Guide: Place Naming Conventions

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The standardisation of geographical place names - both in the field of genealogy and geography - is a debated topic. Differing people have varied ideas about how best to manage and format place names.

Indeed, the GEDCOMs that we import into Ancestorian in an attempt to automatically identify the places you research or are knowledgeable of are full of inconsistencies in place name structure. Even my personal GEDCOMs suffer terribly from this.

To counter the huge problems this causes, we have had to adopt some place naming conventions here on the site - so we can offer a consistent experience.

When you import a GEDCOM, we try to identify as many potential inconsistencies as possible and we notify of you of these. This gives you a good opportunity to print out a list and make amendments in your software if you would like. Ancestorian, however, will continue to import your place data as it is.

Adopted Conventions on Ancestorian

  • Three or Four comma-separated names
    • Village/Parish/Town, County/Region, Country
      Boxford, Suffolk, England
    • Village/Parish/Town, County/Region, State/Region, Country
      Salt Lake City, Salt Lake, Utah, United States

  • A space after each comma
    The comma separating the parts of a place name should be followed by a space.
    Ancestorian takes care of this for you and also makes a note beside each place where this doesn't occur - giving you the opportunity to identify edits you might like to make in your software.

  • Don't Include Building Names or Addresses
    Church names, building names, hospital names, houses or street addresses etc. are addresses and should preferably be in the address field or notes field for an event - not included in the structure.
    We attempt to identify these when analysing your GEDCOM and they are adjusted to represent knowledge of a town/place rather than a specific address. Instances of these still go into our huge places database and can be allocated to another place (as an address) or merged as required.

  • Don't Use ALL-CAPS
    The only time ALL-CAPS should be used is in abbreviations. But even then, we prefer for country names to be used (England, Scotland, Wales - not UK).

  • United States
    Some users prefer to shorten United States to USA - because identical places will be merged, we have to give preference to one format on Ancestorian and this has currently been chose as 'United States'.

  • English Counties
    Nightmare alert: England loves to change county names and boundaries. For the benefit of as many users as possible, we have had to make a decision to select the current/modern name of these as the 'master' or 'preferred' name when merging.
    Special consideration should also be made for the following counties:
    • Bristol - Bristol is a county. Therefore, when we merge to Bristol, the correct place to merge to is 'Bristol, Bristol, England' (we know, it seems silly)
    • Greater London  - Officially, we need to use Greater London and not just London
    • City of London - An island in the middle of Greater London, the City of London is a separate ceremonial county. The only place in the City of London is potentially 'London, City of London, England' (we almost hope we never see that and would forgive anyone using 'London, Greater London, England')
    • Greater Manchester - Not just Manchester, but Greater Manchester
    • Yorkshire - Yorkshire doesn't exist any more. Instead, we have North Yorkshire, South Yorkshire, West Yorkshire and East Riding of Yorkshire
    • Sussex - Now split into West Sussex and East Sussex
    • Co. Durham - County Durham or Co. Durham is just 'Durham'

United Kingdom = 4 Countries (England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland)

Although these four countries are currently correctly referred to as the United Kingdom, for the purposes of clarity and simplicity, at Ancestorian we refer to them by their separate country names.

For merge purposes, please select variations with England, Wales, Scotland or Northern Ireland as the preferred name.

Guide: How to Find People Researching the Same Name as You

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This is a really short guide because, well... frankly, this is what Ancestorian makes so easy! Read on.

1.) Visit the Search Surnames page

In the main (black background) menu bar, select:
Surnames → Search Surnames

2.) Search for a Surname

In this example, we have searched for ‘sco’

You will see a result list of surnames featuring the searched term or related terms.

You can order the list by clicking on a header. Here, we have clicked on ‘Researchers’ so we can see which surnames have the most activity.

To view the surname you want, click on either the name link or the corresponding view button. If you want to add the surname as one of your research interests (recommended if you want to find people researching it), then click the corresponding green '+ Your Surnames' button.

3.) Visit a Surname Page - Add Surname as Research Interest

Here, we are seeing the page for Scotney

At the top of the page, if it isn't already one of your researched surnames, is a button to enable you to add it to 'Your Surnames'.
In this guide, 'evitester' had already added Scotney as one of his research interests but the name is not shown publicly in his account profile.


4.) Surname is 'Your Surname' and Public

Clicking the Public/Private toggle makes the surname research interest public.

Now, other users on Ancestorian can discover their shared interest in the Scotney name and reach out to 'evitester' via the message system or in a group.

5.) Find Researchers and Help for the Surname

A little further down the page (maybe an advert come first, these are the only way that Ancestorian makes a few cents that we need to pay the huge hosting bills) you will find the Researchers/Experts/Historians section.

