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Using Location Standardization in Genealogy Research


This is the second in a series of three articles on data entry standards for genealogy in the United States. The first article covered Dates and now we are going to look at Locations. Please see the list of caveats at the top of the Dates article which also applies here. There is one specific to locations: Always record the location as it was at the time of the event. You can always add a note explaining that the location is"now Perry County"

The standard for US locations is four jurisdictional levels; town/city, county/parish/borough, state, country. The four jurisdictional fields are also the FamilySearch standard.  

Purvis, Lamar, Mississippi, United States

Legacy allows you to enter a "short location" for reports so that they don't sound so formal/wooden; for example,

Purvis, Lamar County, Mississippi

If you are using a different software program you can check your options to see if you have something similar. When you export your data you should be exporting it in the longer form so that the receiving person/website will be able to interpret the data correctly. 

What you shouldn't do, even in reports, is to over abbreviate. I would never put Purvis, Lamar Co, MS. You lose a lot of readability and you really won't be saving much space. If someone from another country reads your data they could easily get confused. 

If you are dealing with locations in other countries, each country has their own standard of the number of jurisdictional levels. For example, I use three jurisdictional levels for Germany but I use six for France. The most important thing is to be consistent from country to country.

One thing that throws people off are the independent cities in the US that aren't part of a county. For data entry purposes it is best to enter these with a comma place marker for the county.

Fairfax, , Virginia, United States

This will ensure that the data is interpreted correctly when you do a gedcom export/upload to a website.  Again, if your genealogy program has short locations you can make this look better for reports, Fairfax, Virginia

Another thing to look at are townships. Townships are different than towns (how different depends on the state) so I do put the word township as part of the town/city name.

Cedar Grove Township, Essex, New Jersey, United States

I wrote a much longer article on location data entry that was specific to Legacy. One thing I want to point out from that article is that some people like to put an address in the location field.

Harlem City Cemetery, 310 South Bell Street, Harlem, Columbia, Georgia, United States

The reason some people like to do this is they like how it reads out in reports but if you create a gedcom to send to someone or to upload to a website you risk the receiving program/website not interpreting the data correctly. If you are uploading to FamilySearch this would be flagged as non standard.

Colonial Locations

The biggest issue you will have with locations are those locations before the United States was formed. Unfortunately, there is no real standard for this and there is quite a bit of variation with how you will see these locations recorded. It can get very complicated because not only were the place names and the jurisdictional lines in the "colonies" changing, England/Great Britain was having its own jurisdictional issues. Sometimes colonies were called colonies and sometimes they were called provinces. Depending on the date, the official name of the controlling "country" was England or Great Britain. Other countries also had control of areas certain areas. Here is a short list to give you an example. Don't think this information is set in stone because different resources will give you slightly different information. All of these areas were settled prior to these dates but these are their official formations and when they came under jurisdictional rule.

  • Delaware Colony (England 1664 - 30 Apr 1707, Great Britain 01 May 1707 - 04 Jul 1776)
  • Province of Pennsylvania (England 04 Mar 1681 - 30 Apr 1707, Great Britain 01 May 1707 - 04 Jul 1776)
  • Province of New Jersey (England 08 Sep 1664 - 30 Apr 1707, Great Britain 01 May 1707 - 04 Jul 1776)
  • Province of Georgia (Great Britain 21 Apr 1732 - 04 Jul 1776)
  • Connecticut Colony (England 03 Mar 1636 - 30 Apr 1707, Great Britain 01 May 1707 - 04 Jul 1776)
  • Province of Massachusetts Bay (England 14 May 1692 - 30 Apr 1707, Great Britain 01 May 1707 - 04 Jul 1776)
  • Province of Maryland (England 20 Jun 1632 - 30 Apr 1707, Great Britain 01 May 1707 - 04 Jul 1776)
  • Province of Carolina (England 30 Oct 1629 - 30 Apr 1707, Great Britain 01 May 1707 - 1712)
  • Province of South Carolina (Great Britain 1712 - 04 Jul 1776)
  • Province of New Hampshire (England 1629 - 30 Apr 1707,Great Britain 01 May 1707 - 04 Jul 1776)
  • Colony of Virginia (England 14 May 1607 - 30 Apr 1707, Great Britain 01 May 1707 - 04 Jul 1776)
  • Province of New York (England 1664 - 30 Apr 1707, Great Britain 01 May 1707 - 04 Jul 1776)
  • Province of North Carolina (Great Britain 1712 - 04 Jul 1776)
  • Colony of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations (England 1636 - 30 Apr 1707, Great Britain 01 May 1707 - 04 Jul 1776)
  • New Netherland (Dutch Republic 1614-1674) contained the areas that would become New York, New Jersey, Delaware, Connecticut and parts of Pennsylvania and Rhode Island. Prior to the establishment of English rule in those colonies they would have been referred to as New Netherland

Believe me, when you are dealing with these pre-US locations your head will be spinning. Another thing that will throw you off are Districts vs. Counties (South Carolina) and Parishes vs. Counties (Georgia). These jurisdictions are not the same as counties so I do use the word District and the word Parish in the location. 

  • Skidaway Island, Christ Church Parish, Province of Georgia, Great Britain
  • Edgefield, Ninety-Six District, Province of South Carolina, Great Britain 

 Again, you will definitely see some variation with pre-US locations because no clear standard has been established.

 Another interesting location dilemma is when you have someone who was born, or who died, at sea.  Normally I record it this way:

USS North Carolina, Pacific Ocean, At Sea

There is no way to get this one to fit into the 4 jurisdiction convention. 

