Genealogical data contain a lot of place names. These place names sometimes get misspelled or noted incompletely which often means the original place can’t be uniquely identified any more. Time for some attention to the quality of place names in genealogical publications!
Unambiguously determining the place name
Let’s say one of your ancestors died in Heikant (in the Netherlands). Which archive do you have to visit to find more information about this person?
First you will lookup Heikant and be surprised, because there are about 25 places which are (or were) named Heikant, another 20 places with this name can be found in Belgium. It’s therefor good practice to also note the name of the province (or state). But, if you add the province North-Brabant to the name in this example, you’ll still won’t know which place it is, there are 22 places called Heikant in North-Brabant …
By adding the name of the province (state) and (current) municipality and maybe the longitude/latitude you can unambiguously determine the place. This not only helps yourself in your research, but also the visitors of your online publications and researchers you share you data with!
Besides noting the province (state) and municipality it’s also wise to add the country name. Because most Dutch think about Delft as the place in the Netherlands, but there’s also a place called Delft in Cottonwood County, Minnesota, USA!
Mistakes in place names
Of course spelling errors can sneak into ones genealogical research. sGravenhage in stead of ‘s-Gravenhage, or Ryswyk in stead of Rijswijk. Or topographical mistakes, like an erroneous province name as in “Woerden, South-Holland” in stead of “Woerden, Utrecht”. These kind of errors are somewhat easier to correct, if they are pointed out to the author.
Another type or error in place names occurs when the researcher add information about the place in the place name input field of his/her family tree program which isn’t a real place name, but more a location description like “Hooglandse Church in Leiden”. There should be only place names in place name fields, additional location (church, name of the fame, address) info should be put in other fields or notes!
Source of geographical names
Geonames is a free searchable geographical database offering a lot of information about places. This database contains about 8 million unique place names from all over the world, including synonyms, longitude/latitude and links to information on Wikipedia.
Quality checks on Genealogie Online
Genealogie Online is the biggest family tree website in the Netherlands. This website also gives suggestions to improve the quality of the published family trees. There are already numerous quality checks based on dates related to the genealogical events (see Online Genealogy Consistency Checks or The Most Common Genealogy Mistake articles by Tamura Jones). Now Genealogie Online also takes a good look at the place names related to genealogical events!
Whenever a GEDCOM is uploaded to Genealogie Online all place names are automatically matched with the geographical databases of Geonames. If a place name is recognized, a link is added to this place name in the publication to a “About the place name” page.
This page, see for example the About the place name Volendam page – a map is shown of the place, a link to Wikipedia and, if this is known, a link to the archive (on the Dutch ArchiefWiki) which holds the information about the place.
Also shown on these pages are the most common family names in that places, based on the family trees published on Genealogie Online.
From the 30 million place names found in genealogical publication on Genealogie Online about 80% is recognized. Of the other 20%:
- 1/3 cannot be unambiguously determined, for example due to missing province/country information
- 2/3 cannot be identified at all (spelling errors, topographical errors, etc.)
When the place name is recognized then information like longitude/latitude becomes available. With this information Genealogie Online can make more exact images of the geographical distribution of genealogical events within a publication.
Because the place names are now recognized by Genealogie Online they become more that just flat texts in a publication, they get meaning. This means Genealogie Online can now help genealogists to improve the quality of their data.
De place name which are not uniquely recognized by Genealogie Online are presented to the author of the genealogical publication so they can correct/amend the place names. Of course it can also be that the place doesn’t exist anymore and therefor can’t be found in Geonames, but then: just add the place to Geonames, it’ll make this wiki based database even better!