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County Names - Historic Or Modern?

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County Names - Historic Or Modern?

Postby Robbie J N » Thu Jan 16, 2020 12:16 am

I was wondering how other users to this site name the counties where various events regarding their ancestors took place.
Do you use the traditional historic county names or the modern ones?


In my case I go with the traditional ones with 3 exceptions:
The ‘Isle Of Wight’ is separated from mainland Hampshire, as it is a geographical boundary.
Greater London north of the Thames, labelled as ‘London / Middlesex’.
Greater London south of the Thames, labelled as ‘London / Surrey’. (I know large amounts of Surrey still exist outside of Greater London, but none of my ancestors were born, married or died in those parts.)

I think I worked out that I have ancestors born in 15 different English counties, 2 Welsh, 2 Scottish and 2 Irish (1 each from what is now Northern Ireland and the Republic Of Ireland). Plus several ancestors’ siblings were born in a few more counties in addition to that, at least 3 more English, 1 Welsh and 2 Scottish.


How London as a county developed was a very gradual thing over several decades, and pinpointing when a specific place changed from being in Middlesex or Surrey to being in London, is not always clear from documentation. I know there are sources that say the exact date when the various boroughs, or ancestors of the current boroughs, were integrated into the county of London, but the forms for births, marriages and deaths do not always follow those dates exactly.
Plus, outside of London, I have seen certificates with places listed as the ‘County Of Liverpool’ or ‘County Of Birmingham’, which I am sure must have been a mistake. (Obviously for Liverpool it would be Lancaster/Lancashire, and for Birmingham it would be Warwick/Warwickshire.)

And another thing, I have a recent ancestor born in St Neots, which was in Huntingdonshire but is now part of Cambridgeshire, whose birth was actually registered in Bedford, which was and still is in Bedfordshire. For legal purposes, when you have to fill in government application forms, this can get quite confusing. Presumably the people who check the records do not have access to the full birth certificate and can only compare the details you provide, to the listing of where a birth was registered, rather than where it actually took place.


I am guessing most of you use the names as they were on the records you have seen, but do you always follow that method?
I am interested in how other people label place names, are they strict to the dates, or strict to the source records, or do they just try and be consistent for a particular place regardless of the date.
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Re: County Names - Historic Or Modern?

Postby AdrianB38 » Thu Jan 16, 2020 12:47 pm

Robbie J N wrote:... I am interested in how other people label place names, are they strict to the dates, or strict to the source records, or do they just try and be consistent for a particular place regardless of the date.

Yes.
;)
There are all sorts of issues here. What follows works for me. Family Historians tend to say that "best practice" is to use the place-name (and place-name hierarchy above that) applicable at the time of the event being recorded. There are two major reasons for that:
1. If things have changed over the years, using a different name can emphasise that. What I call the "We're not in Kansas any more" effect.
2. Stuff will tend to be filed in record offices under the contemporary name and in the record office applicable to that contemporary county. For instance, if I were looking for rates-books for Warrington for the 1930s, I'd start looking in Lancashire Record Office but books for the 1980s are probably in Cheshire Record Office. Using the contemporary county helps me remember where to start looking. It's not fool-proof since stuff can move and I suspect as well, that when stuff goes to ROs, it goes to the one applicable at the time of dispatch, not the one contemporary with the events in the stuff. Maybe.

That being so, I now use the post-1974 counties for post-1974 events and pre-1974 counties for pre-1974 events.
1. I was very much influenced by someone who said that if you went out onto the streets of Birmingham and asked whether they lived in the West Midlands or in Warwickshire, most won't remember being in Warwickshire and will think of it as a totally different sort of place (fairly rural) from the West Midlands (urban).
2. When I finally accepted that I should record the deaths of my parents in my database, it seemed disrespectful to ignore the "Cheshire East" on the death certificate in favour of something that disappeared a few years ago.

Robbie J N wrote:... I have seen certificates with places listed as the ‘County Of Liverpool’ or ‘County Of Birmingham’, which I am sure must have been a mistake. (Obviously for Liverpool it would be Lancaster/Lancashire, and for Birmingham it would be Warwick/Warwickshire.) ...
...

Ooh no! Not a mistake at all! The historical counties of England evolved during the Middle Ages but from quite early on, people realised that it was sometimes a good idea to delegate certain county level powers (courts, for instance) down to some of the major towns and cities. For instance, Bristol acquired its own powers and became known as the City and County of Bristol. Such places were known as a County Corporate or a County of Itself. Some of the smallest counties corporate were Poole and Haverfordwest, which I believe got some county powers in order to deal more effectively with marauding pirates. Nevertheless, counties corporate were not full-scale counties and their powers varied.

