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Overheard in GenForum: Finding Place Names
by Rhonda R. McClure

Each week Rhonda answers a question from the GenForum message boards and gives her expert answer here. We'd love to hear anything you have to add. Go ahead and leave your comments on GenForum with the original message.

November 16, 2000
See Rhonda's Previous Columns

Q: Is there an easy way to look up county names when I receive information from someone? I have a lot of research from a cousin, but it just lists the towns, there are no county names. -- Natalie

A: One of the things I find most frustrating is to receive research from someone else and discover that they have not listed full places. It is then left up to me to determine just where in a state or county a given locality is. After all, many of the very records we will come to need are found on the county or shire level.

Another of the reasons why I find this so frustrating is that many times the town or city name has actually been used in more than one county in the given state. This makes it hard, especially when I am working in an area that is totally new to me. If this is a new lineage, I may be unaware of exactly where in the state they settled.

Place names should always include town, county, and state, or the other country equivalents.

U.S. Researchers

For researchers in the United States, there is a very helpful new book that was recently published by Genealogical Publishing Co., Inc. American Place Names of Long Ago by Gilbert S. Bahn. This book is actually a republication of George Cram's Unrivaled Atlas of the World which is reported to include over 100,000 place names of "every county, city, town, village and post-office in the United the 1890 Census."

This is an interesting and useful resource, especially since we no longer have the 1890 census to look through. For $38.50 postpaid you can order this book through:

Genealogical Publishing Co., Inc.
1000 North Calvert St.
Baltimore, MD 21202

You can also visit their web site and search for other books.

Published Gazetteers

Of course, one of the biggest problems in locating some of these towns is that names of towns and cities have changed over the years. To help with situations such as this, it is a good idea to look for some older gazetteers. Many are now being released on CD or at various web sites such as or reprinted through book companies such as Heritage Books.

Another great source for worldwide gazetteers from the 1800s is your local Family History Center. As part of their holdings, they have a number of gazetteers on microfiche. You will want to ask the volunteers about their Reference Selection fiche. There are about 200 titles in this group, though not all of them are gazetteers. One word of caution, these gazetteers are published in the primary language of the country they are describing.

The closer you can get to the time period you are researching using a gazetteer, the more likely you will be able to locate the town in question.

Online Gazetteers

There are many places you can go to search online gazetteers. Here is a partial list to get you started.

In Conclusion

You have experienced the frustration that so many of us have when receiving someone else's research. When sharing your information please remember how you felt, and be sure to send complete place names.

See Rhonda's Previous Columns

About the Author
Rhonda R. McClure is a professional genealogist specializing in New England research and computerized genealogy. She has been involved in online genealogy for ten years. She was the Web Site Sysop for the Ultimate Family Tree web site. She was the Data Manager of the Genealogy RoundTable on Genie(r) for seven years and the forum manager for the Genealogy Forum on MSN(r). She is the author of The Complete Idiot's Guide to Online Genealogy. She is a contributing editor for American Genealogy Magazine, Heritage Quest Magazine, the National Genealogical Society Computer Interest Group's Digest and Ancestry, Inc.'s Genealogical Computing. She also writes a 5-day a week e-mail newsletter, Family Tree Finders - for SodaMail. She may be contacted at

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