Genealogy for the Rest of Us: A Writer’s Guide to Diving into Family History by Steve Luxenberg, author of Annie’s Ghost. Genealogy from a writer’s point of view.
Most genealogists are nitpickers. We have to be. It’s usually the tiniest detail that can make (or break) a proof argument. Over time, we all develop the habit of thoroughness, especially in our communications with other genealogists. After all, if we can’t be exact, how can anyone else understand what we’re trying to convey?
I am no exception. Nitpickiness is a downfall of mine, one I struggle to control in my dealings with non-genealogists. But when dealing with other family historians, I admit to letting this character flaw sway my judgment.
For some unknown reason, it has become the norm to drop words like county and district from place names. This can cause an undue amount of confusion. In Georgia, for instance, there is both a Newton city and a Newton County. When I see the phrase “Newton, GA” I automatically think someone is referring to the city and not the county…
…except when dealing with other genealogists, and especially with newer members of our realm. Then, I know that “Newton, GA” could refer to either the city or the county.
Users of Ancestry.com‘s vast array of services seem to be the worst offenders, in part, I think, because many of Ancestry’s databases omit jurisdictional designations from location fields, resulting in places named, for instance, Clayton, Rabun, Georgia. Most people could probably work out that what should be written is Clayton, Rabun County, Georgia, but you have to stop and think it through first.
Unfortunately, my knee jerk reaction to people who omit “county” and “district” from place names is, This person has no clue, and I write their research off as sloppy and unworthy of further notice. (Didn’t I already explain how nitpicky I am?)
It may be common practice for these to be left out, but from a technical standpoint, those designations complete the location’s name, and should be included in any usage. This tiny detail can help others pinpoint exactly the area in question, rather than sending him or her on a wild goose chase looking for records that are actually somewhere else.
Nitpicky, I know, but exact, and exactness, as we all know, is another trait of successful genealogists.
And now my plea to all of you: Please, please use complete place names when writing about your ancestors. By doing so, you just might save my sanity.