What is acceptable for location names that change over time?

+4 votes
I'm currently trying to standardize location names on a My Heritage tree before importing the Gedcom to WikiTree. I understand the need to spell out places completely, but have people who are in Colonial America prior to there being a United States.  Is there a naming convention used for pre United States?  Also in the same line, is England acceptable as is, or would England, United Kingdom be more appropriate, as I can anticipate there is a time pre United Kingdom?  Very new to WikiTree, but wanting to get off on the right foot.  Thanks in advance for any guidance.
in Genealogy Help by Herb Owen G2G Rookie (250 points)
retagged by Ellen Smith
Hi Herb and welcome!

The policy is to use the name of the place as it was called at the time.  In colonial North America, it's the colony name.  The UK was the Kingdom of Great Britain prior to uniting with Northern Ireland.  And so on.  Continental European places are especially confusing.  You might have to resort to google/Wikipedia sometimes to figure out the correct historical place name.


Thanks for the input.  So, if I'm understanding correctly, for example, in 1686, a reference reading "Williamsburg, Virginia" would be sufficient, while in 1945, the reference would read "Williamsburg, Virginia, United States".

As Herbert said, the names of locations are as they were at the time the record was created. This also applies to people's names. The LNAB (Last Name At Birth) is how it was spelled at the time of birth and not generations later. I argue with family over that a lot (spelling correction occurred during the 1950s).

And to muddy the waters further, I have family that settled in Wautaga, Virginia in the 1600s.  Reading some history of the city, it was later surveyed, and found to be part of North Carolina, and is now in Tennessee following that state's formation.
You've got it.  Proceed cautiously, because there will always be someone to nitpick you!  For example, Williamsburg was not called that in 1686, and adding 'Colony' might be helpful to non-American members.  So, in 1686:  Middle Plantation, Virginia Colony.  Also, WT wants county names as well, but I think Williamsburg isn't in one.  So, in 1945:  Williamsburg, Independent City, Virginia, USA.  And people will quibble about 'USA' versus 'United States' versus 'United States of America.'  But just 'US' is not acceptable, I believe.

Moral of the story:  Spell out the state, do the best you can with the historical name, don't let the perfect be the enemy of the good.
I've found the FamilySearch place research tool very valuable for places whose names have changed over time. (Or for equivalent place names in various languages.) This is the same place authority used to suggest place names when you edit them.

It's not perfect (they have a small team working on literally millions of locations from thousands of sources), but it very often has the information I need.

Herbert, that last phrase, “don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good,” needs to be some kind of mantra!

Thank you, Pip!  Wish I could take credit for it.  smiley

Not sure where the phrase originated but it is a common mantra in high tech where engineers want to keep working to make things perfect. If allowed, no product would ever get released. I've heard that phrase over and over for more than 30 years. Its a good one.
True, but I pay attention to things when they come from you!

Tardy, Herbert, “Tardy’s Witticisms and Sayings for All Occasions” (New York: Penguin, 1882) Vol X, p. 1343.

If only everyone did!

You are too kind, Pip.  Also too funny.  'Penguin.'  LOL  laugh

In honor of your last origami on Weekend Chat.
Note: Now that we use the GEDCOMpare process to handle the importation of Gedcom data, it's not so important to correct your Gedcom data before you upload it. With the GEDCOMpare process, we import people's data from the Gedcom one profile at a time, and it's possible to edit the data on the fly during the import process.

2 Answers

+4 votes
Several members recently did quite a bit of work on trying to develop a credible guideline for colonial place names, so I'm a little surprised that nobody has yet suggested looking at this page and following the links to what you're looking for:

by Dennis Barton G2G6 Pilot (576k points)
+2 votes

When it comes to the UK, Herb, here is a rule of thumb:

If it was after 1801, add UK or United Kingdom

If it was before 1801, just put the name of the country (i.e. England etc).  Saves you getting in a tangle with whether it was Great Britain or something entirely different. smiley

by Ros Haywood G2G Astronaut (2.1m points)

Related questions

+8 votes
4 answers
+6 votes
3 answers
223 views asked May 10, 2019 in Genealogy Help by Peter Geary G2G6 Mach 5 (54.3k points)
+11 votes
1 answer
+16 votes
5 answers
+10 votes
3 answers
+10 votes
5 answers
+9 votes
1 answer
392 views asked Nov 28, 2015 in Policy and Style by Kitty Smith G2G6 Pilot (661k points)

WikiTree  ~  About  ~  Help Help  ~  Search Person Search  ~  Surname:

disclaimer - terms - copyright