The members listed here are people like you who have added Scotney as a research interest and made it public. The guide was made using member 'evitester'.

You can click on a member's name to get to their profile and reach out to them. Maybe they can help with your Scotney research. 


Guide: How to Add a Missing Surname to Ancestorian

This guide is permanently available at:

1.) Visit the Search Surnames page

In the main (black background) menu bar, select:
Surnames → Search Surnames

2.) Search for a Surname

In this example, we have searched for ‘Fakery’

Fakery is not found in Ancestorian so we need to add it.

3.) Use the 'Add Surname to Ancestorian' Button

At the bottom part of the screen, use the huge green button to add your missing surname to Ancestorian.

A dialog box appears and and asks if this is the full surname. It is, so we can click 'Yes, Add it to Ancestorian' and the magic happens.


4.) Your Missing Surname was Added

Voila, your missing surname has been added to Ancestorian. You have been registered to it as a researcher of that surname and can now also be found by other users who research the same surname.

What's more, other users of Ancestorian can now also register themselves as researchers of the newly created surname.

You can see that the surname has been added and a surname page has been created in the small table beneath the green button you used to add it. Also, you can see and change the public/private status.

If you want to view the newly created surname page, you can click the surname link.

6.) Go and View the new Surname page

There are very powerful features available from surname pages on Ancestorian.

Read about them in our 'What You Can Do on a Surname Page' guide.

Guide: Manage Surnames You Research

This guide is permanently available at:

1.) Visit the Manage Surnames You Research page

In the main (black background) menu bar, select:
Your Ancestorian → Manage Surnames you Research

Like on nearly all listing pages on Ancestorian, you can use the 'Filter results' box or click on column headers to sort the table to suit your needs.

The table shows the Surname (linked to surname page), how many times it is mentioned in your research (if it came from a GEDCOM import), details of GEDCOMs  it appeared in, a toggle to make public/private and a button to remove it from your researched surnames list.

2.) Make a Researched Surname public

If you click on the currently grey toggle next to a surname, you can make the surname public or private.

When a surname is private (grey) only you know that you are researching the surname or have expertise and knowledge of that name.

If you want to allow others to find and contact you based on this surname, click the toggle and it will go blue and therefore, public.

3.) Make all visible surnames public or private

If you want to make all of the surnames that are showing in the current list view public, you can use the toggle above the table to do this. You may have to click twice, first to make all private then again to make all public.

This is especially helpful if you have used the list filtering and sorting options.

Here, we have made all private.

4.) Remove a surname from your research interests

If you no longer want to be connected to a surname, just click the red 'remove' button next to the surname.

This removes the surname from  your research interests but, naturally, leaves the surname in Ancestorian so that others using it or researching the name can continue to do so.

Notice that in comparison to the previous image, the McKenzie surname has been removed.

No surname or place on Ancestorian is unique to you. All places and surnames are shared with the whole site... you are merely able to link yourself to them as a researcher. Don't ever be concerned that removing a place or surname somehow deletes it from Ancestorian altogether. 


Guide: How to Add a Surname to Your Research Interests

This guide is permanently available at:

1.) Visit the Search Surnames page

In the main (black background) menu bar, select:
Surnames → Search Surnames

2.) Search for a Surname

In this example, we have searched for ‘sco’

You will see a result list of surnames featuring the searched term or related terms.

You can order the list by clicking on a header. Here, we have clicked on ‘Researchers’ so we can see which surnames have the most activity.

3.) Use the '+ Your Surnames' Button

Locate the surname you want to add as a research interest and click the green ‘+ Your Surnames’ button.

The page reloads and you see that this has changed to a black button with a check and ‘Your Surname’ written on it.

You can confirm the surname has been added to your research interests by clicking on the link to the surname page (place name) or clicking the ‘View’ button.

4.) Confirm Added by Viewing Surname page

Here, you can see that Scotney has been added to your surnames and it is ‘Public’ which means other users can find you.

5.) Or Confirm on Manage Surnames page

Alternatively, you can visit:
Your Ancestorian → Manage Surnames You Research 

Here, after adding a filter in the ‘Filter results’ box for ‘scot’, we see that the newly linked surname is public and that one further Scot name is  ‘Your Surname’ but not publicly visible – therefore, you will not be found for this.

TIP: Find out what else you can do on the Manage Surnames You Research page in our guide.

6.) Add a Missing Surname to Ancestorian

If you don’t find the surname you are wanting to add as a research interest among the many thousands of names on Ancestorian, you can add it.

Read the ‘How to Add a Missing Surname to Ancestorian’ guide.