Places reimagined (is this too far?)

Family History Fanatics posted a video today on consistent use of Locations in our trees.

Interesting as far as it went, but what I’d really like to see is the ability to create a place complete with map coordinates, AND a begin/end date for that place INCLUDING alternate names with their dates to be treated as the same place but supply the appropriate name to the report depending on the date of the event.

The names would come up as alternate names just as alternate names of people appear in the indexes. So if I’m creating an event dated in 1650 Hartford, it should pop up on the list as Hartford, Hartford, Conn. USA or Hartford County, Conn., British Colonial America, etc. but both options would point to the same place. Even if the program didn’t make the decision for me, maybe a prompt could show the dates associated with the variation so I could pick the right one. A consistency checker report could compare the event dates with the place db dates and offer items for review.

I’m not a coder and maybe this is asking for too much, but it drives me a little crazy that the same place appears in my db more than once because the political control of the place changed through time.

Consider some of the places in eastern Europe where the country and language changed over time. I have some German villages in Galacia which became Polish after WWI and Ukraine after WWII.


I agree that this would be a very useful feature. Aside from the USA and Europe, name changes along with border changes were a very common feature of most colonial developments.

While desirable, it entails some very complex concepts because of boundary and political changes over time and the different handling required for a specific coordinate versus an area.

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It certainly does! It may also depend on who you are regarding as the authority on when a border changed. Borders are very fluid as is being witnessed today in Ukraine. Where is Crimea? It depends upon who you ask.

Alas, Genbox had these features twenty years ago. However, the absolute best implementation of places is found in Gramps, I believe.



I was thinking about how a person can live under many different names in their lifetime but the system recognizes that it is just one person.

Unlike a person, a place can become many places through subdivision and many places can become one through mergers. If the boundaries of all these places over time are in a database, then a single geocoordinate could be used to identify over time all the places that contained it. Now that’s a huge database for any one country, probably bigger than your computer’s hard drive.


There are also societal issues. Take (Northern) Ireland as an example. For example, ‘Derry’ if you are of the Catholic/Republican persuasion, Londonderry if you are of the Unionist/Protestant persuasion. England is a nightmare too. Most of London was in Counties in the 19th/early 20th century and was incorporated into the Greater London Council in 1963 but ask most residents their address and many will give the county of Middlesex (which was abolished in 1963) or Hertfordshire or Surrey, etc. Good luch with standardising that.

And Canada did a bunch of realignment in the past couple of decades including eliminating a whole bunch of counties for administrative districts. And amalgamation of hundreds towns and cities into large amalgamations, which some of the amalgamated entities voted to dis-amalgamate. And just try to figure out how many ways the province of Québec has been named since it was part of New France util the present Dominion.
You would need a database of every lat/log coordinate to even start something like this.

Of course it would be nice to have someone do all of our research and build a database of every geolocation on earth for every one of the last 2,000 years. Names alone wont do as regimes and languages change often. For instance, there are many cities named Lemberg in Europe. Which one was an ancestor from? Of course, one which is no longer named Lemberg (in the local language), in a country no longer controlled by that regime.

I have spent many hours/days researching city, county, country names, dates, etc. in areas once variously known as or controlled by regimes of Poland, Ukraine, Lithuania, Russia, Germany, Austro-Hungary, etc. found dozens of sources, many not historically accurate. One finally must go with the preponderance of evidence. Not something i would trust to a database.

Personally I follow a tip I read elsewhere in the community: once found, use the historical name from the relevant period as the Place name. Then use the current name as the Standard name to geolocate it so it shows on the maps. Works well if you can nail it down that close.

That is exactly what I do. It suits my purposes just fine.

For the larger part of continental Europe this kind of service has been done.

It is called GOV. The problem is that it is in German, so you might need to work with a translator.

The original site can be found here: GOV :: The Historic Gazetteer

An example is here for Mamonowo (German: Heiligenbeil), a city, which belong to Prussia and is now part of Kaliningrad:

If this information could be used in Rootsmagic, it would be awesome.

I like the idea to have a similar feature as Gramps is using the places, where you can nest them and add timestamps.


This is a nice site, as far as it goes. However, one still has to have a general idea about the town name, country and political regime in the appropriate time frame to determine which place is the correct one of interest. As a start, this gives a good, concise history of a place. But it does not tell you if your relatives actually lived there.

For example, if the only information you have is Lemberg, Austria in the late 1800’s this site will give you a list of about 20 places, not counting the churches, to start with. You still have to look at each and try to determine which one is of interest.

Nevertheless, this site would have saved me a few hours on Wikipedia and Google search, so thanks for the link.