Finding Place Names
Overheard in GenForum, <p></b>
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.
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 States...in 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.
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.
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.
There are many places you can go to search online gazetteers. Here is a partial list to get you started.
- Cyndi's List, Maps and Gazetteers - National Geographic Information - offers links to worldwide maps and gazetteers.
- USGS National Mapping Information - offers a searchable database for the US, as well as information on foreign records.
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.
Rhonda R. McClure is a professional genealogist specializing in celebrity trees and computerized genealogy. She has been involved in online genealogy for fifteen years. She is an award-winning author of several genealogy how-to books, including The Complete Idiot's Guide to Online Genealogy, The Genealogist's Computer Companion, and Finding Your Famous and Infamous Ancestors. She may be contacted at [email protected].
See more advice from Rhonda in her columns Expert Tips, Tigs and Trees, and Overheard in the Message Boards.