elsewhere I think we have plenty of information.  Just Google Standardized Place Names and Genealogy and you will see this discussion is repeated in many places with no solid resolution that meets all needs.

    It appears that even the Board of Certified Genealogists does not have an explicit Standard that meets all needs.  That means that any adopted Standard is going to come up short somewhere.

    The advantages of Chris's proposal is that we can adopt a Standard that has advantages that work to our benefit, but we will still have some work to do for our own personal goals.

    For me, the benefits and potential benefits of adopting Family Search's set up outweigh some of the perplexing choices they have implemented.  Because they are Genealogically focused, perhaps we can add our weight to correcting some of those perplexities over time.

    So I ask, is it perfect? No.  Is it better? Likely.  Can I live with it? Yes. Can we grow with it? Yes. Can we improve it? Perhaps.

    Hearing no better alternatives, just different alternatives.  I am ready to give it a go.
    by Michael Stills G2G6 Pilot (471k points)
    Is there a summary available of the FamilySearch location rules?  That page linked above won't display properly for me.  And/or a way to just skip reporting location errors until that is available here?
    +5 votes
    After reading the generally positive answers and comments to the question I ran a few more tests on a variety of locations, mostly international, but also some very well known places in today's USA that have changed political boundaries, like Detroit and New Orleans, with underwhelming results. As almost 100% of my profiles are not from the USA the extremely limited options available for many international locations would be a deterrent for me to use the site if they were mandated.
    by Helmut Jungschaffer G2G6 Pilot (552k points)
    +4 votes
    Consistency is a great ideal to work towards. However, there is the danger that in countries where the places are quite ancient that the jurisdiction in which they might be found changes considerably.

    In my experience this tends to exacerbate confusion rather than bring clarity. The LDS database is notorious for placing English towns into the wrong counties, or is misleading in giving a county from a particular point in time which does not relate either to the present or the deeper past.

    Most arguments in England (and to some extent in other parts of Great Britain and Northern Ireland) over the correct style for a town/county/country arise because the boundaries and administrative areas have altered so much over time - no least within my own lifetime.

    Chris mentions about London, Middlesex, Ontario; I wonder how many people might opt to cite London, Middlesex, England - because ostensibly the old county of Middlesex did include the City of London, although it was governed separately. Certainly when the hegemony of Mercia or Wessex expanded or contracted to include or exclude the county of Middlesex, then London was included.

    The county of Southampton was the official name for what we now normally call Hampshire. For some of its modern history the town or later City of Southampton was within the administrative county of Hampshire, but historically was quite separate as a county in its own right. Back in the time of Domesday the county was Hantescire and included Southampton the town.

    So, the difficulty with stipulating a standard is that a particular name style may become fixed irrespective of the many and various historical changes. This would then conflict with the WikiTree policy of reflecting the names and places as they would have been contemporaneous to the people being profiled.

    It must therefore be clear that the standard is, therefore, the style and not the actual name.
    by John Orchard G2G6 Mach 2 (21.1k points)

    You always have the free text in the bio section to use for other way of describe a place....

    Best would be if the freetext information in the bio section could be added in a way that other software could read and its still structured i.e. a location is understand to be an location with a timestamp....

    some links...

    Family History -related data modeling and exchange - feels a little bit unmature...:

    Implementing this policy would create a bias toward using the present names for birth, marriage, and death locations: If my only options for a town are only correct for the time period 1817 - 1937 and 1946 - present picking the first option for a 17th or 18th century profile would be blatantly wrong leaving only the option to pick the current name. And all the discussions about historically correct naming conventions go down the drain.

    If people feel happy about the options they get for the USA and believe they are historically correct enough we would end up with a double standard with respect to non-US locations. And I'm not even so sure about the US locations - try looking for Detroit under French rule, or New Orleans for that matter. Even if you search for Nouvelle-Orléans with French as language selected the only results you get are for "New Orleans".
    +4 votes
    This issue skirts a bigger question: Philosophically, shouldn't we accurately give info on where an event happened? Over the years, changes in the political names of places are at best extremely confusing, as others have noted. For instance, Virginia had 2 counties before 1702 that became 95 counties and 35 independent cities in Virginia and 55 counties in West Virginia. An event in 'Augusta County, VA' in 1742 could have been anywhere in half of Virginia, all of West Virginia, Kentucky, and theoretically a chunk of land going to the Mississippi River. Changes in spelling or the local language used just make the situation worse.

