What should US city categories be named?

+7 votes

For Canada and some other countries I've just been using "City, Province", so I was going to just use "City, State" for US cities. But then, it turns out, city/town names aren't even unique within a single state a lot of the time! So, I guess county needs to be in there too.

Here are some possibilities:

  1. Lincoln Township, Pembina County, North Dakota
  2. Lincoln, Pembina, North Dakota
  3. Lincoln, Pembina County, North Dakota
  4. Lincoln Township, Pembina, North Dakota

Is there a format that is fairly standard?

Also, some people have already made categories for counties. Should we have those, too, and put the city categories in the county categories? If we're going to have county categories as well, I suggest the format "Pembina County, North Dakota", so that it's clear they aren't cities.


in Policy and Style by Liander Lavoie G2G6 Pilot (458k points)
retagged by Keith Hathaway

2 Answers

+3 votes

The format used on family search seems fairly standard:

City or Town,  County,  State,  Country:

Lincoln, Pembina, North Dakota, United States

If the city and county are the same name, both are included  ie.

Worcester, Worcester, Massachusetts

If the city or town is known, but not the county,  it is written as:

Lincoln , North Dakota, United States

If the County is listed but not the city or town, it is listed as

, Pembina, North Dakota, United States

with the comma indicating a missing detail.

Sometimes the Ward/Precinct/District is included after the city/town on census data:

Lincoln Ward 7, Pembina, North Dakota, US

That does make sense for the place fields on a profile, which are really flexible, but I do think the categories need to follow a standard. The more I think about it, the more I'm leaning towards Lincoln, Pembina County, North Dakota. (I think having the country included makes the names unnecessarily long.)

Even on location fields on profiles I don't feel comfortable with the empty spaces. But that's another discussion.
I'm almost in agreement with this. However, empty entries will probably confuse some. I favor always including the county, even with nothing before it; and always including the country. This, with spelling the  (USA) state in full, is the least confusing. If there is only one place name before a state, it is a strong indication that 1) This is a County name and the place was a) rural or b) an unknown community.
Thanks, Al!

Are you speaking about the location database fields, or categories?

If it's location database fields, maybe you could ask a new G2G question to address this, and then just link to it from here.
Townships are a bit of a problem to me.  As far as I know, townships are just subdivisions of counties.  I would only use the township if that is the most specific thing I have.  For example, one of my ancestors has this in the bio section:

"Shows residence as Calumet Township, Lake, Indiana. Calumet Township is one of eleven townships in Lake County, Indiana. As of the 2010 census, its population was 104,258. It includes the city of Gary and the town of Griffith."

So I used "Calumet Township, Lake County, Indiana" because that was the most specific that I had.  If I had Griffith, I'd use "Griffith, Lake County, Indiana" and not "Griffith, Calumet Township, Lake County, Indiana."  Having only the township usually means they lived in a rural or unincorporated area.

If we use townships in categories, you'll probably see, for example, Griffith under Lake County, Calumet Township under Lake County, and sometimes Griffith under Calumet Township under Lake County.
Hi Fred,

That all sounds right to me. One thing I'd do differently: Since there seems to be only one Griffith in Indiana, I'd use [[Category:Griffith, Indiana]] and leave out the county.
+3 votes


Hi Lianne,
Good, hard questions here.
My gut instinct is to avoid making category names longer than they need to be, even at the cost of some inconsistency. I'd be inclined not to require a county name unless necessary.
Unless there will be confusion, I'd say use just the city and state, e.g.:
Category:Boston, Massachusetts
Category:Fitchburg, Massachusetts
Category:Worcester, Massachusetts
Instead of:
Category:Boston, Suffolk, Massachusetts
Category:Fitchburg, Worcester, Massachusetts
Category:Worcester, Worcester, Massachusetts
Then for counties, use:
Category:Suffolk County, Massachusetts
Category:Worcester County, Massachusetts
The hard case you bring up, where there are two towns with the same name in the same state, should be unusual. To avoid confusion I think they'd already be using something, e.g. calling one "Lincoln" and one "Lincoln Township" or one "Croton Falls" and one "Croton on Hudson". And if not, then use the county.
I think only using counties when necessary would save a lot of keystrokes and be easier for people to do. But maybe I'm wrong.
by Chris Whitten G2G Astronaut (1.5m points)
You have a good point; I guess people don't usually specify the county when they're talking about cities, if it isn't necessary.

You'd be surprised how common that problem is, actually, with multiple towns of the same name in the same state; I know I was! http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lincoln_Township Iowa alone has 42 Lincoln Townships! That's just crazy. :)

So, if we have categories for counties, too, do the town categories go in the county categories?

Thanks for the help, Chris!

Wow, 42. That's preposterous. Actually, it shocks me that there are 42 counties in Iowa. I guess what a county means there is very different from what it means elsewhere.

So, maybe for Iowa, you always need to include the county in the category name. And that would mean that Iowa categories aren't formatted exactly the same as categories for other states. But I think that's OK. Do you?

As for the sub-categorization, where towns go in county categories, I, personally love sub-categorization and cross-categorization. There is little harm in it. Why not put them in both, if you feel like it?

For example, you could have all 50 states under Category:United_States_of_America but also have each state under a region such as Category:New England or Category:Midwest and have those be under Category:United_States_of_America as well. Each person still only has one category, such as Category:Fitchburg, Massachusetts, but that category could be in Category:Massachusetts and Category:Worcester County, Massachusetts.
I suppose I'm ok with sometimes including the county name and sometimes not. I find Wikipedia is really helpful for figuring out if I need to or not.

I've been putting categories into two categories, one of which is a subcategory of the other, only really when it was a separate thing that at some point became a part of the subcategory (if that makes sense...). The only issue I have with putting all cities under the county and the state is that the state category will become really crowded with all those cities. But then the counter argument is that if you only put them in the county, people clicking through the categories will have to know what county a city is in to find it. So I'm still kind of torn on that one.
And what's the cost of sub-categorization? When adding categories to categories, why not play around? I don't like editing and re-editing profiles to put them in different categories, but I like sub-categories.

Right now I'm playing with Category:Massachusetts. I'm putting towns inside counties and inside the state. I'm putting counties inside the state, and I think I may do a Category:Massachusetts Counties as well. Am I crazy?
That's true. It is easy to change the structure of the categories. That's why I've been focusing most on what to name the most specific categories, that profiles are actually put in.

And you might be a little crazy. :)
Exactly, exactly.

You make a good point: It's (relatively) important to get a narrow, specific category for the profile page. Then play around with sub-categories in between. The latter is easier to edit later.

A separate example: I've been putting individuals in [[Category:US_Civil_War_Union_Veterans]]. That's not right. Even though we don't have enough individuals to fill units, we should be categorizing the individuals by unit. The most narrow category possible. Then it's easy to categorize, subcategorize, and recategorize the individual units as necessary.
I've been categorising my few veterans by unit. I figure someone might make an interesting project out of one of them one day, like a study of everyone who's been in the Royal Winnipeg Rifles (though that category currently has only my great uncle).

By the way, Iowa has 99 counties!
I've been filling in units when they are known. Needs to be a prisoners of war category too. I have one relative that died in the Florence, South Carolina stockade prison and was buried in a trench there.

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