Real Places®

In the past, people were a lot less mobile. A few hundred years ago, most people would die within twenty-five miles of where they were born. And yet, often we family history types jot down place names or import GEDCOMs without a second glance at the places we are tacitly agreeing were our ancestors’ home towns. I’ve been taking some time recently to merge all my family history files into one master file that I can clean up and work from. Over the years, in ‘genealogy collector’ mode, I’m afraid it’s pretty messy. As part of the cleanup, I’m going through all the place names and reconciling them to real places. Some have been just insulting in terms of how incorrect they are. Others I think were a victim of it being a little harder to confirm places than it is now.

As I’ve been cleaning, I’ve found a few specific places and tips that may help you too. Nearly all my genealogy is in the US, England and Scotland, so your mileage may vary.

  • If you type in a place name in Google and there is a full page of other people’s genealogy that pulls up, it’s a good guess that that place name is not correct. If it’s correct something else will come up first, whether it’s a Wikipedia article or a website for the place (or another place nearby).
  • Pay attention to suggestions from Google- sometimes it can figure out what place I really mean from the incorrect one that’s been in my files
  • I love the Places workspace within my copy of Family Tree Maker. I’ve got the list of places on the left hand side and it comes with a (somewhat sparse in my opinion) list of recognized places and others it will flag as unrecognized. For those I’m going though and once I confirm a place name I mark “Ignore Place Warning” and use the map tool to enter the GPS coordinates
  • I love the integrated mapping in Family Tree Maker. Often the map will pull up even ‘unrecognized’ places and I can just mark it as ‘real’ and continue on
  • South Ouram, North Ouram = Southowram, Northowram
  • If you see a Magna (Magnum) or Parva (Parvum) in the place name and you’re not finding it, try putting ‘Great’ or ‘Little’ in front of the rest of the name as you’re searching for it. I remembered this from my Latin classes belatedly after looking for Wratting Parva and finding Little Wratting.
  • Kilshawe/Kilshaw, Lancashire = Culcheth, Cheshire
  • Look for great lookup tables like this one on Wikipedia with old Massachusetts towns and their modern names. Now I know that Nobscusset is now named Dennis.
  • Walmesford, Northamptonshire = Wansford, Northamptonshire
  • Frisbee, Super Wreke, Leicestershire is actually Frisby on the Wreake, Leicestershire
  • At least for some of my ancestors, the Gascoigne family, Gawthorpe, Yorkshire, turned out to be Gawthorpe Manor which was rebuilt as Harewood House
  • Vaynor, Wales == Vainor (English gazeteer) == Y Faenor (and yet it’s still Vaynor on Bing maps!!)
  • Goterbie, Dumfries-shire turns out to be an old village just outside Lochmaben on the way to Millhousebridge- find it on the map at
  • Man that map is a gold mine- Cumleyes? No, Camleys.
  • Keheber, Scotland appears to be a gross misspelling of Kinnaber, Angus, Scotland
  • Menehey, Cornwall is just another way to say Manhay, Cornwall.
  • Look for cognate equivalents like plaza=place.