Virginia Place Names

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Contact: Liz Shifflett, Virginia Project


Virginia Places

The Virginia Project offers brief guidance for naming Virginia's Parishes, Counties, and Independent Cities in WikiTree on its project page (here). The most important point:

When entering a Virginia location in a profile's datafields, please include as appropriate "County" or "Parish" if you know that Parish or County is meant (many Virginia cities, counties, and parishes share a name but not a location).

Independent cities are those Virginia cities which are considered county-equivalents for census purposes.[1]

Check the categories Virginia and Virginia Colony (and their subcategories) for Virginia places within WikiTree. Several links are provided under "See Also" (below) for more information about Virginia places, including this Virginia Project page with a table of Virginia's counties (past and present) that has links to their category and space pages.

If you have questions, posting in G2G – tagged Virginia – will reach your widest audience. Posting a comment on WikiTree-41 will reach the Virginia Google Group, which is open to WikiTree members of any Virginia/Virginia-related project, including Virginia, Jamestown, US Southern Colonies and its subproject for Virginia Colony, and projects for states that were formed from Virginia, such as West Virginia.


Guide for creating categories for Virginia places:
  • Cities, whether Independent Cities or not, should show just the name of the city: Category: [xx], Virginia
    • categories for Independent Cities should nest under Category: Virginia and, if existing pre-USA, also under Category: Virginia Colony, as well as Category: Independent Cities, Virginia
    • categories for other locations[2]should nest under the county category
  • County categories include "County" in the name. All existing counties have a category, as do most defunct counties. Contact Liz Shifflett if you find a defunct county in need of a category.
  • Parish categories should not include the county name – just the parish name (if the parish was defunct before 1776, name the category with "Virginia Colony" instead of "Virginia"): Category: [xx] Parish, Virginia
    • use points & apostrophes when creating the category (for example, "St. Mary’s Parish" not "St Marys Parish”)
    • categories for Parishes are nested under Category:Virginia Parishes and the counties they served
    • existing, known parish categories are collected under Category:Virginia Parishes

Datafield Guidelines

Location categories include County and Parish in the category name with either Virginia or Virginia Colony. As stated earlier, a Virginia location in a profile's datafields should include as appropriate "County" or "Parish" if you know that Parish or County is meant (many Virginia cities, counties, and parishes share a name but not a location).
WikiTree's general name field guidelines say to "use their conventions instead of ours." This applies to locations as well. WikiTree's Style Guide – the formatting standards and style conventions that our community has evolved – includes a page on Location Fields, which acknowledges the difficulty:
"Place names, and even boundaries, change over time. They also have different names in different languages. We aim to use the name that was used by the people in that place, at the time of the event you're recording. This standard is often difficult or even impossible to apply, but it is an ideal that members from all over the world can agree upon."
The simple answer for the big "when" question (pre-USA/post-USA) is that the Data Doctors Project bases "USA too early" errors on July 4, 1776 and will suggest a change to Colony of Virginia.
Other "when" questions are more difficult, as the "Mother of States and Statesmen" has had lots of shifting boundaries and changing names. Many of Virginia's county categories have corresponding categories for the same county in other states (West Virginia and Kentucky, for example). And one county with two categories, one for Virginia and one for Virginia Colony needs to be pointed out:
Another difficulty in following WikiTree's guidelines for place names is that the suggested names given in the dropdown menu for place datafields are provided by the FamilySearch database and do not always conform to WikiTree guidelines. For example, FamilySearch calls pre-USA Virginia "Virginia, British Colonial America" and WikiTree does not. Virginia Project recommends Colony of Virginia. The project also suggests "USA" or spelled out, as "United States of America" (instead of "United States").

Virginia Dates

Note that in WikiTree, July 4, 1776 marks the birth of USA and is the date used by the Data Doctors Project to identify "USA too early" errors.

The following details are provided for reference:
  • Roanoke Colony (also known as the Lost Colony), 1585-circa 1590[3][4][5]
  • Virginia Company, 1606-1624[6][7] On 24 May 1624, James dissolved the company and made Virginia a royal colony.[8]
  • Jamestown, first settlement in Virginia, founded 1607[6][9]
  • Colony of Virginia[6][10][11]
  • Commonwealth of Virginia from June 29, 1776 to present[12]
  • Virginia, USA from July 4, 1776 to present[14]
  • Ratification of the Constitution, June 25, 1788[15]
  • Confederate States of America, April 17, 1861 - April 9, 1865[16]
  • First Military District[17][18] from March 2, 1867 to before January 16, 1870[18]
  • Readmitted to the Union January 16, 1870[18]

Virginia Borders

In researching Virginia county formation history for the Appalachia Project (see this Workspace page), I realized that the history of Virginia's border with North Carolina presents a special challenge that has not been addressed. The following offer some information:

Karl R. Phillips, "How Virginia Got Its Boundaries", 1999.
North Carolina Highway Historical Markers:
  • "First English Colonies", B-1.
  • "North Carolina - Virginia", M-14.
1779/80 survey of the "Western extension of Virginia boundary"[19] - that area later became part of Tennessee.

