Locations can create all kinds of problems for genealogists. For this reason it is necessary to be as precise as possible. Some locations are logical.

For example, Knoxville, Illinois, is in Knox County, Illinois.

But this is not always the case.

Des Moines, Iowa, is in Polk County, not in Des Moines County, Iowa.

Keokuk, Iowa, is not located in Keokuk County, Iowa.

And remember there are townships as well which may or may not add to the confusion. Hancock County, Illinois, has a Webster Cemetery and a village of Webster. Webster cemetery is not located near the village of Webster.

Provide as much detail as possible when listing locations in your genealogical database. Personally I always use the word “county” in a location. It reduces confusion.

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2 Responses

  1. Thanks so much for posting this, though I suspect it will scant be noted. Most of the major online platforms, at least, and many genealogists out there seem set in their ways to not include counties. You point out correctly that, to really parse out the problem here, federalism creates a hodgepodge of names for political subdivision. “County” dominates, but there are also “parishes” and “boroughs.”

    Furthermore, you have the relative rarity of the independent city, which has no direct political connection to any county adjoining it, or even here in Virginia that completely surrounds it. Winchester, Virginia for example is completely surrounded by Frederick County and has its own constitutional officers and city council to govern and administrate it. This is not genealogy related per se, but in Virginia things are further complicated by the fact that there used to be city classes—one of which could share certain officers with counties (namely the Sheriff and equivalent of DA, Commonwealth’s Attorney) and the other couldnt—Hence why Harrisonburg, about an hour south of Winchester, has a combined CA and Sheriff with its surrounding Rockingham, as they were of different classes (code was subsequently updated to allow consolidation for all now-i classed cities, but I think more have gone with reversion to town status—a different story altogether—rather than combine these rather paltry offices).

    So why mention independent cities in the context of genealogy (and not just be flexing my vast knowledge of political science and Virginia government specifically)? One word: Richmond.

    There’s the City of Richmond, that every school boy knows—after all, it is the capital, and you ain’t gonna get far without rendering into Richmond what is theirs on an annual basis. But only schoolboys in “simpler” times who were made to remember reams of VA data, including all the counties, will recall that there is a Richmond COUNTY—and it’s nowhere near Richmond.

    It doesn’t even adjoin any part of Richmond (that’s mostly Henrico, which I’m sure presents its own problems for fellow genealogists as it was slowly eaten away by the city in a largely race based way until the General Assembly put its foot down). It’s on the Northern Neck, the first of the three (going south) peninsulas that jut into the western shore of the Chesapeake Bay (and of course, it’s genealogy, so don’t confuse this with the far larger Northern Neck land grants that included my own Shenandoah Valley). It is kinda nestled between the political powerhouses of Northern Virginia and metro Richmond, and the County Seat of Warsaw is about a 1.25 hour drive from Richmond (well, Google says 1 hr 11 min, but my general rule is at least round to the nearest quarter hour if Richmond City is involved). That said, while many of the counties on the northern neck are “swingy,” Richmond remains decidedly conservative and the entire region is rural for the most part.

    So what does that mean practically? Well, following the seemingly traditional method of dropping “city” or “county” could lead to, in my view and without any other context, a birthplace of Richmond, Virginia, United States of America could mean they were born in unincorporated Richmond County OR in Richmond City. Fortunately it’s rare to have that little information and general migration patterns would not suggest there be much room for confusion, but to the researcher who eventually comes across it? Godspeed, good sir.

    So one might wonder what has my gears grinding on this topic? Simple. In my early days on Ancestry.com, I did an obscene amount of adding from others trees, which I think is only natural before one gets “serious.” But far too many relatives wound up having originated or habituated in nearby Shenandoah, Virginia—a TOWN in Page County, which adjoins Shenandoah but owing to two sets of mountains is around an hour away from the true home place of most of my Orndorff line, Zepp. Thank god for the mapping feature on Ancestry mobile and much more the chrome edition, but it’s by no means automated and is going to take quite some time. If I’d only known then…..

  2. Beware of ancestry.com’s auto fill. Too often Iowa city is auto fill as Iowa City. An Iowa city is a city in Iowa. Iowa City, Webster City, Mason City, etc., are cities in Iowa. Iowa City is in Johnson County; University of Iowa hospital is located there.

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