Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Standardizing Place Names in my Genealogy Database

I'm almost to the point of trying to standardize all of the place names in my genealogy database.  I wrote about this three years ago in Place Names in Your Genealogy Database, with questions and examples.

Why do I want to do this?

*  Because most genealogy software programs have a standard place name list associated with geo-coding and provide location maps with stick-pins. 

*  Because standardized locations are, well, standard.  They eliminate confusion.  Hopefully.

*  Because the FamilySearch Family Tree uses them (using Standard Finder; will they change a non-standard place name entry?).

*  Because I have a hodgepodge of name formats in my database for many places, and I need to merge them into one place name for each place.

*  Because I want to have a well-sourced and well-placed database online and in my files.  Something to be proud of.

Why do I not want to do this?

*  Because it's not real productive to my genealogy research; it's cosmetic.

*  Because there are over 7,800 place names in my database (over 39,000 persons) - it will be a lot of work.

*  Because it may obliterate historical place names that are no longer in existence, or existing places are in jurisdictions that have changed.

James Tanner wrote about standardized place names last year in his posts  The problem with standardized place names and Revisiting standardized geographic names on his Genealogy's Star blog.

Researchers are advised by the experts to keep historical place names and jurisdictions in our database so that the place identifications at the time of the records are maintained.  Some software programs deal with this by providing a "Description" box wherein a historical name, an address, a hospital name, a cemetery name, or a note about record jurisdiction, could be placed.  An alternative is to put the historical location in a person's note or in a place note, record, or to put the historical location in the source citation detail or note.

What is the best way to perform this task?  I have Family Tree Maker 2011, RootsMagic 4 and Legacy Family Tree 7 to work with.  I want to do this task once in a complete and efficient way.  Each program seems to do the job, but the process is different for each of them.  I don't know which program will do the job efficiently and easily.

I would appreciate comments from readers who have done a standardization of their place names, why they did it, and the process they used.  Or, from those that have not done it, and why.


Unknown said...

On the Mac using Ifamily in Events>Places I can see all my variations for a place that I have typed over the years, make them standard and the program then applies that to all records affected. I guess I could make them to suit any standard such as what Family Search uses. I stick with the place name as per the record from whence it came so not in favor of total standization.

Geoff said...

In Legacy it is very simple. Visit http://tinyurl.com/ykqv7gf for an article about it. A follow-up to this article is at http://tinyurl.com/32e2aso.

Tessa Keough said...

I use Legacy and I go through my master location list on a regular basis to keep it "clean." When I enter information I make sure to use the place at the time of the event and I make a note regarding it - so that standardization coupled with dates. I also have a timeline for each country I deal with so I can keep track of the changes. If you make sure to enter it correctly at the time it makes life easier. (Or tag your entries so you can verify them as a group).

RootsMagic said...

In RootsMagic:

1. Select Lists > Place list from the menu
2. Click the GeoCode button
3. Click Yes to confirm it

RootsMagic will geocode and add a standardized place name for each place. It does not replace the place as you originally entered it. Every place has both a "Place" field where you have it the way you want, and a "Standardized place name".

Paul K. Graham said...

You say "Because it may obliterate historical place names that are no longer in existence, or existing places are in jurisdictions that have changed."

This is a problem when your place data does not have all the requisite pieces (particularly the county)...definitely a pain. I have spent time cleaning up place names from my early years of genealogy-ing, before I started making sure every place entry was as complete as possible at the time I entered it.

Being in Georgia, we have lots of counties and county boundary changes. If you have a series of Town/State entries and you want to make them Town/County/State, you really should take the effort to research the boundary histories. Make sure your town was always in the same county before you zap the database with new info.

Geolover said...

This is indeed a plaguey issue.

Paul K. touched on one of my major peeves, the "Town/County/State" orientation. Most of my ancestors and relatives never lived in a "town" in the sense of a village or city.

Nevertheless, this is the faulty orientation of the standard gedcom format. Since it omits designators such as "Precinct," "Borough," "Town" (in the NY and New England sense), "Township" and "Magisterial District," locations such as "Mannington, Marion, West Virginia" give the impression that the place meant is the town, rather than the large rural Magisterial District by the same name that surrounds the town.

In addition, when dealing with families where forenames repeat in generations as well as among contemporaneous cousins, I find it immensely helpful to specify "Quaker Fork, Mannington District, Marion Co., West Virginia." This distinguishes one Jeptha P. Xxxx from his uncle by the same name and initial who lived on a different waterway.

A related issue is that neither googlemaps nor Bing maps (both used by tree programs) is able consistently to retrieve locations for Townships and Magisterial Districts. I had enough of Bowling Green Township (Ohio)'s being relocated to Bowling Green, KY. One has to be quite cautious about using automated GPS locators.

Eileen said...

While geocoding and standardizing sounds nice, I'm not sure it is ready for prime time yet. My family did not live in cities so my place locations are a hodgepodge of changing boundaries. The software programs don't seem to handle even the historical place names well. They all seemed designed to handle the more modern names but don't do that very well either. For example, the city of Baltimore is not in a county. There is a Baltimore County but it does not contain Balitmore. I have to enter this as Baltimore, Maryland but when I enter items from Baltimore county that are not in incorporated towns, I also put Baltimore, Maryland. I have taken to entering Baltimore as Baltimore City but this causes issues with standardizing because there is no place named Baltimore City.

As stated earlier, the software programs need to give us more discrete fields to enter elements of place and allow us to either name the elements or alias them to handle unique situations. There should be the ability to enter the standard equivalent too.

I have very few actual addresses in my database. Most are towns, townships, boroughs, wards, precincts and cities because that is house the census is done. Usually all I know is that this is the 352 house the enumerator visited--some street names; most do not.

Finaly, for those of us unfortunate enough to go back to the Mayflower there are international places names galore. A whole other nightmare!