How to Enter Place Names

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Recording Names of Places
There are many opinions on how to record names of places in Family History. There is no definitive standard.  Many genealogists have made suggestions and recommendations.  This paper will discuss entering place names and show various ways it can be done.  I will provide the way I record information.  You may agree or not and use my method or not.  However, it is an important topic and deserves careful thought and planning in your own genealogy records.
A.  United States
Most genealogy programs,(almost all were written in Utah)  The two most popular databases FamilySearch, and are in Utah. is also a major database, and is is located in Israel.  The GEDCOM Standards Committee was a project of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.  Since the standards for entering information were developed in the United States, the fields that define place matched U.S. places.  It was decided that the fields would be CITY, COUNTY, STATE, AND COUNTRY.  Actually a field was left out – Township.  A home  can be in a township and not be in a community.  A small community is often in a township.  A city sometimes exists on its own, not part of a township.  Later on in this article, I will explain how to enter townships.
This selection of fields works fine for the United States and Canada.  Canada has provinces, not states, although it does have counties. England has counties, but not states.  France breaks down into Region, Department, Arrondissements, Canton (or Commune), Country. Countries decide their own administrative hierarchy.  The United States model, even though the it is the model for all genealogy programs, doesn’t work everywhere.  So how do we we handle names of places throughout the world?
An explanation of how fields work in computer programs should help.  To separate a string of fields (example City-County-State-Country), we use “Placeholders”, a character that separates a field.  A placeholder could be a space.  We could say LONDON MADISON OHIO USA if we had indicated space as the placeholder in our computer program, but space doesn’t work for a placeholder.  Why United States would be two different places.  United and States. The same thing would occur with Nova Scotia, etc.  So the programmers looked at possible placeholders.  How about London#Madison#Ohio#USA or maybe London*Madison*Ohio*USA.  After discussion it was decided that the most logical placeholder would be a comma (,).  Therefore the program recognizes that London, Madison, Ohio, USA contains four fields, in this case London is the City, Madison is the County, Ohio is the State, and USA or United States is the country.  The space in United States does not affect the fact that the fourth field is country.  
In entering information in your genealogy database, the comma is crucial.  The computer can’t think.  It only does what it is programmed to do.  If all I know about an individual is that he was born in the USA and that is all I enter on the place of birth line in my program, the computer can’t tell is USA is a city, a county, a state, or country.  If I ask for a list of people born in the USA (4th field), the individual I entered will not appear on the list.  I should have entered the place of birth as “, , , USA”
If I don’t have the information for a field, I enter that fields comma anyway.  Examples: 
Salt Lake City, , Utah, USA
, , New York, USA
, Franklin, Ohio, USA
, Bedfordshire, , England  -or – , Bedfordshire, England, British Isles,  -or , Befordshire, England, United Kingdom.  
Please note that there are always three commas.  By adhering to this standard we can enter any place in the world and be consistent.  How? we need special characters, the hyphen (-).  or parenthesis ( ).  I said earlier, I would  come back to township.  I used to live in Galloway, Prairie Township, Franklin County, Ohio, USA. Wait, now there are four commas, and the program only recognized three for place.  The program will now think Franklin County is a state and Ohio is the country!
How do I correctly enter this location:  Galloway-Franklin Twp, Franklin, Ohio, USA or Galloway (Prairie Twp), Franklin, Ohio, USA. Problem solved.
Normally we do not abbreviate names of places.  “USA, Twp, and Cem” are exceptions.(United States of America, Township and Cemetery).  We never abbreviate the State.  Even though United States of America, United State, or USA are all correct, Choose the one you want to use and be consistent. 
We have another accepted abbreviation  list for street addresses – 
Avenue (Ave.)
Boulevard (Blvd.)
Building (Bldg.)
Court (Crt.)
Crescent (Cres.)
Drive (Dr.)
Place (Pl.)
Road (Rd.)
Square (Sq.)
Station (Stn.)
Street (St.)
Terrace (Terr.)
What if you live in the Village of Islamorada, on Lower Matecumbe Key, in the County of Monroe, Florida?  The Florida keys begin at the southeastern tip of the Florida peninsula about 15 miles south of Miami, and extend in a gentle arc south-southwest and then westward to Key West, the westernmost of the inhabited islands, and on to the uninhabited Dry Tortugas. About 30 keys of the 800 charted are inhabited.  All are in Monroe County.
Wrong: Islamorada, Lower Matecumbe Key, Monroe, Florida, United States (oops, five positions!)
