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An old can of worms - Place names

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#1 GlenB


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Posted 06 October 2017 - 04:48 PM

I have read many posts and replies in this Forum concerning Place Names, standardization, interchange with various other data sources, GEDCOM standards, the low degree of commonality between all of these, the inability of anyone to legislate the RIGHT answer, the religious fervour that some writers have for this subject and finally the realization that everyone pretty much has to decide for themselves what they want to use to meet their specific objectives. Whew! I say a lot in the coming paragraphs but trust me, there's a question at the end.....


I have been trying to keep my places "organized" since Family Origins (V4 maybe?) and I have ~60k names and 5,465 Places in my database so 1 - internal consistency has great value and 2 - significant changes to that list have a high cost. One of the reasons I have always told people that FO and RM are great is because they help me achieve internal consistency with the matching as I type a place name and now (more recently) provide a way for me to merge duplicate names. 

  • My data covers at least the following countries: Canada, USA, England, Scotland, Ireland, Germany, Denmark.
  • I am a recent convert to using place details, most especially to deal with churches and graveyards and universities in otherwise well-defined place names, and I recognize that this is not supported in almost any other programming, but it makes the prediction of place names as I type them FAR more effective and that's important for consistency and data entry speed.
  • A driving force for me beyond internal consistency is easy readability for a wide variety of family member readers.

If we describe the full hierarchy, using N America as the example, as "Place details, city/town, township, county, state/province, country" then we immediately have some problems because not everywhere has townships and not everywhere has counties either.

  • We can deal with that by putting in the empty comma-separated fields, but that gets pretty tiresome and messes up the readability when you write Jonestown,,,BC,Canada because there are few townships and no counties in BC (I suspect it is not entirely alone in that) - what a mess!
  • I like to put a space after the commas whenever I do use them just for readability.
  • I abbreviate Township as Twp and County as Co (no period after each abbreviation) because that takes up less space and it is unambiguous.
  • I like to use the state/province abbreviations (exactly what the postal service requires) saying BC instead of British Columbia for example.
  • I always include the country if for no other reason than I have more than one country to deal with and people move from one to another in their lifetime.

So for me, that place would be Jonestown, BC, Canada. If it were Jonestown in Nova Scotia instead, I might later discover that Jonestown is actually in Kings County, so I can edit the Place Names to give Jonestown, Kings Co, NS, Canada. And if Jonestown is in Cornwallis Township of Kings Co then Jonestown, Cornwallis Twp, Kings Co, NS, Canada. But the use of Townships is fairly uncommon in my experience - not that they didn't exist or weren't known, just that they weren't used all that much, so I only include them when it seems necessary. And I think my family readers can handle Jonestown, Kings Co, NS, Canada and get full value understanding.


So here's the query: what is the best way that I can take advantage of the Standardized place names and the Geo-coding and the County Checker to help bring consistency and better information to my Place names if I still want to continue using my preferred structure of standardization as I just described it above?


#2 zhangrau


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Posted 07 October 2017 - 06:59 AM

My internal place name organization is similar to yours in some respects, but varies in others:

 - I do not use Place Details (wrapping that into the Place Name)

 - I don't abbreviate Twp or Co

 - I think that researching and including GPS coordinates for each Place List entry is a great idea, but it's pretty low on my To Do List.

 - I don't use County Check, but I do use a collection of gazetteers, atlases and the GNIS https://geonames.usgs.gov/

 - I include an explanation of my place name organization in every RM Publisher book that I distribute to family and friends


I may be a bit old school, but I don't tend to seek out and use features which are deigned to reduce my input as they attempt to speed up my research and documentation.


I started my excursion into genealogy in the spring of 1988. I've used several different programs (including Genealogy on Display, FO and RM, FTM and FTW, and others). Here's my current RM File Properties:



#3 TomH


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Posted 07 October 2017 - 12:42 PM

GlenB, you have been silent on historical names, except that County Checker looks for the historically accurate county (and higher) name.

I just think you will be in a continual struggle having to resolve the differences among these systems and your own conventions, just as I have. I use the Standardised name field for the current name of the place and the Name field as the historical name. Thus, there are multiple place Names having the same Standardized Name and geo-coordinates. I override County Check by adding "Co" and may drop or abbreviate Country.

You cannot customise the Gazetteer or County Check, enhancements that are on the Wish List.

Tom user of RM7550 FTM2017 Ancestry.ca FamilySearch.org FindMyPast.com
SQLite_Tools_For_Roots_Magic_in_PR_Celti wiki, exploiting the database in special ways >>> Rmtrix_tiny.png app, a bundle of RootsMagic utilities.

#4 GlenB


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Posted 07 October 2017 - 04:47 PM

Re historical names - I do a poor job of accuracy on those, but ...

- where the spelling has changed somewhat over the years I tend to pick one spelling and force all uses to comply such as in Nova Scotia: Scots Bay, Scotts Bay, Scott's Bay (which was always in Kings Co).

- where things like counties have changed boundaries (or new ones created) I have both in my Places list such as Jonestown in Fred Co and ALSO the same town in Mary Co, but I take no notice of when it changed

- I reference Gazetteers and similar national scope online services to confirm spelling when I have trouble reading old handwriting (or I think the transcriber was mistaken)


So far, my efforts of standardization are "my own" not something sanctioned by anyone else. But I noticed that the geo-tag field is blank, and the standardized place name field is blank, and the County Checker is more frustrating than helpful. So I'm looking for useful suggestions about how I can take advantage of these capabilities that have been built-in to RM. I might be able to get more value than trouble out of County Check if I were able to "adjust" the format of the results.

#5 pbooth99



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Posted 12 October 2017 - 10:28 AM

I also find the county checker only a hindrance. I wish there was a way to disable it. I also struggle with places whose names change at different times. I will frequently import raw data that says:
" born Rawtenstall formerly Lower Booths" or where a place name is more specific than a name that is known today - such as the name of a farm or large house.

#6 GlenB


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Posted 12 October 2017 - 10:58 AM

Disable County Checker: Tools > Program Options > General > Use CountyChecker when entering places


Names that change: I suggest the right name to enter is the name of the place at the time of the event. For instance, in Nova Scotia, a new County was created and the former town of Jonestown in Annapolis Co became Jonestown in Digby Co afterwards and BOTH are correct depending on when the event happened.


More specific place name: that is what the Place Details are for.