Wednesday, November 7, 2018

Record Dates and Places Consistently

It is important to record dates in your research in a consistent manner, whether on paper or in your genealogy database program. The accepted standard among genealogists is to use the European method of indicating Day Month Year. For example, my mother's birthdate of July 10, 1911, would be recorded as 11 July 1911. 

Sometimes the dates you are recording are only approximate and you want to indicate that they are not exact.  You might specify an approximate date as either 'about' (recorded as abt) or 'circa' (recorded as Ca. or ca.) or 'before' (recorded as bef) or after (recorded as aft).  

It is better to be approximate in this manner if you are not certain instead of indicating a specific date. It is also helpful to indicates in the fact notes for the event in your database what it is in the evidence you have examined or why you have indicated other than an exact date.

When you have no proof of a date, it is better to leave the date blank and add a note in your database fact notes if appropriate. This can remind you the next time you research on that person what evidence you have (or have not) examined and what your thought processes were at that time.

Place names should always be entered as they were at the time of the event. Boundaries and geopolitical jurisdictions changed over time. By doing so you will always be prompted to search for additional records from the same time period in the right place. Use histories and historical maps to help understand who was in control at the time. Here are some examples.

  • John McKnitt Alexander was born 6 June 1733 in a specific place in New Munster in Cecil County Maryland. Since this pre-dated the American Revolution, Maryland was an English colony. You would record the place as:
New Munster, Cecil County, Maryland, British Colonial America
He died on 10 April 1917 in Mecklenburg County, North Carolina. This was now a part of the United States. You could record the place as:
 Mecklenburg County, North Carolina   or
Mecklenburg County, North Carolina, United States of American   or
Mecklenburg County, North Carolina, USA 

  • Thomas Beswick Sissons was born in Yorkshire, England, on 25 August 1880 and died on 22 June 1942 in New Zealand. In my RootsMagic genealogy database, I reflect a number of events/facts with dates and locations as precisely as I can so that I will be able to home in on them again as needed. (Source citations help me find the location of the actual evidence I examined and I may also have acquired an image (media) of the evidence.) Here is a portion of my database screen.
Record for Thomas Beswick Sissons from the
 author's RootsMagic database.
These entries may also have fact notes explaining my analysis, hypotheses, and conclusions.
One of my Morgan ancestors purchased a piece of property in what was Orange County, North Carolina, in 1755, and part of the property still remains in the family. Over the years, counties were formed and boundaries changed. For example:
Orange County NC was created out of parts of Bladen, Granville, and Johnston counties in 1752.
Caswell County was formed from Orange County on 8 April 1777.
Person County, formed from Caswell County in 1791 and effective 1 February 1792.
A second cousin owns a portion of the original land parcel, and it now lies in Person County. In the course of my research, I researched land, tax, and probate records for my ancestral line in Orange County, then Caswell County, and finally in Person County. The jurisdictional changes also caused me to look for marriage records and other documents for many family members in those other counties. By recording each event with the county name/jurisdiction, I have been able to return in my research again and again to the right county courthouse. I've also been able to share information with other researchers and direct them to the right place.

An excellent reference source for exact county formation and boundary change dates in addition to historical maps is the FamilySearch Research Wiki at Be sure to use this great resource in your research!

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