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.


Leave a Comment

2 comments on “Guide: Place Naming Conventions

  1. First time on the site. I read your definition of place names and agree with the basic philosophy except for one point. I believe that the major online site for data is possibly Ancestry or at least very heavily used and their preference for United States is the Abbreviation “USA”. Personally I find this a very desirable abbreviation as it shortens the place name considerably which is a VERY desirable characteristic. Just my two cents. I did not see a definition about place names with only the county or parish defined.

    • Hi,

      We thought a lot about using abbreviations but in the end had to decide and so leaned to full names because if we use USA then others would use abbreviations for states and locations worldwide that are not commonly known.

      Regarding USA or Vermont, for example, as places… These are not used as Ancestorian needs to define to a local level like a village or suburb of a city.

      There is nothing stopping users from creating groups for countries or states etc, though.

      Happy to see you here and wish you well with your research.

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