Location - Current or Historic?

Author:  Robert W. Penry @ 2023

One of my students tells me that his 3rd Great Uncle was born in Kingwood, West Virginia.  I then ask him “When was he born?”  He replies “What difference does that make?  I then let him know that Kingwood, West Virginia was once in Virginia.  I then let him know that it was not always in the United States.  I said “At different times, it was a British Colony in British Colonial America.  During the Civil War, it was in the Confederate States of America.”

  Does it make a difference?  Please continue reading this article.


When entering place names in a genealogy database, the user soon encounters a dilemma – does one enter a location geographically or historically.  The current location name of a place may not be what it has always been called.
For Instance, Before Utah was a state, it was a territory, Before West Virginia became a state, it was part of Virginia.  Before 1776, there was no United States.  It was a collection of colonies.
The following is a hypothetical situation to illustrate this difference:
Assume the surname is Wilson and we have several generations to enter.
All were born in what is now Kingwood, West Virginia between the years 1600 and today. Geographically speaking, Kingwood is in the United States, and many genealogists enter current location as the proper place:
Even though geographically correct, Kingwood, Preston, West Virginia, United States is not historically accurate.
  1. Abe Wilson was born in England in 1600, but he married a Delaware Indian named “Snowflower”, who was born in what is now Kingwood in 1605
Using Historical Coding instead of Geographic Coding
  1. Snowflower Born 1605 – Place: Delaware Indian Village on the Cheat River, Pre-Colonial America (now Kingwood, Preston, West Virginia, USA)
Note:  There were no Europeans living in the area before the colonization of Virginia in 1607
Their son
  1. Samuel Wilson born 1630 – Place: Kingwood, Preston, Virginia Colony), British Colonial America (now West Virginia, USA)
Note:  Virginia was a British Colony from 1607 until 4 July 1776.
  1. Samuel’s son George Wilson born 1 Aug 1776 – Place: Kingwood, Preston, Virginia, Sovereign Confederation of United States. (now West Virginia, USA)
Note: 4 Jul 1776 created the United States, but until each state signed the Articles of Confederation, that state was in the Sovereign Confederation of United States, and had yet achieved congressional statehood. Virginia signed on 25 Jul 1788. The first state to sign was Delaware on 7 Dec 1787, the USA’s first state.
  1. George’s son – David Wilson born 10 Sep 1861 – Place: Kingwood, Preston, Virginia, Confederate States of America (now West Virginia, USA)
Note:  Virginia entered the Confederacy on 8 Jun 1861, and since West Virginia was part of Virginia until Statehood on 20 Jun 1863, the period 8 Jun 1861 to 20 Jun 1863 had what is now West Virginia in the Confederacy also.  This was the only state that entered the union during the civil war that was part of the Confederate States of America.
  1. All Wilson descendants born in Kingwood after 27 Jul 1863 born in United States – Place: Kingwood, Preston, Virginia, USA (or United States).
Quite a difference when using historically accurate information!  The choice is yours.  There is no right or wrong with this decision.
Since I am a history teacher by profession, I often use the historical location.  But this requires more research to be accurate.  Even the day of the month can make a difference!
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