There is one last location term I want to mention and that is the word "of." "Of" is a very powerful word and I use it all the time. It is a recognized standard but I think it is underutilized. Here is an example from my own genealogical research. I have no idea where my 4th great-grandparents James Simmons and Ellenor Lee were born. I do know that two of their known sons were born in South Carolina in 1794 and in 1797. That is the earliest record I have for James and Ellenor so I record their place of birth as: 

, , of South Carolina, United States (in reports this would be simply, "of South Carolina")



Slawson, Mary H. Getting It Right, The Definitive Guide to Recording Family History Accurately. Ann Arbor, Mich.: Malloy Lithographing Incorporated, 2002.

Though I don't agree with everything in the book, Mary has done a good job addressing some of the unusual situations you will come across. The book does needs to be updated but it still presents solid information.


Michele Simmons Lewis, CG® is part of the Legacy Family Tree team at MyHeritage. She handles the enhancement suggestions that come in from our users as well as writing for Legacy News. You can usually find her hanging out on the Legacy User Group Facebook page answering questions and posting tips.


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Information I really could use. However, without printing this all out and trying to file it where I might find it when I need it (!), please advise how I might easily access this. Many thanks.

That's an odd use of "of." The word is used to indicate where someone is believed to be living by the author of the source. It doesn't belong in a location field.

This is very common not only for the example I used (not knowing where a person was born) but also when distinguishing two people when you don't have complete vital information, for example, James Simmons of Perry County, Mississippi Territory vs. James Simmons of Pike County, Mississippi Territory.

I would simply bookmark the articles that are of interest to you. You can create a bookmark folder "Reference" or "Read Later" or whatever makes sense to you.

i have a Legacy folder on my computer. I file this type of article there and it is easy to find.

What about cemetery addresses on the Buried line? Where should the name of the cemetery go and still fit with the standard format?

This is all very well and good for people whose families have lived in the U.S. for a long time. But for the folks researching their Jewish roots, the standard is to use the current designation of the location. Given the number of times many places changed hands over the past century-and-a-half (especially in Europe), the only way that all readers can be "on the same page" is if everyone indicates the current location, with a standardized spelling in English (if the audience primarily consists of English speakers). A side benefit is that, when a current location changes jurisdiction again, it's easy to search for it in one's database and update all of the relevant listings at once. The same is even more true for managers of large commercial databases.

The history of a particular location can and should be addressed as a separate topic.

This is why I said this article was from a US perspective. It would be impossible for me to address every sort of location issue for every country. Every country has different jurisdictional divisions. You have to be well-acquainted with the countries you work with and then be consistent with your data entry for those countries.

I covered this in the article with a link to another article that is more indepth on that subject.

I am curious as to the jurisdiction associated with the Plymouth Colony, as I did not see this in the list. Would this colony cover the period from 1620 to 1692 that precedes the formation of the Massachusetts Bay Colony?

Hi Michele. Do I correctly understand that you include "county" always or just when there is no city or township? In your illustrations you show an example of "Cedar Grove Township, Essex, New Jersey, United States." Should "Essex" include county? And another as "Purvis, Lamar County, Mississippi" to which I would add "United States". Just trying to clarify before I adjust. Thanks for the great articles!

When I click on the hyperlinked "Dates" in the article above, it gives me a HTTP 404 Not Found message. Would you please give me a better location for the file that has your previous post about Dates? thank you

With Colonial what is now the US was still known as the Americas so wouldn't it also be correct to say "Pennsylvania, America" ?

Something I have started doing is to keep copies of documents for later reference by using the print function and selecting the option to print to a PDF file which I can save to a folder on my computer.

I include the word County in the short location (Legacy has two location fields). The only time I add a qualifier to the long location is if there could be confusion. For example, I will add the word District (to distinguish it from a county) and I will add the word Territory (to distinguish it from a state).

In the most basic form...

LONG - Purvis, Lamar, Mississippi, United States
SHORT - Purvis, Lamar County, Mississippi

The short version is more readable in reports and that is what I use there.

I have double checked the link. Try it again. Here is it in case it is still not working for you.

New England is probably the hardest to deal with pre-USA (the Indian Territories will give you some fits too). I have no New England lines so I have no definitive answers other than to say you need to really research the locations you are working with to see who was in control when. This is true for any location. Learning the history of the location will help you understand why your ancestors made some of the decisions that they made (a little side note).

I wrote another article that I think will be helpful here. It is about the importance of researching the location you are working with and recording what you find.

I live in the Netherlands and in our country there have been many changes in the last 200 years in the names of towns. Therefore I have collected all the data from the last 200 years when the townnames have changed. When I find an ancester and there is a town mentioned I look it up in my database and look for the right name. I do not change anything from the original records, but in my comment field I make a notice. This way I use a standard locationname.

Wow! That is great, Henry!

How do you handle the states that were in the Confederacy during the Civil War (1861-1865). Should their country name still be United States or should it be Confederate States?

I do not use the CSA as a country. They were never formally recognized nor did they win the war so I live it as, Appling, Columbia, Georgia, United States. I am sure there are people that do record it as the CSA but I do not. Almost all of my US research is in the deep south.

I love standardization. It makes it so frustrating to get a file from somebody and half just have towns and states, or state abbreviations, or no idea whether that is the county or the city listed. Or somebody modernizes the name so it only reflects where it is now, not where it is in the time and place the event took place (county or even country name changes because of later history).

There are hundreds of thousands of users around the world who do not live in the USA. It would be a refreshing change if some of these how to articles could be directed at using a different country in your examples.
The locations article could have used the UK which has a long historical village/town/county/country location system. it was made interesting with county lines that changed.

The concept is the same for every country. The US is set up with 4 jurisdictional levels. Each country will have its own number of levels. As long as you enter all of the locations within a certain country with the same number of jurisdictional levels then your Master Location List will sort properly. I only use three levels for Germany but I use six for France. FamilySearch balks a bit bit it just can't be helped.

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