Tips from the Pros: Recording County Names, from George G. Morgan

When recording information about the locations where births, deaths, marriages, divorces, land and property transactions, wills, and other events occurred, it is essential to include the name of the county, parish, province, shire, state, or other geopolitical jurisdiction at the time the event was recorded. Inclusion of a county name, for example, points other researchers to the right place when they want to verify your research and access the records for themselves. Most genealogical software programs will also prompt you to repeat this practice as you record future sources. Along with entering correct source citations, this diligence in recording precise geopolitical jurisdiction information is the mark of a scholarly researcher.

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14 thoughts on “Tips from the Pros: Recording County Names, from George G. Morgan

  1. Dear Sir
    Being an Australian I have a lot of trouble with abbreviations. Is there a web site that will tell me what the Countys and State abbreviations in the US stand for. I mean some I can work out eg: TX for Texas but the rest I haven’t a clue what they stand for. Another example; is there a Place called Cache in Cache County
    Hopping you can give me a clue where to find the information.


    Graham Bence

  2. I regularly come across folks who insist on recording a place of birth for someone when that county or state did not exist.

    Ex. KY was part of VA until 1792. Some researchers will give KY the place of birth as KY prior to 1790. Or a county that was formed about 1815 (for example) and the person was born in the parent county years before. The reasoning behind their rationale – “it’s less confusing”.

  3. I too would be interested in a web site that could tell me what county a certain city or town is in. Kudos to Texas. I love it when I find an ancestor lived in Texas becuase they have the best records!

  4. I thank you for your comment about the Counties, they are important. Should we enter the County as it was, and as it is now? How do we obtain maps as they were?


  5. To Graham Bence – is a good website for US state postal codes. You can drill down for country info as well. Family Tree Maker uses the full state name because the abbreviations can be misleading. For example Colorado’s is CO which could also be the abbreviation for the word county.

  6. I have an ancestor that was born in one town in Massachusetts, had children in another and died in a third. He never moved.
    Is there a clear way to indicate that these three locations were the same?

  7. When recording the counties, I’m careful to spell out “County”, not just “Co.”. And because my ancestors came from central New York, I can’t just say “Madison, NY”– is it the city of Madison in Oneida County, or Madison County? Many cities/towns in upstate NY have the same name as a county that they are NOT part of.

  8. In the US, especially prior to 1900, county names (and sometimes more) changed. I had an ancestor who established a home in Westmoreland, Litchfield County, Connecticut which became Huntington, Luzerne County, Pennsylvania after the American Revolution and later Fairmount, Luzerne County, Pennsylvania. Therefore, some of my ancestral records are still held in Connecticut and others in Pennsylvania.

  9. In response to #4, I enter both the original county or state and the new county or state. You need the original name because documents from the time will refer to it. You need the current name because that’s where you’ll likely find the records stored now or where images will appear in a database.

    I use Family Tree Maker for my database. With it I enter the original name followed by a slash followed by the current name; for example: Clarkburg, Monongalia County, Virginia / Clarksburg, Harrison County, West Virginia. Then if I have the program produce a map of an ancestor’s travels, for example, it knows to use the portion after the slash as the current place name to plot it on the map.

  10. Please, please, please spell out the entire county/province/parish/shire etal &tc name, followed by “County”, “Province”, “Parish”, “Shire” whatever, as well as the full state name. The US is not the only country that abbreviates names–it sometimes takes me a while to figure out English shire names! And, of course, Canada’s provinces are (more or less) the equivalent of US, or Australian, states. And that’s just the English-speaking world…!

  11. It would be wonderful if Ancestry had read your tip, and created their prompts for British place names in the online Family Tree with the county included.
    I know Ancestry is a US based company but I am amazed that they did not get this fundamental correct as county names are as significant as state names are in the US and Australia, provinces in Canada, perhaps more so. (Try telling someone from Yorkshire that his county is unimportant 🙂 )

  12. It’s also helpful to include in the Notes section that the county of birth was change to/from before or after birth, death, etc. We found in Mississippi that the county lines changed fairly often and we had to travel to different county record sites to find information. This could save others needless looking in one place. So now we look first at county maps and dates of changes.

  13. All the more reason to know the history of when the cities, counties, states, were formed. EX. Thomas Simpson Jr married to Laney Riley is entered as a Worth County GA Ancestor. Thomas Simpson died 1846 Dooly County Ga where part of it became Worth County in 1853. Thus- needed to go to Dooly County Ga to verify embellished family stories. Sudbury, MA is where I found many records of my ancestor Col.John Brewer -records before he founded Brewer Me- which was part of MA. Know your History, it is intertwined with genealogy.

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