This rule is based upon the principle that records are most likely to be found associated with the various jurisdictions in effect at the time of the event. For example, military records are most likely to be maintained by the country where the ancestor lived during the time such records were recorded. Records pertaining to marriages, deaths and births (christenings) were most like kept by the church with which the ancestor was affiliated. The examples could go on for each type of record.
From the time of the creation of the record, until the present time, the record could have migrated to another location. For example, a military record may have been created in an area of Europe that has changed hands several times since the date of the record's creation, thus causing the record to be moved as international boundaries changed. The same set of circumstances can happen on a much smaller scale in the United States as county boundaries change over time. Records created at the county level could have been moved as new counties were created from the old.
This rule concerning the accurate recording of the place of an event at the time the event occurred also presupposes that the place where the record has ultimately been found will also be recorded as a citation when the record is used to support a genealogical conclusion. The main point here is that the places, as they are named today, bear little or no relationship to the location of the records about the ancestor. For example, a record about a Native American ancestor may have been created on the Rosebud Indian Reservation in South Dakota and is most likely presently maintained by the National Archives. If you were to find the records, you would ultimately learn that they are being maintained in the National Archives branch in Kansas City, Missouri. The purpose of the citation to a record is to provide a way for subsequent researchers to find the same records to verify the basis for the researcher's conclusions.
What about place names that have changed over time? One common mistake is to locate the place of an event in a town, city, county, state or country that did not even exist at the time of the event. This is sometimes done because the researcher is not aware of the changes in the name of the place, but most frequently is done out of simple negligence arising from a lack of awareness of the historical context of the record. I was recently asked a question about how to record a place when an event occurred before the U.S. Revolutionary War. The answer is simple and is best posed as a question: how was the place designated at the time of the event? I would further ask another question: is the name any different than the one used today? Let's suppose that the place was Plymouth, Massachusetts. How would I identify the place for an event that occurred in that place? Here are some suggested dates and places:
- Plymouth Colony, New England or the Plymouth Council for New England prior to 1685; today the records might be in the U.S. or the U.K.
- Plymouth, Plymouth County, Dominion of New England between 1686 to 1689
- Plymouth, Massachusetts Bay Colony, Commonwealth of Massachusetts after 1691
- Plymouth, Massachusetts of Massachusetts Bay after 1692
- Plymouth, Plymouth, Massachusetts
- Plymouth, Plymouth, Massachusetts, United States after 1776 (or 1882) depending on how you want to consider the issue
You could also consider the following: from 1643 to 1686 the area was included in the Massachusetts Bay Colony and some sources include the area in the New England Confederation from 1643. Now this is what I have found so far. If you happen to have any corrections you are very welcome to make a comment and I will correct the list. It turns out to be far from simple to figure out which organization had jurisdiction at what time.
You may well ask why we need to go through all of those iterations? What we are doing is keeping track of the places where documents (records or sources) might be found. Each of those jurisdictions are likely to have records that are stored or maintained or, at least, cataloged differently than the next jurisdiction in time. As you can see from the list above, this can be a difficult task.
For previous posts in this series see: