Incomplete location names

+26 votes

There are probably three or four people on WikiTree who haven't yet figured out that my sense of humour is is so far off kilter that I don't even know what a kilter is. Whenever I see a profile with a location that is not carried out to the country name, I'm sorely tempted to complete the location incorrectly, partly just to be weird, partly as a not-so-subtle reminder to the person who created the profile that locations need to be completed right out to the country name, and partly just because I'm what Australians call a "stirrer". (If you've ever seen a great Australian flick about the Apollo XI moon landing called The Dish, the character of Mitch is pretty much me. Or would be, if I were an astrophysicist and knew how to play cricket.)

So far, I have resisted the temptation to change locations like "Paris" to "Paris, Texas, United States of America", or "London" to "London, Ontario, Canada", or "WA" to "Western Australia, Australia", although I have come across incomplete locations so frequently that I have been sorely tempted. (I could probably get a medal for resisting overwhelming temptation. At least as long as nobody brings up subjects like chocolate.)

So anyway, today, I was working through the Let others know what locations you are working on page, trying to make sure that there are at least five unconnected branches and two unconnected notables for each jurisdiction. For some places, like New York, there are so many unconnected branches listed that I've come to the conclusion that it must be hard to find sources for those places. For other places, especially places with small populations, unconnected branches are a little harder to find.

So anyway, I'm currently working on the state of Maine, and searching through Aleš's unconnected reports for branches with at least once person who was born in Maine. I thought I had a candidate branch when I found the profile for Oskar Goebel, who, according to his profile, was born in Frankfurt, Maine. The fact that he died in Berlin is a little confusing. But it's possible that he died in Berlin, Connecticut, or possibly Berlin, Massachusetts, or possibly Berlin, Ontario (since renamed to Kitchener), or possibly one of the three Berlins in Wisconsin. But since the rest of his family never seem to have left Germany, it seems more likely that he was actually born in Frankfurt am Main, Hesse, Germany.

Now, it's entirely possibly that the "Frankfurt, Maine" entry came about because somebody accidentally picked the wrong Frankfurt from the pop-up list, but I like to think that, somewhere out there, there's somebody else with a sense of humour every bit as subversive as mine.

WikiTree profile: Oskar Goebel
in The Tree House by Greg Slade G2G6 Pilot (444k points)

I'd have to respectfully disagree with you Joe and agree with Marcie.

ITEM #1: Within the autofill options in place (by our management) here at wikitree for Sacramento in California everyone is given 2 choices; either Sacramento, California, United States or Sacramento, Sacramento, California, United States. What folks like Marcie (and I) do is a 'personal choice' to go the extra step for clarity when we don't know a specific city and we go back and type in COUNTY for the first of those 2 choices (Sacramento COUNTY, California, United States). Thank you, Marcie, for giving the extra effort! If and when the wikitree leadership decides that something else is more appropriate, we'll see it in the choices they present.

ITEM #2: There are multiple variations one needs to be aware of. For example: 

--48 states use counties, Louisiana uses parishes, Alaska uses boroughs.

-- The District of Columbia and the independent cities of the states of Virginia, Maryland, Missouri, and Nevada are equivalent to counties for administrative purposes.

ITEM #3: Regardless of the variation, the standard pattern used in the overwhelming majority of situations and what I believe is generally understood by most people in this country is: Start with the most specific location, expand through to the most general (City, County/Parish/Borough, State, Country or sometimes Independent City, State, Country)  IF all the information is available to fill out those 4 or 3 data slots--no other information is necessary. We do NOT need to say Sacramento City, Sacramento County, California State, United States Country. It is only when a slot is not known that any additional input adds to clarity. I understand that this may be confusing to folks from other countries that use different methodologies......but the bottom line is that it is incumbent on each of us as researchers to either learn the standards & methods common in the area we're researching or to ask for help from someone who is familiar with it. I recently made a research detour to the Netherlands. I'm totally unfamiliar with that area. I asked here at G2G for help & review and received phenomenal support from the Dutch_Roots group (Thanks again, Y'all!). I did not presume that the Dutch location names/patterns should be modified so that I would better understand them.... 

I think well save "Township government is used in Indiana, Kansas, Michigan, Missouri, Minnesota, New Jersey, North Dakota, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Dakota and Wisconsin (in Wisconsin known as towns). The form is used in parts of Illinois and also in Nebraska, where they are sometimes referred to as precincts." for another discussion.

