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Sunday, April 19, 2009

Place Names -- U.S. vs. United States

Regularizing place names has become an issue with the introduction of huge international databases like New FamilySearch (NFS). One of the obvious issues is whether to use the designation "USA" or "United States" or nothing. NFS has a "Standardized Place Names" function built into the program. Anytime a place name is edited or added the program suggests a standardized place name. This list of standardized places is also available separately and outside the program in the FamilySearch Labs Website. The program is called Standard Finder and it is a simple look up program with some very useful added features, that gives the standardized place name for any location typed into the find box.

If Standard Finder is able to locate the place, there is a Resources tab that will look for the place in Google Earth, Google Maps and ArcReader. The maps have clickable links to the holding of the Family History Library Catalog.

Other programs use different standards. RootsMagic has one of the most elaborate geographic database programs. The program not only links to standard place names but also geo locates any place name in the database by latitude and longitude. Ancestral Quest allows some editing of place names, but is not nearly as versatile. Legacy Family Tree is somewhere in between.

None of these standardized programs deals with the idea that an event should be placed at the location that existed as of the time the event occurred. This rule preserves the historical names rather than the modern name. One reason for preserving historical names is to reflect the possible jurisdictional location of the original records. If you arbitrarily select the "standard" name, the original location and its historical context will be lost.

This is a subject that needs more development and discussion.

1 comment:

  1. Legacy actually does deal with the historical location. When entering the year 1880 and the place "Preston, Franklin, Idaho, USA", Legacy displays a warning saying "Franklin County did not exist in the year 1880. It was not created until 1914." You then click on the Show County List button and Legacy shows you what its parent and progeny counties were. Legacy also has a geo-location database which will geocode all places.