In comments on a question about whether to use historical or modern place names, @LennartRegebro raised the interesting question of spelling reform, and whether it was fine to use reformed spelling for place names in languages that experienced such reform (e.g., Swedish, German, Russian).

It occurred to me that while at first glance the answer seems inconsequential (it probably does it matter if you use ß or ss in German), in some cases the answer may not be so obvious. For example, what is the correct way to handle to romanized Chinese names (as rendered in English)? Is it appropriate to use the modern spelling standard called Pinyin, introduced in 1956, for names associated with events that occurred prior to 1956, when the Wade-Giles romanization was the dominant standard?

2 Answers 2


My preference is to use the original spelling, with notes plus alternate names to explain any changes since. I'd add alternate places if my software support them, but always include Lat and Long for the avoidance of doubt.

I do think it matters if you use ß or ss (or analogs in other languages): I use the spelling and characters that would have been used at the time, as far as I can determine it.


In most Genealogical forums, I've observed this as a personal preference. I personally feel that in order to provide the information I've gathered about my Genealogy it would be best to list the most recent place-name. However, I do make extensive notation of my resources with the historical place-names and any applicable events that occurred to influence the place-name change. I also feel that this is concurrent when translating as well as, when conducting transcription of historic documentation in or around a region, maintaining all notations thereof and the original text.

The reason I do this is, in reflection of just starting my research it took considerable time for me to understand and learn how to draw a historic place-name from maps of yesteryear. For clarity's sake, I know I may not be around to explain my Genealogy research to a descendant in the distant future and I don't want to have them going through all the trouble I had to go through.

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