What is the genealogical standard way to record specifically the United States of America?

I want to be clear this question is specific to storing "United States of America", not a general how to record a historical name question (already asked) or formatting of general place names (already asked). It is also not about recording "British Colonial America" or the "United States of America" (already asked).

There are many way to record the United States of America in a place name and I see a variety in records. So am looking for a 'standardized' way, if one has been set to record it for post American Revolution "United States of America". I think in terms of the long term and so am a bit hesitant to use abbreviations record "USA" or even shortened "United States" as it could change over time to refer to more than one place such as perhaps one day United States of Africa (hypothetically) which would be unique and unrelated. Usually you have other location data, but not always, you may only have the country.

I am aware of the following ways to record the United States, all of which I have seen in records.

  • United States of America (long proper name)
  • United States
  • U.S.A.
  • U S A
  • US of A or USofA
  • USA (ISO-3166-A3)
  • 840 (ISO-3166-Numeric)
  • US (ISO-3166-A2)
  • U S
  • As well as various other typos and mis-spellings.

I tend to use the long proper name, but it requires a lot more data entry.

I scanned the NGS's standards page and did not see anything jumping out. Ancestry.com's World Archive Key'n standard's has some guidance on locations, but not whether to use the full name. I also checked the GCG's Genealogy Standards Book (50th Anniv. Ed, pub. 2014) and I did not see anything specific there related to the use of abbreviations of countries or specific to the United States. The later book refers to the United States in the book in its long and short form interchangeably in other reference examples but none are abbreviated and it makes no specific guidance.

I realize some older programs may not support, "United States of America", but all modern programs I have seen support the full length.

Is there any other specific standard out there for recording the United States of America for genealogical purposes?

  • This answer to the question Documented standards for genealogy data entry may be of interest. There is a general 'best practice' rule not to use abbreviations because they can be ambiguous, but many people may make an exception for "USA" because writing it out in full is so long.
    – Jan Murphy
    Commented Feb 17, 2015 at 22:24

2 Answers 2


I highly doubt there is a genealogical standard for something like this, nor, one might argue, does there need to be. If the meaning is clear, the essential genealogical standards have been met.

Typically the usual English short form names of countries are acceptable in genealogy because they are perfectly clear. Thus, the United States, Mexico, and Canada are used, as opposed to United States of America, United Mexican States, or Dominion of Canada.

I would steer away from using 840 (ISO-3166-Numeric) as that may cause undue confusion. If, in the next millennium, someone reading your work does not know what United States means, then it is unlikely they will know what 840 means.


I found that the current genealogical standard is USA. So it would look like Phoenix, Maricopa, Arizona, USA.

Keep in mind that Mexico is technically the United States of Mexico, so saying "United States" could be construed as America or Mexico. Usually not confusing if you are talking about a place like Denver or Minneapolis as to which country it is in, but if you are talking about border towns that straddle the border, such as Nogales, Arizona and Nogales, Sonora, citing Nogales, US could viably mean Nogales USM or USA.

Personally I use the language of the country when placing a location. For example, instead of Bavaria Germany, I'll put Bayern, Deutschland as mapping tech on ancestry.com and Family Tree Maker software recognizes German as well.

  • 4
    "the current genealogical standard is USA" - it would be useful if you could cite something that says this. Personally I think that it's a good version but my opinion doesn't make it a standard - nor does website X using it. Use by a major website might make it a very good idea, but again, that's not quite the thing.
    – AdrianB38
    Commented Sep 8, 2021 at 14:24
  • Actually, Mexico's official title is the United Mexican States.
    – Jeff
    Commented Apr 8, 2023 at 18:43

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