Tuesday, February 14, 2012

My Software Wish List - A Historical Place Name Jurisdiction Catalog (HPJNC)

As many of my readers know, I "standardized" all of my place names associated with Events in my RootsMagic 5 database to current place names and locations, with the current country, state and county jurisdictions, during 2011. In this process, I combined all of my variant place names together. I did this task so as to put all of my localities "on the map" - so that they were geo-coded (latitude and longitude) to the present site in the software programs.  Being geo-coded, the online map features in the genealogy management programs could find them (they usually use Google Maps or Bing Maps).

That, of course, is not the "standard" way to name historical places in genealogical research.  The "standard" (recommended) method is to name the jurisdictions as they existed at the time of an Event (e.g., a birth, baptism, marriage, death, burial, will, residence, etc.).  For instance, I have many Events that happened in Medfield, Massachusetts, which is currently in Norfolk County.

My "standard" location for this place is "Medfield, Norfolk, Massachusetts, United States."  However, many records for my Medfield ancestors are in Suffolk County, Massachusetts, not Norfolk County.  My preference is that the historical place names should be used depending on the time frame of the event, but I'm stymied by the limitations of the genealogy programs and my desire to have the historical place names associated with a map location.

As an example, here is my list of place name jurisdictions for Medfield (and I may have them wrong... this is just an example):

1649 to 1691:  Medfield, Suffolk, Massachusetts Bay Colony, British America
1691-1777:  Medfield, Suffolk, Massachusetts Bay Province, British America
1777-1793:  Medfield, Suffolk, Massachusetts, United States
1793-present:  Medfield, Norfolk, Massachusetts, United States.

Another example, this time for San Diego (city), California:

1769-1823:  San Diego, Alta California, Spanish America
1823-1848:  San Diego, Alta California, Mexico
1848-1850:  San Diego, California Territory, United States
1850-present:  San Diego, San Diego, California, United States

I described some of the historical place names I found in the RootsMagic 5 County Check system in my post "Exploring RootsMagic 5 New Features - Post 4: The CountyCheck Report."

There are at least two "standardized location databases" online for genealogists.  The two I know about are:

1)  The FamilySearch Standard Finder (https://labs.familysearch.org/stdfinder/PlaceStandardLookup.jsp).  A user can input a place name and obtain place name variants. the place type, the place time period, standard text,  culture, iso-code, geo-code (latitude and longitude) and an identification number for the place name.

This Standard Finder includes many variant names for the current place name.  However, it does not include all historical place names as an entity (e.g., the name of Raby in New Hampshire Province changed to Brookline in 1788).

2)  Dallan Quass has formed a standardized location database (see https://github.com/DallanQ/Places). He spoke about "An Open-Source Place-Finder for Genealogy" this at RootsTech 2012 (you can see his syllabus here) and says:

"The database contains over 400,000 current and historical populated places and higher-level political jurisdictions (districts, counties, provinces, states, etc.). It is based upon the place wiki pages at WeRelate.org. The database includes the place name, type (e.g., city, county, etc.) alternate names, the jurisdictional hierarchy that was in place in the early 1900's, earlier and later jurisdictional hierarchies, and geo-position coordinates."

Dallan's database has current place name locations, along with alternate place name(s), type of place, also located in, and geo-code latitude and longitude.

In order for genealogy software users like me to incorporate historical place names into their database, without going to every Fact in the database, while retaining the geo-coded information so that the map shows the correct location, my wish list for genealogy software includes:

A Historical Place Name Jurisdiction Catalog (HPNJC) feature that:

*  Contains a table of the included years, historical place name and jurisdiction(s) for each year range, the current place name and jurisdiction, and the geo-coding that finds the place on the map.  Simple examples of this would be my two lists above for Medfield and San Diego.

*  Depending on the Date of the Event in the genealogy database, the program finds the correct historical place name and inserts it into the Event Place field (perhaps with a "current location is ..." in the Place Description field, or in a Place Note field).  

*  Of course, this feature would need to be incorporated into an updated GEDCOM system and the different genealogy software programs and online family trees would need to be able to read it and write it.

