21 August 2013

Wait, Where Did You Say....?

     My Great-Great-Great Grandparents were born into a country ravaged by war.  When they were little more than a year old, their home town was invaded by a massive foreign army that destroyed everything in their path.   When they were still toddlers, their country's armies found themselves at a breaking point and surrendered to superior invaders.  My 3x Great Grandparents then found themselves living in the same place, but became citizens of an entirely different country.  The place: Emanuel County, Georgia, Confederate States of America / United States of America.

     It's all in how you think about it, isn't it?  Stephen Boatright and Mary Logue were born in the spring of 1863 in what was then the Confederate States of America.  Their families suffered devastation when Sherman's armies march directly through their home town.  Before they were even two years old, their fledgeling homeland's rebellion has been squashed and they were living in a different country.  Of course, it's one they would have been born in if they'd been born two years earlier... but I digress.

     I always think about this when I see blog posts about how to record place names in genealogy databases.  The most recent round of these post gives a great example of a location that has stayed the same, but which has gone through a number of different place names.  How do you record such a place?

     In my family tree I have this problem thanks to general name changes, county boundary changes, the Civil War and the Revolutionary War.  How on earth do I record the birth place of someone born on what is today United States soil, but in a time before there was a United States of America?

     I've given it some thought and have decided that in pretty much all cases I'm going to use the modern location name.  The way I figure it, it's the most important to be able to find the location today, and then do the research to uncover that place's history.  This solution will allow me to map my family tree using a number of genealogy tools, which all pretty much use modern place names anyway.

     This strategy does mean that the full history of my ancestor's locations is not evident at first glance.  But here's the thing: I'm not limited to simply listing locations in dry bullet points.  I can add notes and explanations to flesh out the very basic facts.  And in my mind that's when Genealogy becomes Family History: when it moves beyond a list of facts and becomes a story.

     So remember: it's all in how you think about it.

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