Where in the World?
admin Wed, 08/24/2011 - 12:24
Where in the world did this happen?
This is an important question when you are doing genealogy research. Part of the practice of genealogy is to record the details of your ancestors life. Location is a key part of these details. Unlike dates and time, which are constants, locations are not. The names of places change over time based on the current geo-political environment. The actual location stays the same, but the name for that location changes over time. In the United States we have an easy example, everything before the Revolutionary War was technically part of England, and then became the United States. Virginia, being one of the first colonies / States, used to have a much larger footprint that it has today.
The Map to the left is an 1818 Map of Virginia by Mathew Carey from Philadelphia, PA. As you can clearly see the map includes what is now West Virginia, and clearly some of the Counties are not that large anymore. If you take a quick look at the left hand side of the map, around the middle, the county that has an orange border is labeled as Kenhawa County [SIC]. Kenhawa County [SIC] on the map becomes modern day Kanawha County, WV, and is much smaller (several counties are split out, including Cabell County).
When recording location information in your genealogy research, I feel that it is important to record the location name that was being used at the time the event occurred. This is important for a few reasons:
- It makes tracking down the location of records easier. If a fact is recorded incorrectly as 1850 West Virginia, good luck finding a census record to verify that against. IT DID NOT EXIST.
- It can help provide perspective to mass migrations should they have occurred.
- It’s technically the correct thing to do. (How can you record an event in West Virginia, in 1800, when it did not yet exist?)
When I look at the family tree that I have posted online, I see that I do not always following the rules as mentioned above. I can think of at least two situations that I record the facts incorrectly…
- Any location with a date prior to 1783 I still list as United States of America, although technically it did not exist. The term “United States of America” did not get officially used until 1777 when the Continental Congress used it, but none the less I use United States of America for any event that happened in what is now recognized as the USA starting as early as 1600’s. Virginia is a great example, I have deep roots in Virginia, but no matter the date, I always list the locations as Virginia, USA (Which is technically wrong).
- Germany…What a mess. Germany as we know it today is a relatively new country. Before, it was actually many different sovereign States, which eventually unified to become the Modern day Germany. I have some ancestors that were from Prussia, but I have listed them as Germany. I have a few others that are from a region in modern day Germany that is on the boarder of France, and has changed ownership often, so sometimes it’s Germany and sometimes it’s France.
At the end of the day, the goal of your genealogy research should be to record the facts in as complete a manner as you can. To do that, you should attempt to record the location that events happened at using the Name of the location as it was at the time the event occurred. This will help you and future researchers by providing the most complete record possible.