See Also

  • VAGenWeb's Parishes of Virginia by Freddie Spradlin.
  • A county and city map of present-day Virginia, plus a table of counties and cities past and present, dates of formation, parent counties, and the URL for each locality's Wikipedia article, prepared by project member Pat Hickin and attached to this page.
  • Rootsweb's interactive map of Virginia County Formations and major reference for the table (next bullet): Virginia County Formation Maps (posted in Rootsweb but in the portion of that site that is still down as of 17 February 2018) - available through's WayBack Machine (but not interactive): here.
  • Encyclopedia of Virginia's map that "shows the division of Virginia into counties for the purpose of governance, and the evolution of those districts from 1634 to 1640" here.
  • Virginia Counties and Parishes, which includes a comprehensive table for Virginia counties, past and present. The page's other tables, for independent cities, parishes, and other locations, are still being developed.
  • This page, maintained by the One Place Studies project, to "Adopt-a-County".
  1. In absence of the "go-to" list (which is a Rootsweb page that is still down), see the non-animated copy here and these Wikipedia pages:
  2. From a post about creating location categories for cemeteries:
    Check "the Geographic Names Information Service (GNIS) found at to make sure the locations given are valid and not just local usage as Find A Grave tends to use these." (Thanks for the answer Dan!)
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 Wikipedia: Roanoke Colony
  4. See also WikiTree's Roanoke Colony.
  5. North Carolina Highway Historical Markers (accessed 27 September 2023):
    • "First English Colonies", B-1.
    • "North Carolina - Virginia", M-14.
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 See "Virginia Colony Origin/History and Information on Counties” on the WikiTree project page for pre-USA Virginia
  7. Wikipedia: Virginia Company
  8. Wikipedia: Virginia Company, citing The First Seventeen Years: Virginia, 1607–1624, by Charles E. Hatch, Jr.
  9. See WikiTree's Jamestown Project and Jamestown category; see also Wikipedia's History of the Jamestown Settlement
  10. Wikipedia: Virginia colony
  11. "America" or "the Americas" continues to be debated; see this comment and ensuing discussion.
  12. 12.0 12.1 The Virginia Convention approved the first Constitution of Virginia on June 29, 1776, although Virginia had declared herself independent earlier. From the Wikipedia article Virginia Conventions:
    On May 15, the Convention declared that the government of Virginia as "formerly exercised" by King George in Parliament was "totally dissolved".16
  13. From the Wikipedia article Virginia Conventions:
    The convention . . . on June 12 adopted, George Mason's Declaration of Rights, a precursor to the United States Bill of Rights. On June 29, the convention approved the first Constitution of Virginia. The convention chose Patrick Henry as the first governor of the new Commonwealth of Virginia, and he was inaugurated on June 29, 1776. Thus, Virginia had a functioning republican constitution before July 4, 1776.19
    See also these Wikipedia articles
  14. See this G2G discussion.
  15. Wikipedia: Virginia
  16. Virginia seceded from the Union to join the Confederate States of America on April 17, 1861; the War ended April 9, 1865 with General Robert E. Lee's surrender at Appomattox Courthouse, Virginia, from Catechism on the History of the Confederate States of America: 1861-1865 (published by the United Daughters of the Confederacy October 1954, reprinted 2007).
  17. First Military District, Encyclopedia of Virginia
  18. 18.0 18.1 18.2 Civil War Project Resource Page
  19. North Carolina Formation Maps, posted in Rootsweb by George W. Durman (accessed 22 September 2023).

Comments: 8

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from a private discussion...
Per Helen Rountree, the name the Powhatan Confederacy used for their territory was TSENACOMOCO. That’s probably as close as you can get for pre-colonial Virginia. No one has any clue what words or names other Virginia tribes used. Most Indian languages just use words that mean something like "people" for themselves and "people's place" for where they lived. Outsiders basically weren't people and didn't live at a place.

For information on Helen Rountree, see this page. An excerpt: "Dr. Helen Rountree is widely acknowledged as the leading researcher and writer on Virginia Indians and one of the leading researchers on East Coast tribes."

posted by Liz (Noland) Shifflett
for Place Names of areas now USA & Canada, see this page (from this G2G post).
posted by Liz (Noland) Shifflett
Hi! I just finished adding all the categories for Independent Cities into the category Category:Independent Cities, Virginia. Since they are considered county-equivalents, I left them under Category:Virginia also.

Cheers, Liz

posted by Liz (Noland) Shifflett
Excellent connections here, thanks Liz!
posted by Sherrie Mitchell
Tim - you may have missed the third paragraph on the page:

Independent cities are those Virginia cities which are considered county-equivalents for census purposes.[1]

posted by Liz (Noland) Shifflett
Researchers in Virginia should be aware that there is this thing called "Independent Cities", which are separate municipalities from Counties. "Towns" are simply part of their host county. Some places have changed their designations over time. See this Wikipedia page for more information:
posted by Tim Boyer
Ran across an older G2G post quoting the Library of Virginia about the origins of "the Old Dominion" nickname (G2G comment, Library of Virginia FAQs)
posted by Liz (Noland) Shifflett
Note that the dates on this page are for reference. See this comment/this G2G post for WikiTree consensus for
Before 4 July 1776: Virginia (or Colony of Virginia)
On or after 4 July 1776: Virginia, United States of America
posted by Liz (Noland) Shifflett