Place names - a gentle reminder - no abbreviations, please

+76 votes

Recently I've been working on hundreds of profiles, as a Data Doctor, and while working on my own research in genealogy in several countries. I have notice a LOT of profiles that have issues in the location fields: 

  1. No country entered (and not easily figured out by a non-native of whichever country it is). Was your ancestor born in London - England, Canada, USA, France or even Kiribati (Christmas Islands!).
  2. Abbreviations: "WA", is that in the US or in Australia? County/Shire/State abbreviations help no one! Especially when there is no country included.

From Help: Location_Fields

"Use the full 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."

Our database is truly international, we need to not make assumptions that others just "know" where that place is. Help your fellow Wikitree-ers, and spell out those places, please. Add a country name (or Colony name, etc., where appropriate) so it's not ambiguous.

As a Data Doctor, I'd love to see a Challenge that focuses on getting abbreviations out of place names.

in Policy and Style by Bobbie Hall G2G6 Pilot (194k points)
retagged by Steve Anonymous
... and an afterthought as I'm working thru a long list of people:

If you don't have a specific location for an event, at least tell us in which country you think it happened - then mark it as "uncertain". That way we know if it's a possible match on the person we're looking for.
Thank you for this reminder Bobbie.  It especially drives me crazy when someone abbreviates all in lower case like: ny.  Is there a place called ny?  Hmmm...
... or shouts: NEW YORK, NEW YORK

(makes me start to hum the song and I can't get it out of my head until I override it with the Skye Boat Song :)
This is my big pet peeve when editing errors...SO MUCH lower case in place names. I have even seen an entire profile in lower case, including the bio. The only capitalization was in the section headings. It is so distracting and looks very unprofessional. (if it's just in the "notes" section, it seems ok. Someone might just be jotting a note to look at later. No big deal)

I can already hear the furor about correcting these errors as "running up points,' to which my answer remains, "If it's an error, it needs to be fixed."
Here's an "Am I doing it wrong?" question: Sometimes I'll leave off the country name in the bio itself, but I always list the country in the fields. So, if anyone is confused by "So-and-so was born on (date) in Glenwood, Pope County, Minnesota", they can just look at the Place of Birth field and see "Glenwood, Pope, Minnesota, USA."

My thinking is that I don't want to create a wall of prose in the bio area, especially when someone is looking at the markup, but I also don't want to throw a "US" in there. But I could.

Is that okay, or frowned on?
Hey Eric,

I do not think that it is frowned on in the bio, especially if the top part of the profile is completed with the right names and all.  I am working on my profiles these days and that is one of the things I am getting rid of is all the excess and trying to put in more narrative about the person.  What does everyone else think?

Please include the information in the bio. I think of the profile data fields as an index to the profile, while the main content of the profile is in the biography and sources sections. Ideally, every detail in the profile data section would be in the biography with an inline citation (footnote) identifying where that detail came from.

When I find a bio in all capitals or in lowercase I copy and paste it in a word document then amend to Sentance case, check for locations re do those to capitails for first letter of word then copy it and paste it over the original text in bio field and edit from there.

Is quicker than working through the entire bio one bit at a time.

For locations I have a short message I copy and paste into the comments box includes the link to

Occassional get a thank you

Thank you, Janet!!
When I come across profiles with an abbreviated state name, I update with the full state names.

I usually do not add "United States" or "USA", but maybe I should?
When quoting a source for an event in a bio I usually write what they have done. Perhaps if I expand their abbreviations / truncation in brackets afterwards that would work. It is my interpretation of what the source meant...

E.g. Thame, Oxon (Oxfordshire, England)

Does "everyone" know England is in the UK for modern sources?

That would be United Kingdom (UK) and modern is any date after 01 January 1801
Yes Russ, you should. Do you expect people in other parts of the world to know the difference between Washington and Washington D.C.? And please USA rather than US because there are other United States beside those in North America.
Thank you for pointing this out. I'm going back through all of the profiles I manage and others in my family tree to change all of the locations to match this standard.

6 Answers

+28 votes
Do you think it is time to add all abbreviations (except USA and UK) as an error? Location suggestion is working well now, I could also prepare automatically suggested corrections. So unless G2G decides it should be done by a BOT, I think it is time to add it as an error.
by Aleš Trtnik G2G6 Pilot (541k points)
Yes, please make it an error.  Thanks.
At some point these abbreviations should be made errors.  I have held off suggesting them as it will likely add several million new errors.  The community as a whole seems to get frustrated when there is a sudden  large jump in the number or errors reported on their error reports.  Perhaps you could start slowly phasing them in?  If you just made MA (Massachusetts) an error, it would keep us busy for many months.

If it could be done with a bot that would be great, though I would think you would need to be very careful about how it is implemented.  Names are not always straight forward.

I love the idea of it being an error, but the implementation will certainly draw a lot of ire in the community. Are we prepared for that?

Take as an example the abbreviation "CO" "Co" "Co." "Cty." How many million errors would that generate? And it couldn't be "BOTted" since it could be County, Colorado, and maybe a few other things.

That's a tough one. I'm game to work on fixing them, but I'm not sure all our members can face the high number of errors they'll see on their reports. Could be quite distressing to some.

Perhaps if it was done in conjunction with a large, organized, pre-planned and pre-announced challenge to get the word out that it's a good thing. Any marketing geniuses out there? 


MA is used on 59189 profiles, so the number of this error will go over a million. Maybe we should first let the bot do the clear corrections and only then set the rest as an error.

