‘Place Values’ in Your Family Tree Are a Valuable Tool

Introduction: In this article, Jessica Edwards gives a tip for how she organizes data on her family tree and prepares for follow-up research. Jessica has had a lifelong interest in her family’s history – especially on her father’s side, which goes back to the first settlers in Pennsylvania, Jamestown, and New England – and has documented and added more than 37,000 people to her family tree!

Today I want to share one of my tips for doing genealogy. Let me state: I do not import other people’s trees. The names on my family tree are what I can prove and show where I got my information – so when you see that my tree currently has 37,132 names, it is from hard work and documenting everything.

Some of the genealogy tips I know have slowly evolved, some ideas came from others, some were the result of frustrations I got in trying to go back and retrace steps, etc.

Illustration: a woman using a computer

Here’s one genealogy tip. I determined years ago that I function better when I set “place values” in my tree entries. What are “place values”? For example, I find an obituary that says Mrs. Mary Gordon Meshersmit was living in Renovo, Pennsylvania, when her father died. I add her married surname after her maiden name until I can either find her husband or else have exhausted all my sources in trying to ascertain Mr. Meshersmit’s first name. If I can find his first name, great, but if I can’t I set a place value of (Unknown) Meshersmit as Mary’s spouse.

Periodically I will pick a few of these unknown people to try to research again because sources are always being added to genealogical websites. If I am in a hurry I just list the place values and then later go back and search for them. This is what I am currently doing to my tree; this approach helped me add more than 78 first names of spouses, and I’m just starting to look at the H’s.

Another place value for names that I use is one for unnamed babies and infants. I decided long ago to mark each entry separately. Recently I came across a FindaGrave listing for the Gill family with a tombstone that said there were two unnamed sons and two unnamed daughters.

I could have made it just one listing but I decided to separate them in my tree by listing them as: (Unnamed Boy 1) Gill; (Unnamed Boy 2) Gill; (Unnamed Girl 1) Gill; and (Unnamed Girl 2) Gill. I copied their place of birth and death for that county, and for dates I used the place value “unknown.” This reminds me that I have looked for a date on the tombstone and also searched for death and/or birth certificates but haven’t found any dates yet.

Another place value I use deals with the names of places. Long ago I decided I would use the format of: city (if known), county, state, USA. This might involve Googling that place’s name, as I am aware that many areas have possibly changed what county a certain city or town is located in. For example, I have found Williamsport, Pennsylvania, listed as a part of both Clinton and Lycoming Counties in different documents – but in actuality it is part of Lycoming County, so I entered it as: Williamsport, Lycoming, Pennsylvania, USA.

In researching a place, you may find the whole name was changed since that area was first colonized. A few examples of this in Alaska are: Barrow was renamed Utqiaġvik in 2016, after its original Iñupiaq name; Black River was renamed Draanjik River in 2014 after its original Gwich’in name; Chandalar River was renamed Ch’iidrinjik River and Teedrinjik River in 2015 as replacements for the North and Middle forks of the river; and Sheldon Point was renamed Nunam Iqua in 1999 after its original Yup’ik name.

I also periodically go back to my place names to make sure they are spelled correctly (those dratted typos sneak in when I’m tired). One genealogy program I used to use had a tab where it alphabetized all place names, and you could drag and drop various names for the same place into one name for clarification. For example, I may have one entry that says Lock Haven, PA, one that says Lock Haven, Pennsylvania, one that says Lock Haven, Clinton County, Pennsylvania, etc., so I could drag and drop them all into a unified “Lock Haven, Clinton, Pennsylvania, USA” name, and the program changed all the related entries at the same time – a real time saver.

Using place values helps me to organize myself and my tree – and if using them can help you, I’m glad. A good genealogy tree is one that you can sit anyone down and they can follow where you got your information and come to the same conclusions on this person’s life.

Happy Hunting!

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