Thursday, July 29, 2010

Why is the FamilySearch Labs Standard Finder Important?

I wrote FamilySearch Standard Finder - Post 1, and Post 2 because I thought that understanding standardized place names was important. As many genealogy software users know, the latest versions of many programs use standardized place names to drive their mapping features, and offer the opportunity to "resolve" the place names into a standard format.

In my blog reading the other day, I ran across Geoff Rasmussen's post Update on Legacy 7.5 progress - FamilySearch Sync Certification in Process that had a link to more of his Legacy News posts about the Legacy Family Tree successful effort to be a FamilySearch Certified Affiliate, which means that users of Legacy Family Tree can interface with New FamilySearch through the program. On the page Legacy Family Tree - FamilySearch Made Easy there are links to several other Legacy News posts, including:

1) How to Standardize your Place Names

This post notes that:

"FamilySearch's new Standard Finder, which Legacy 7.5 will utilize, helps you achieve standardization in the way you spell your locations. Its goal is to help achieve consistency in how everyone records their locations. It is not a perfect system yet. For example, we know that correct data entry standards suggest to record the place as it existed at the time of the event. Standard Finder does not yet do a great job with correctly interpreting historical locations. But it has a great start."

It also provides tips on how to "clean up" your place names in your genealogy database by combining duplicates and then expanding or contracting the parts of your place names to provide a complete and standard place name definition (e.g., replacing two letter state abbreviations with the full state name, or country abbreviations with the full country name).

Why should users do this? This post notes that:

"When working with the FamilySearch interface tools, you will no longer have to spend time "resolving" your place names to match the Standard Finder's version. Cleaning up your locations is just the first suggestion in your preparation."

Evidently, if you are going to have your data in the New FamilySearch database, then you are going to have to have standardized location names in your database or resolve all of them when you try to add your data to New FamilySearch.

2) Standardization of Locations - a follow-up

In this post, Geoff uses one of his ancestors as an example, and found over 30 different place name variations for "Taunton, Bristol, Massachusetts, United States" in New FamilySearch. He notes that:

"If, decades ago, when we started doing data entry of our locations, we had a standardization tool that everyone in the world had access to, we probably would not see many people with 30 spelling variations of the same place. And while the new Standard Finder, in its infancy, still has its limitations, it is laying the foundation for us to be more consistent in our data entry efforts.
You can begin now by cleaning up your own Master Location List.

"Watch this video for step-by-step instructions."

The video is only four minutes long and neatly demonstrates how to combine all of the different names for a place into a standard place name.

I think that the bottom line with New FamilySearch, for LDS member and non-member alike, is going to be "if you want to add your data to the New FamilySearch Family Tree, then you need to use standardized location names - the ones in the FamilySearch Standard Finder."

The one drawback of using modern locations for standardized place names is that, as researchers, we are encouraged to put the social and legal jurisdictions at the time of the event in the location field. A location in a county may not have physically moved, but the records for events of that location may be in several counties, states, or even countries. This needs to be addressed by both New FamilySearch and the genealogy software programs.

I need to do this combination of place names into a standardized location names, and it sure looks like it's relatively easy to do in Legacy Family Tree. I'm not sure if RootsMagic 4 or Family Tree Maker 2010 make it this easy, but I'm going to find out so that I can help my society colleagues do the place name standardization.

My thanks to Geoff Rasmussen of Legacy News for sharing the information about how the software is interfacing with New FamilySearch. It has helped me, and I'm sure many others, to better understand how the software is working, or will work, with New FamilySearch.

One thing that I am unsure about at this time - is the FamilySearch Standard Finder in place right now and being used in New FamilySearch? Have all of the place names in New FamilySearch been standardized yet? If not, what is the plan for them to be standardized?


Tamura Jones said...

Although major desktop genealogy software already includes place lists or interfaces with one to help you standardise, having another tool to check with can be nice.

However, as with those place lists, I must caution against blindly relying on it. I just tried a few place names, and immediately ran into errors.

This tool wants to change 's-Gravenhage into The Hague. That is wrong. The official name is 's-Gravenhage.

It does not score well on Frisian names either. It thinks Ferwerd is okay, and does not recognise Ferwert at all, while the official name has been Ferwert for more than a decade.

Unknown said...

Whilst most users will be familiar with the American devised 4 field convention, which Family Search and most maps use, it does not fit British and many other country's ways of stating locations (see my blog at

However, having used the new pilot Family Search fairly often, it seems to me that FS is now entering locations in the format used by the country of origin. If I am correct then it is a most welcome move, and they deserve to be congratulated. I have also noticed that they recognise the old English and Welsh county names as well as the modern. Good for them!

M. Diane Rogers said...

Well, I agree standardization would be helpful, but I think this is a long way off, both because of the historical jurisdictions/naming and because of the international variations. Few counties where I am, for example. And, for Canada, for instance, we had the 'Northwest/North West Territories (NWT)', parts of which were later Alberta and Saskatchewan. And, in the far west where I live there were several colonies and districts, territories, etc. (including area now in the USA).
In FamilySearch, I think the funniest result so far is the French "Île de Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada" which FS gives (apparently) for the colony of Vancouver Island. (Doesn't recognize an English name for Vancouver Island at all - but gives the (current) provincial name in English. You probably have to be Canadian to appreciate this.)

owlhart said...

The USA (United States of America) wasn't named until the 2nd Continental Congress in 1777. How does one name the place for events in say, Virginia or Pennsylvania prior to 1777?

Geolover said...

I object to adoption of the 4-field gedcom-file format as "standard."

This is ~not~ standardizable for many locations in the world (Germany and China, for example).

I object to omission of geopolitical-identifiers such as Village, Town, Township, Magisterial District, County, Borough, Parish, Beat, etc. There are so many villages that have the same name as the Township or District within which they are located, omission of these identifiers causes considerable locational confusion. Present-day novice genealogists are much more city-centered than were our ancestors, and fail to recognize that the place their ggggf lived in was on Bingamon Creek, Mannington District rather than ~in~ the village of Mannington.

The present mapping programs generally fail in ability to recognize these geopolitical divisions. Enter "Bowling Green" and you will see the town of Bowling Green in KY, but probably not the Township in Ohio.

Googlemaps' automated coordinates-entering program will put in the coordinates for Bowling Green, KY and will not tell you what it has done. I do not know if MS-Bing mapping program will do the same thing, but it does have similar limitations in dealing with the subdivisions.

Eileen said...

While I realize an accurate and stanrd modern location is useful for mapping, I really want to preserve the historical location, even if it is in a different county or country today.

Our genealogy software needs to offer two locations for an event/fact. The original and its modern day equivalent. We can enter both and the mapping can use the modern data.