Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Confused About Counties

I could use some advice from fellow genea-bloggers. I am in the midst of cleaning up my database (I know, brave man I am) and am vexed about how to enter locations properly.

Most of my ancestors hail from New York and there is a pretty good list of New York counties over on the NYGENWeb page, however the exact dates of county creation are not listed. But they do list what was the original county.

An example: many of my Austin ancestors lived in what is now Lewis county. But here is what the progression of that county looks like:
1805 - present: Lewis
1798 - 1805: Oneida
1791 - 1798: Herkimer
1772 - 1792: Montgomery
1683 - 1772: Tryon

So, do I list someone born in 1802 as Lowville, Oneida, New York (reflecting the name of the county on their birthdate) or do I put the present day location of Lowville, Lewis, New York? Using the latter would seem more helpful to fellow researchers.

What I've done is started to created a txt file which I keep as an icon on my desktop listing the exact dates of county creation. Its creation was born of frustration, especially concerning the New York City counties. I could never figure out when The Bronx was created (btw it is one of the few US locations officially with an article before its name, but Bronx County does not use "the") or when Brooklyn reverted from an independent city to a borough and was part of the new Kings county in 1898.

Once the listing is complete perhaps I will post it here for other New York researchers.


Randy Seaver said...


The professionals will tell you to put the County that was the governing entity at the time of the record. If you want, you could put "Lowville, Oneida County (now Lewis County), New York" per your example.

Obviously, records may be in Oneida County (things like probates and deeds and taxlists, etc) but other records (a cemetery list, a history book, a plat map) might be in Lewis County records. Obviosuly, you should check both counties in this case.

I'm bad though - I started out 20 years ago putting the current county out of ignorance, and haven't gone back into my database to change anything.

Cheers -- Randy

Apple said...

I went with the current county. Based on Randy's comment that will probably come back o bite me in the end.

The text file sounds like a great idea. I have a good idea for some counties in my head but I usually end up going to genweb everytime I need the correct year.

Lori Thornton said...

Randy told you the proper way. I read his comment. I know that I have some counties in my database that did not exist at that time, particularly in my New England lines. However, when I write something for publication, I always try to make sure that I double-check county information so that I get it right! Technically, most of our folks were in colonies such as Massachusetts Bay or Plymouth Colony back in the colonial period. Most of us are probably guilty of having "Massachusetts" in our databases. Legacy has an advisor that will tell you whether a county was in existence at a certain time, but it's not perfect, especially on those colonial situations!

Thomas MacEntee said...

Thanks everyone - I had a feeling that suggestions would come up with a combo of original and current which is what Randy first suggested.

I have been using this format during my cleanup tonite:

Lowville, Oneida (Lewis), New York with the current county listed in parens.

I have to say I've learned quite a bit about New York county history and I should be ready to post my list of New York counties with their creation dates and from which county/counties they were formed. There is also a list of counties that no longer exist.

I also had the pleasure of mapping out the period in which New York was held by the Dutch (1614 - 1664 being New Amsterdam) and then the English (1664 - 1781). So, if a person was in Kingston pre-1664, they were in Esopus (Kingston). The county system was not started until November 1, 1683 so between 1664 and 01 Nov 1683, they were in Kingston, New York. Post 01 Nov 1683, they were in Kingson, Ulster, New York. Whew!

I'll have all the fun details in that upcoming post.


Steve said...

I enter the place name as it was at the time of the event. This means that, even if someone stayed in the same place all his/her life, the name of the place could be different for birth, marriage, and death.

One potential problem with including the current place name is that the current name may not be current forever.

Sherry said...

For your information--the decision was made to create two more counties out of Oneida county, i.e. Lewis and Jefferson counties, was made at the tavern of my four times great grand uncle, Freedom Wright, in Denmark, Oneida (Lewis), New York. The meeting was held on November 20, 1804.