I totally agree with Aleš Trtnik in his comment above! Having a ton of errors on a suggestion list can overwhelm a person to the point they just ignore it and walk away. While these errors are important they are not as bad as a mother not born yet or father who died before child was born etc.  A "bot" would start the work and maybe then the profile managers will get the idea and try not to do short cuts and just spell out the words. 

+8 votes
This is something that will need a LOT of work.  I adopted most of the profiles I manage and I think about 90% of them will need this edit.  Since I was learning by example, I did the same on profiles I created, and they are very American myopic.

I have found that drop down box of options more harm than good!  I would say the most common error is "USA too early", for ancestors prior to 1776.
by Jennifer Cady G2G6 Mach 1 (12.0k points)

Even though the "USA too early" profiles bother me, at least one can identify where the location is at a glance. (I've still got a batch to work on in my lines, but not on profiles where I'm PM.) The ones that bother me the most have such ambiguous places that it is difficult to know where the event occurred. On those, you've got to wander around among the relatives to figure out what country it might have been.

I've got a lot of profiles to update with "Canada" on them, but in many cases I'm in the boat Bobbie mentions where they're pre-1867 and I have to find the appropriate name for a location.  For instance, Prince Edward Island was named such for over a hundred years without being part of Canada.
+7 votes
I also wish people would add the word "County" where applicable to avoid confusion. Why this is not standard practice is beyond me.

by Patricia Hickin G2G6 Mach 8 (85.4k points)
Yes, for the U.S., every reference to a county should include the word "county" in its name. (The same principle doesn't apply everywhere; in the context of England it would peculiar to add "County" to the name of a county.)

I particularly wish that people would stop systematically removing the word "County" from data fields where it was carefully added.

The problem is that the Location selections (from Familysearch I believe) do not use the "County" terminology. When you are trying to fix other issues like ?? or ALL CAPS in that field you may just try the auto suggestions and not catch that it has stripped the "County" part of the name. 

I personally am trying to keep the county names on the profiles if they have them but can't say for certain every profile has had it kept. I know I likely didn't when I started on Wikitree.

I've been seeing edits where it appears that people are systematically replacing valid locations with the location they get from the FamilySearch pull-down.  So they might replace "Essex, Essex County, Massachusetts Bay Colony" with "Essex, Essex, Massachusetts Bay."
I totally agree the word "County" should be present in a location when known
Example: Albany, New York.  
Is that Albany County, New York or City of Albany, New York

And don't just assume a location has always been in the same county or even state.
Wilmington, Windham County, Vermont
Wilmington, Windham, Republic of Vermont
Wilmington, Cumberland County, New York
Are all the same location in different years
Yes, the same kind of thing occurs with Virginia place names.

The old written records would put a glossary up front that would identify these abbreviations. I can see them being spelled out in the individual fields, but in the profiles as well?
Abbreviations were very important back when paper was expensive (and sometimes was scarce) and printing was done with metal type that had to be set by hand. When we are publishing electronically, we don't have those same constraints. It's far more efficient to document our ancestors' lives using whole words, both in the profile data and in the text section, than to create an extensive glossary of standard WikiTree abbreviations and try to insist that all contributors conform to it.
+3 votes
I usually add "Co." in the location names, to differentiate in the many cases where the name is both a town/city and a county as well. Oftentimes the town/city location is not known or certain, and just the county is known. So I guess it is preferable that I should instead spell out the word County (for United States locations)?

One question, the drop down suggestions for locations do NOT seem to ever include the world "County" at all, from what I have observed. Is this something that can be improved/updated?
by Russ Gunther G2G6 Mach 8 (83.3k points)

WikiTree does not control those dropdown suggestions. They come from FamilySearch. They should not be treated as mandatory guidance. Think of them as helpful information that you can ignore when it's wrong.

FamilySearch apparently doesn't think it's necessary to use the word "County" when identifying U.S. counties. Many of us do...

Yes, Russ, the preferred style is to spell out County; that is the preferred style for any other location or jurisdictional division worldwide (although UK and USA are still considered acceptable).

Ellen, I thought we were working on our own locations menu? Am I incorrect; or are we still working on one (if you know)?
FamilySearch does accept County, when added to a location, without generating an error. But you have to save the location without "County" first and then add it.
+5 votes
Never even thought about that - so we should spell out each of the states. Sounds good, I'll start doing that (and fix the ones from before)

but what about Co. for County?  or the old abbreviations for states (Mass.=Massachussetts)?
by Roy Lamberton G2G6 Mach 4 (43.7k points)
It seems to me that "Co." is preferable to completely omitting any indication of "county" and "Mass." is a better abbreviation for Massachusetts than MA or Ma., but in both cases it's better to spell out the full name. "Co." can also mean "Company" (but usually in a different context) and abbreviations like "Mass" are not recognized worldwide. (Example of why this matters: I share some of my Massachusetts ancestral lines with cousins who emigrated to France; I would like our shared ancestors' profiles to be comprehensible by their descendants.)
Another example of wayward abbreviations, I found one relative who supposedly lived in Los Angeles, until I realized it was a problem of someone's misinterpretation of the abbreviation of LA for Louisiana.
+3 votes
Newbie do I clean up my own data?  Is there any automated way to detect errors and correct them, or do I need to read everything and find abbreviations myself?
by Cate Stadelman G2G Crew (410 points)
Select Watchlist from the drop-down list under "My WikiTree" on your profile. You'll see a list of all the profiles you manage. You should be able to see quickly which of your profiles have abbreviations, in the birth locations at least.

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