Nick, the place name suggestions in the dropdown menus are not official wikitree policy.  They were not created by wikitree, they are not modified by wikitree, nor are they corrected by wikitree.  While being extremely useful, they have also been described here on wikitree as being problematic at best as they do not always fit the styles and conventions of wikitree.  The place names are actually from the database and borrowed for use by wikitree.  The LDS Church invented the gedcom file which, as I explained above, is the origination of the convention in genealogy of leaving out the word county simply to converse computer memory space. So, our place name suggestions originate from the exact same source as the gedcom files and are actually part of the problem.

I have already said that while Sacramento, Sacramento, California is understandable, it is not correct.  If I refer to Los Angeles, California everyone would assume I am referring to the city of Los Angeles.  If I wish to refer to something in Los Angeles County, there is no form of writing or speech where I could say Los Angeles, California and Los Angeles County would be understood.  This originally came up because Julie asked "If I said "Sacramento, California, USA," would anyone be confused?"  The answer is yes, it is completely ambiguous.  We still haven’t decided if she is referring to the city or the county.  I am not arguing that you need to say “City of” and “State of” as that is not the convention anywhere and is never a cause of confusion.  Using the word County is the correct usage everywhere (except the LDS database) and prevents a great deal of confusion.

Joe, I understand your position but again respectfully disagree.

The reality (to me) is that BECAUSE those location names are in those drop downs--they ARE the de facto wikitree policy (regardless of what is written elsewhere or " if they fit the styles and conventions of wikitree") If wikitree wants something else--wikitree should provide something else. Until then, I will continue to use what has been provided. 

I'm just an uneducated country boy, but when I walk outside in the morning, look at the sky and my face gets wet---I don't need to call the weatherman to ask if it is raining. Likewise, when a name is in the 2nd slot of the 4 slot pattern (the one designated for counties), I don't need for you to tell me that is for the county. I'm not confused at all. It is 100% crystal clear what 1)Sacramento, 2)Sacramento, 3)California, 4)United States means.  

Again, if you know the city-the rest follows in the 'normal' pattern. If you don't know the city (or other specific location) you have a broken pattern;  1)BLANK 2)Sacramento County, 3)California, 4)United States. So adding the county 'should' clarify for all exactly what is being said.

Nick, what could be wrong with adding the word "County"?  It IS more exact.  The drop-down menu says right on it, I think, that it doesn't have to be used.  I never even look at it.
@ Nick .. just because it is clear to you does not mean it is clear to everyone else.  Not everyone is American.  Not everyone understands American placenames as given by FamilySearch.  Not even people who have lived in the USA for 20-plus years.
But as Nick said earlier, if I have an ancestor that came from a country that I am unfamiliar with, I will need to look it up.  If I ever find where my ancestor came from in Germany, not only am I going to have to figure out how they named their locations, I will also have to figure out which country controlled the area at the time my ancestor lived there.  New Mexico didn't have counties before the 1850s.  Most people, most Americans, wouldn't know that without doing the research.
Kilter != kilt.

Kilter means balance, so "off kilter" (or off-kilter) simply means not balanced, or out of harmony.

Julie & Melanie, I hope y'all know that I have nothing but mad respect & appreciation for both of you! Melanie, if I ever stumble on any Aussie's, you will be the 1st person I ask for help with location names etc...

I'm going to beat this poor horse one more time & then let her go back to the pasture.  Julie, I disagree with the last part of your "what could be wrong with adding the word "County"?  It IS more exact.''  statement. It is only more exact if 'illogical redundancy' is how exactness is defined.

Imagine you have a boilerplate document in front of you. It looks something like this:

1. City of/City: Sacramento ,

2. County of/County: Sacramento ,

3. State of/State: California ,

4. Country of/Country:United States

How does adding redundancy to 25% of that form make it any more exact or accurate? 

1. City of/City: Sacramento ,

2. County of/County: Sacramento County ,

3. State of/State: California ,

4. Country of/Country:United States

You're right, we're beating a dead horse, but sometimes redundancy is considered a good thing, and in any case, I was not talking about a form that says "city, county, state."  Often on Ancestry I find records that only list one location preceding the state, and it is not always clear whether it is a county or city.  When you look at the birth and death locations on a WikiTree profile, there is nothing that identifies which name is the county.  Those are the types of cases where I'd like to see the word "County" included (when applicable).