Correct: Matecumbe Key (Islamorada Village), Monroe, Florida, United States.  Why not Islamorada (Matecumbe Key)?  Many of the keys don’t have any towns on them.  Always show the key first. 
The British Isles present a problem.  England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland are the United Kingdom (but not before the act of Union).  The Republic of Ireland is not in the United Kingdom – it is Independent.  Is there any place name that works with all?  Yes, British Isles.  Since Britain doesn’t have states, I put the country name in the State Field, and the put British Isles in the Country Field,  Thus Oxford, Oxfordshire, England, British Isles.  (Still three commas) or Llandeilo Graban, Powys, Wales, British Isles.
Be careful with British place names.  They have changed through the centuries.  
Depending on the period, Llandeilo Graban was in Radnorshire, Sir Faesfed, or Powys. Note that the Welsh call Powys, Sir Faesfed.  If you get a GEDCOM from Wales, you may get different data items for the same place.
The Isle of Man in the British Isles has parishes instead of counties.  Gordon is a town in Braddan Parish.  Thus:  Gordon, Bradden, Isle of Man, British Isles.  
Channel Isles.  These islands off the coast of Normandy are ruled by England, but are not part of the United Kingdom.  These islands are Jersey, Guernsey, Alderney, Sark, Herm, Brechou, and Jethou,  All but Jersey Island are dependencies of Guernsey. Here are examples of how to enter these: Jersey is only 14 miles from France located in the Bay of St. Malo.  
Saint Helier, Saint Helier, Bailiwick of Jersey, Channel Islands (Saint Helier is both a town and a parish, actually, the capital.) Jersey has 12 parishes.  
La Seigneurie, Sark, Bailiwick of Guernsey, Channel Islands 
Note – Entering Bailiwick of is optional.  You can just enter Jersey or Guernsey.  Bailiwick means sphere of influence.
When dealing with medieval and dates even earlier, we find kingdoms and Celtic principalities that are earlier than the formation of nations.  There were many Celtic principalities such as Caer Colun, Dumnonia, Elmet, Rheged,etc.
, , Britain (Kingdom of Northumbria), British Isles
, , Britain (Kingdom of Mercia), British Isles
, , Britain (Kingdom of Wessex), British Isles  or..
            , , England (Kingdom of Wessex), British Isles.  Wessex was a Saxon region within England
, , Britain (Kingdom of the Votadini) British Isles       
, , Britain (Kingdom of Gododdin), British Isles
, , Britain (Kingdom of Alba) British Isles
, Britain, Caer Colun, British Isles
Wales was divided anciently into four tribal regions:  Ordovices, Deceangli, Demetae, and Silures.  These existed until the Romans conquered Wales.
Leaving these ancient places as recorded or updating them to current locations is at the discretion of the genealogist.  Since I am also an historian, I prefer recording places exactly as they were documented and sometimes adding only what is necessary to maintain my 3 commas.  Other genealogists update to present day localities.  Northumbria becomes England, Albion becomes Scotland, Wessex becomes England, etc. Updating to the modern location can be a problem if a city is not provided. Many of these ancient kingdoms and principalities crossed present-day boundaries. The Votadini occupied a territory encompassing present day south-east Scotland and north-east England.  Even earlier, the Votadini were part of the Roman province of Britannia, All current Welsh counties were part of Tribal Regions, and today’s counties may have been in more than one region.
France can be difficult. 
Sometimes it is very difficult to determine the correct way to enter, since France has changed so much over the centuries.  Some regions were once autonomous countries or regions such as Flanders, Aquitaine, or Bretagne).  Alsace has changed ownership between Germany and France.  Go far enough back in time and France was Gaul.  Sometimes the genealogist must read histories of individuals to understand the correct way to enter the place. 
Paris can be a real headache.  Today there are 20 administrative units or départements called arrondissements, including surrounding départements of Hauts-de-Seine, Seine-Saint-Denis, and Val-de-Marne, as well as substantial portions of Yvelines, Val-d’Oise, Seine-et-Marne and Essonne.  Before the 18th Century, the city was smaller and consisted of an area called Seine. At that time, the entire city was on the banks of the Seine River.  Paris is part of the Île-de-France region.  Most of my genealogical entries from Paris read Paris, Seine, Île-de-France, France.  My French connections are all medieval.
Just remember, not matter how you enter the place names, in order to produce reports that make sense, you are limited to the three commas.  You must figure out the best way to enter the information.
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