Abstract: I prefer to standardize place names in Family Historian to take advantage of modern geo-coding and mapping features, and to record historical place names in research notes. But how do I organize my research notes so that I recognize all the variants as being 'the same place'?
Place name Variants
My main research is kept on my computer -- I attach sources to Ancestry's and Find My Past's online trees primarily as a means to keep track of what records I've already found on Ancestry and Find My Past. But there's a weakness in both lineage-linked software and online trees -- they don't provide tools to keep track of data about localities in the same way that we can keep track of information about people.
One of the problems of doing research online with sites like Ancestry and Find My Past is that the same locality can be reported in the search results under many different names. You might find someone in the same place and not recognize it because the place name that turns up in the search results is not the one you expected to see.
For one of my families living in Plymouth for three decades, when I attached the 1891 Census to the tree, Ancestry's online tree system assigned them a Residence in Charles, Devon, England. When you look at the record abstract in the New Ancestry interface, this is what you see:
- Civil parish: Charles
- Ecclesiastical parish: Emmanuel
- Town: Laira
- County/Island: Devon
- Country: England
- Registration district: Plymouth
- Sub registration district: Charles
For the same record (matching archive reference of RG12/1725/24/41), Find My Past's transcription reports "Belgrave Road, Plymouth, Devon, England". Here's the transcription as it appears on FamilySearch.
It's a simple matter to edit the fact on the online tree to say "Plymouth" instead of "Charles" and to note the address and various sub-districts in the description field. In many modern programs, we need to regularize the place name to make use of queries and mapping tools. But if we record all the place names as they appear in the original source, how can we make use of that information?
What I'm trying to do now is make up research notes about the locality which I can refer to, in case I am offline and I can't make use of the GENUKI gazetteer, A Vision of Britain, FamilySearch's historical map site 1851 Jurisdictions (based on Phillimore's Atlas), or Curious Fox's lists of villages, or British History Online's gazetteers.
I would like something I can refer to quickly, so if I am evaluating a baptism for Emmanuel Parish in Plymouth, I can see at a glance that I am in the same area as this family from this census. I am currently cross-checking all my other records against the electoral rolls (and the 1939 Register for those people still living in 1939). I can capture pages from all of my favorite geographical reference sites, but I want to make some kind of summary of what I've collected.
Best Practices for Transcription
Do you transcribe the entire census record, headers and all?
The blank form for the 1891 Census has spaces to record:
- Civil Parish
- Municipal Borough
- Municipal Ward
- Urban Sanitary District
- Town or Village or Hamlet
- Rural Sanitary District
- Parliamentary Borough or Division
- Ecclesiastical Parish or District
Ecclesiastical Parish is useful when cross-checking against baptisms and other church records; parliamentary boroughs and divisions are clues for tracing electoral rolls. Even the sanitary districts can be used as clues to other records; I've found articles about local water quality via the British Newspaper Archive.
How do you organize this material? Do you keep spreadsheets, make tables, or some other method? What are the advantages and disadvantages of the methods you use?
Since writing the question, I see I could have saved myself a great deal of difficulty in recognizing I was reading about 'the same place' by going directly to Lewis' A Topographical Dictionary of England at British History Online, but at the time I wrote the question, I didn't know about the website; I was only vaguely aware of Lewis as the source behind A Vision of Britain.
The problem becomes especially problematic when dealing with places which straddle county lines, or where the county boundaries have changed over time (Devon / Cornwall parishes near the border).
Yorkshire also causes a lumper/splitter problem because of the Ridings.
Another collision between modern mapping / geo-locating and places as recorded in historical records: the Family History Library catalog often uses a particular gazetteer as a standard (e.g. for Germany, the placename standard is Meyers Orts- und Verkehrs-lexikon des deutschen Reichs, which covers the German Empire from 1871-1918), but it isn't always clear to the end user which gazetter is the standard.