    Doesn't it make more sense to use the current name of the place? I'm new, and realize this idea goes against the 'use what people at that time would use' standard, but isn't our purpose to convey information clearly?
    by Mona Jensen G2G Crew (890 points)
    Lat/Long would be best for that.  It could just be a small icon that wouldn't take up space.  You click it and it gives coordinates in several formats:  degrees, minutes, seconds N/S/E/W, or decimal degrees +/-.  And has a link to some common map sites (there are others besides google).

    >>Doesn't it make more sense to use the current name of the place?

    As always start defining why we need location names and the result is that we need to have more ways to explain one place.... 

    A) If we need to look in the church books etc. then the name when the event took place is good =
    Historical correct name

    B) If you should visit the place then the exact location is needed so that you can use your smartphone to find the place = GPS coordinates in e.g. WGS84

    C) If you would like to generate maps from events in your family tree on e.g. Google = the name used today is good

    To make it even more complex you have 

    1. The same name in different languages
    2. The same name in different writing system - Latin, Cyrillic, Hangul ....

    Genealogy is complex and making a World Wide Family tree is a little bit more complex 


    I normally use an animated GIF from Poland that shows how complex administrative borders can be to understand   

    That automated gif is awesome!  I love it!  It so clearly illustrates the problem.
    +8 votes
    Since Genealogy is in many respects a branch of history, I strongly, strongly favor historical names, which means you try to use the place name that is in effect at the time, not one that is in use later.  Thus you would never use "United States of America" or USA prior to 1776.

    There are a number of European cities that changed countries some number of times without actually moving.   Someone's birth place in the data field should be the place in effect the year he/she was born.    There certainly can be an explanation in the narrative about how many countries the place has been in, and when;  that will help further research.  

    But to enter that a person was born in a place that did not exist at the birth will be like running fingernails against chalkboard to any historian!

    An additional distinction that applies to American southern colonies is that before 1776, the colonies were essentially separate countries reporting directly to England.  They were not part of any overall entity like "British North America" or "British Empire."  They simply were what they were.  To shoe-horn them into groupings that did not exist at the time will not only be problematic for many on WikiTree, but reduce our credibility with those who already see the place names on and similar sites as unforgiveably amateurish!
    by Jack Day G2G6 Pilot (385k points)
    +5 votes
    If we could sort out the purposes we are trying to achieve perhaps some of the controversy would diminish.  If our concern is what the place is, and where it is located TODAY, then a standardized list would be fine.

    But as an historian, I do not go to a database to discover what the historical name of a place was at a particular time.  I go to the history books, just as I go to the history books and original records to find the best documentation about the life of a person.  

    And we have the principle to honor what the individual person would have said and done.  Some of us are working on Indonesian profiles right now.  Most recent Indonesian leaders were born in what English-speakers call the Dutch East Indies.  The government at the time would have called it (my spelling's probably off) Nederlands Indie.  But the person himself would most likely have called it Hindia Belanda, and that is what we're starting to put in the place name on the data field.  

    At the same time, we have categorization issues.  Our major categorization system is done in today's international language, English.  But if you look at the first Category page you can see that WikiTree has started category streams in a number of different languages.  I expect we'll do at least a limited Indonesian category stream, and in that stream all the titles and place names will be in Indonesian.  I've previously been in conversation about a Swedish language category stream, in which, of course, the place names would be in Swedish.

    These are important issues, and they have a secondary benefit of getting us thinking about history and places in history, all of which helps us understand genealogy better.  Abdicating any of the historical place names to a data system created by someone else and over which we have no control would I think be a terrible mistake.
    by Jack Day G2G6 Pilot (385k points)

    Good point it's always important to know in what direction we travel. Maybe we could get more fields for locations. Compare List of properties/Geographical feature on another wiki


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