At present Legacy Family Tree has a "County Verifier" feature that, if activated, warns the user that the county did not exist before the formation date.  RootsMagic 5 has a "County Check" feature that does a similar task, and offers a number of suggestions for the user to pick from.  Other software programs may have similar features, and I may not be totally aware of the Legacy and RootsMagic capabilities.

I think that this can be accomplished at some point in time, but it requires a fully populated historical place name catalog that genealogy software creators can utilize to implement a Historical Place Name feature (which implies that it should be Open Source, like the FamilySearch Standard Finder and Dallan Quass's Place Finder).  

What is your vision - your wish - for a Historical Place Name Jurisdiction Catalog (HPNJC)?  Can it be implemented?  Would you be willing to participate in the generation of an Open Source HPNJC? 

Copyright (c) Randall J. Seaver, 2012.


Banai Lynn Feldstein said...

There is also the JewishGen Gazetteer that has some of this.

We have similar place name issues outside of the US too. ShtetlSeeker started for Eastern Europe and has expanded and been renamed. If there is a page for the town, then it lists the town names, district, province, and country by time periods, but it's very generalized about the time periods as many locations changed hands more times.

Dallan said...

I'd like to see this as well. :-) WeRelate has the ability to store historical relationships like you mention ( I just added Suffolk as a historical county for Medfield: http://www.werelate.org/wiki/Place:Medfield%2C_Norfolk%2C_Massachusetts%2C_United_States ) but we have a long way to go to get to the level of detail that you're talking about. This would be a huge job, but I believe it would have a lot of value for the genealogy community.

And I agree -- Eastern Europe (and Germany) have got to be the most difficult for tracking to changes to places over time.

Banai Lynn Feldstein said...

Have you seen Animap and Centennia? They sound like what you might be looking for, but I haven't used them yet. I just learned about Centennia, which covers Europe plus.

Dick said...

Sounds interesting. Just for one example, a person born in 1890 in Kings County, New York, was born in the city of Brooklyn and NOT in the city of New York. Greater New York City, as it exists today, was created in 1898.

Another example from my state of Florida. County jurisdictions have changed as recently as the 1920s.

So, should it be done - YES. Will it be a humongous undertaking - you bet!

testuser said...

Have you seen the "GOV: The Historic Gazeteer" for Germany and quite a bit of the rest of middle Europe?
The search form is here:

More info (and a picture showing the area covered, about 355.000 entries in the database) can be found starting here:

Sadly, the wiki pages seem to be in German only.

A page for a place looks like this:

Of course it's still far from perfect, some areas and places have lots of details and hierarchies, others are pretty basic. But it is already a great resource, and will get better the more people know it and contribute.

Geolover said...

I wish for abandonment of the practice of truncating place-names endemic in the GEDCOM format. I want:

1) as many fields as it takes to properly describe a place; this is necessary in much of Europe and Asia as well as the USA;

2a) geopolitical descriptors: "Mannington, Mannington District, Marion County, West Virginia" as well as "Mannington District, Marion County, West Virginia" because the majority of people did not live in even small cities until the 1930s or so. Collapsing both of the above into "Mannington, Marion, West Virginia" incorrectly suggests that most of the people who lived in the Magisterial District actually lived in the village. The same goes for New England Towns, Beats, Judicial Districts, etc.

2b) on the other hand, the genealogical service providers should quit adding 'city' when not part of an actual placename.

3) The genealogical database providers need to ~look at~ the valuable existing place guides, such as genuki.org and (for Wales) http://homepage.ntlworld.com/geogdata/ngw/fulllist.htm

4) The internet map service providers are quite inadequate regarding locating present geopolitical subdivisions. They are years away from dealing with historical transformations.

Anonymous said...

I am curious about your choice of "British America" as the top level location for early Massachusetts. Technically, I believe that Great Britain did not come into existence until England and Scotland united in 1707. So, wouldn't "New England" or "Colonial America" or some other designation be correct?

Raihan kabir said...

It is a nice historical place which place name is Jurisdiction Catalog (HPJNC) I like this place very much so thanks for give info about this nice place