The problem Nick is we are not filling out a database form where we are writing the name of the county in a county box.  This is where the error comes from actually.  We have a single field where county is not specified by the field we are filling out, as it is in your example.

The problem is not so much when a place name is given in three parts.  But, for example, we are told John Archer died Allen, Indiana - did he die in Allen County, Indiana or in Allen, Noble County, Indiana?  John McAllister was born and died in Los Angeles, California - was that Los Angeles County, California or Los Angeles, Los Angeles County, California.  There are literally thousands of similar errors on wikitree caused by the habit of not writing out the word county.  Again, why not write the place name correctly and avoid any potential confusion?

8 Answers

+14 votes
Best answer
The profile was created by a relative of his with the birth location of Frankfurt/Main which is a common abbreviation for Frankfurt am Main in Germany. It was changed to Frankfurt, Maine, USA as part of a data error project. I hope it wasn't done deliberately. I don't think it is a good idea to change something that is incomplete to something that is incorrect. I must admit that when I first started adding relatives to Wikitree I didn't add countries because I naively didn't realise it was necessary.
by Samantha Thomson G2G6 Pilot (111k points)
selected by Candyce Fulford
Samantha, I'm sure it *was* done deliberately, although with good intentions.  There is no shortage of data doctors who blindly make changes that are suggested by the error list.  Several months ago, a profile that I manage for someone who died in Siberia got changed to Liberia, which was the specific correction provided on the error list.  We still have some members who go "click-click-click-more points for me" as quickly as they can, without looking at anything on the profile except the change they're making, which was handed to them on the error list.
Great answer, Samantha.  Having lived in the area of Frankfurt am Main, I have often wrestled with auto correct.  No, I'm not German, just a military spouse.

I salute you, Samantha, for taking the time to look up the facts.

By coincidence I have just ordered an Ancestry DNA kit and the kit has been shipped from Frankfurt am Main!
+2 votes

The only incomplete name allowed is Camillus. I just did a search and there is only one in the GNIS name server, which includes multiple countries. GNIS Server

Great to be from a unique place!

by Kay Knight G2G6 Pilot (420k points)
+8 votes
I agree totally. The lazy people of the world are conspiring to take over Wikitree. I certainly would not to be born in "Massachusetts Bay" for fear of drowning in a body of water.
by George Churchill G2G6 Mach 8 (86.8k points)
George that was what the area of and around Massachusetts was called first - before it was a colony and later a state - and it was not the United States of America back then at all yet
One could argue that point all day long. The settlements had place names. There was a Massachusetts Colony on dry land. For the most part maps refer to the New England Colonies or British North America. For those in the rest of the world who may not know where Massachusetts is, it would be nice to see America tagged on the place name. America was in use in the mid 1500s. If we were to follow Wikitree's actual policy, we would be required to use the indigenous name.
Perhaps Massachusetts Bay (Colony), North America would do it - idk, but I get frustrated by no country too - nice if there is at least a country - hate the ones with nothing at all
I think it would, but there appears to be a few Wikitree diehards that refuse to use anything but Massachusetts Bay. There is still a large contingent of Wikitreers who have not evolved to understand Wikitree is now an international organization and one should accommodate that reality. I would never list East Quinan as the birth place of my wife's grandmother. How many people in the world would know where that is.
Navarro, Massachusetts Bay is a body of water. It never was the name of a place on dry ground. There was a legal entity called "Massachusetts Bay Colony" during most of the 17th century. It was succeeded in 1693 by a legal entity called "Province of Massachusetts Bay," parts of which were included in other entities prior to 1693 (and parts of which are not in modern Massachusetts). If we are going to go to the trouble of determining which entity a particular "Massachusetts" place was in at the time of a particular event, we should go to the trouble of providing the full name of the entity, rather than suggesting that our ancestors lived in the water.

George, Exactly! laughlaugh

Missy smiley

I know several young people who were in fact born at the time of the bathtub birthing craze so in the water - and I do in fact have an ancestor who got the name Van der Zee because he was born on a ship heading out for North America - so it is possible BUT kidding aside I do see your point - my thought was that those in a hurry with many profiles to enter, or perhaps thinking the whole place name would be too long may have been the reason for the short cut - at least there was something in the place field - the ones with nothing at all are really frustrating to me, and I am pretty sure most of my accidental duplicates are due to not seeing the person as the same one due to no clue where they were
+7 votes
As a fellow Aussie, I too can be a bit of a stirrer, or larrikan :-D

Good to see the Aussie sense of humor strong on wikitree... I have been tempted myself to put Perth, Scotland, when Perth is only listed in location field instead of Perth, Western Australia, Australia. Although it seems long winded and a hassle to write out completely like that, it actually is necessary.

Germany is particularly difficult though.
by Kylie Haese G2G6 Mach 7 (75.4k points)

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There’s a Perth in Ontario too. Sigh.

You’ll be pleased to know that I recently went through all profiles that end in “Perth” and expanded them all, except for a handful I couldn’t resolve. And the green-locked privacy ones. New ones keep creeping in via imports though.

I also expanded all examples of Perth, WA so that country level queries can actually pick these profiles up. It was boring work.

I did the same for anything ending in SA – is it South Australia or South Africa? Doesn’t help there’s an Adelaide in both of them, amongst other duplicate place names.

+5 votes

Love the post, Greg. And can I just add that as a connector, I use WikiTree 'Find' and 'Search' all the time, with the birth location filled in. With rarer LNAB's I enter just the state or county, but when trying to connect the more common surnames I have to use town or village. So making sure they are completed in full and have the correct spelling is important as well.

by Carol Keeling G2G6 Mach 5 (59.9k points)
Everytime I enter a spouse with a rare surname I do this too, as every now and then I get to connect them to their parents.

Consistently and fully spelled out states and countries really helps with this.

I do that as well Mark. Every profile that I create with a rare surname gets checked.

Did you know that Aleš has created a WikiTree+ report for spell checking place names? I recently corrected all the spellings of Sussex (my English county), including changing all the occurrences of SSX, which is the recognised abbreviation. Having done this, there was quite a rise in unsourced, unconnected and suggestions the following week, but they are slowly being looked at. At least now I know that if I search for a surname in 'Sussex', then I'll find them all.

Here's the report link, I chose Massachusetts as an example, just to show how many different spellings a difficult place name could generate. As well as the correct spelling, there are 19 variations.

Report for Massachusetts


And recently I ran across some misspellings of Massachusetts that don't appear on that list! surprise

Hi Carol, I use the spelling tool a fair bit. Woolloongabba, Murwillumbah and Toowoomba are just a few Australian examples I've worked on.
+3 votes

"I don't even know what a kilter is" Uh... I'm a kilter! Macneil Ancient and Robertson Red. cheeky

by Pip Sheppard G2G Astronaut (2.2m points)
+5 votes
Thanks for putting a humorous spin on your complaint. When I am working through my Washington,  United States lists,  I find myself getting tweaked with the “WA” listings that should be Western Australia, Australia. I hadn’t realized that Aussies were suffering from the Washingtonians who carelessly leave off the country.  Thanks for giving me new perspective.
by Katie Sell G2G6 Mach 1 (16.6k points)
+3 votes

This is a subject that I have been thinking a lot about too! angelThank you for sharing your thoughts about this here! wink I do add the missing county and/or United States (where applicable). I believe I am improving the profile plus making it easier for people in the future who try to research the person. I do, of course, research each one to make sure they are correct. wink

Missy smiley

by Missy Berryann G2G6 Pilot (121k points)
Beware of stirring the politics of certain countries by being too correct about place names. Glasgow, Scotland, United Kingdom is likely to raise a few hackles and in some quarters, Glasgow, United Kingdom is an invitation to physical violence! For this reason (and the possibility that it might not be around for much longer) I always omit United Kingdom from any of the four countries. The English, Welsh, Scots and Northern Irish don't see any reason to compete as a single entity in football so why should we foist an additional, rather cumbersome place name on top of the perfectly adequate ones we already have.
Derek, good point. Personally, I am not a fan of using United Kingdom. I leave it on the profile if it is there already and it is during the correct time period. I will not add United Kingdom to a profile even if it is in the correct time period.
... and I haven't even started on the problems of Derry/Londonderry where whichever you choose, you will upset 50% of the people who live there simply by use of one or the other!

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