For my purposes, I ignore the existence of counties corporate and assign the events to the "surrounding" county. This will upset my Bristolian ancestors who tended to be very proud of their county status but the naming of the place is liable to be a problem. "City & County of Bristol, England" isn't an issue, but "Town & County of Poole, England"? Which Poole is that, they ask? The one in Dorset, I might answer, blowing apart any logic for omitting Dorset... So, "Bristol, Gloucestershire, England" and "Pool, Dorset, England" it is for me.

Similarly I ignore County Boroughs which succeeded many counties corporate in 1888 and assign county borough back to their surrounding "shire" counties.

Post-1974 the situation seems to change in a variety of ways but I try to use the administrative county (or county equivalent, such as a unitary authority) in place at the time of the event. However, I still use "West Midlands" even though it's now a ceremonial, not administrative, county, while Peterborough (currently a unitary authority in the ceremonial county of Cambridgeshire) merits an essay in its own right. Suffice to say that I currently use "Peterborough, Cambridgeshire, England" because "Peterborough, England" says nothing helpful.

So - a basic principle of use the full-scale county or county equivalent at the time of the event, but adjust things where there's a lack of clarity with the names.

And someone else can tackle London!
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Re: County Names - Historic Or Modern?

Postby HardWork » Thu Jan 16, 2020 2:29 pm

This is a problem all genealogists face, and it is hard to be consistent as it is not always possible to obtain information easily and confidently.

Where I differ from Adrian (above) is that for census returns in particular, I always convert a birth county to traditional county name appertaining to the date of birth, as far as possible. For example, someone born 1879 in Hornsey was born in Middlesex, not London, which didn't come into being as a county until 1889, and I feel the date and place has to refer to the situation as at the time of the event and not as at the time someone recorded it later. If someone was born in 1900, say, in Trieste, for instance, even their country of birth would change! No point in recording as birth place, Italy rather than Austro-Hungary, where it was up to and including WW1, to reflect the contemporary situation by 1919, by which time it had changed hands, in my opinion, even if they were ethnically Italian. I mention this as I knew someone once whose grandfather, father and themselves were all born there but each held a different country of birth (one counting himself as Slovene).
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Re: County Names - Historic Or Modern?

Postby Robbie J N » Thu Jan 16, 2020 3:06 pm

Thanks Adrian for the detailed response.

When I record the information from a particular birth, marriage or death certificate, I record it word for word, so far as I can read the handwriting, for my records. But when I create a family tree, for example, I try and keep it simple with just years and counties (plus the country in brackets). That is my style, which I imagine others would not find informative enough, but keeps it consistent. Plus giving the country in brackets is handy when that is all I know, especially for some Irish born ancestors where I have no birth or Christening records to go on, just census records from England or Scotland.

The bit about the counties of Birmingham and Liverpool, I mentioned that because I have certificates for earlier and/or later events which say Warwickshire and Lancashire respectively, so wondered why there was a sudden change that then disappeared again.
For example, I have the birth records for 2 great-grandparents in 1866 and 1871 in Liverpool, both saying the county of Lancashire. Their marriage in 1895 says county of Liverpool. The birth record for the 7th of their 9 children, my grandparent, in 1908 says county of 'Lancashire & Bootle'. The inconsistency is part of what I meant in my previous post as to why it seemed like a mistake on the marriage certificate.
The county of Birmingham record was from 1894 on a death certificate, but that is my most recent ancestor event from the county of Warwickshire, so I have no subsequent ones that might show it reverting to Warwickshire again.

I too have relatives born in Bristol, the sibling of an ancestor, and for him on subsequent census records it always said Gloucestershire, so that is what I give for his county of birth, pre-1837, so no official certificates to view.

If someone was born and died in the same town, maybe even the same house, it just seems strange to say the 2 events were in different counties because that person lived through a time when names changed.
I have a great-great-grandfather who died in the same town I was born in, but his death certificate says Middlesex and my birth certificate, 68 years later, says (Greater) London, or at the very least 'London Borough Of' etc.

Separating the Isle Of Wight from mainland Hampshire, is mainly because my most recently born ancestor from south of The Solent had one parent born there and the other from the mainland, strangely enough Portsea Island (still considered the 'mainland' from an Isle Of Wight perspective).
That was in 1828, so before official birth records began, but a more recent ancestor, from a completely different part of my family, died there in 1987. It seems strange to say Cowes, Hampshire, but to say Ryde, Isle Of Wight, so I say both are Isle Of Wight. That is just my method, other people are different, hence my original question.
I am also trying to see if anyone else does it like me, or is my method completely unorthodox and goes against certain principles that genealogists and family historians try to follow.


Plus another problem I have come across, when searching on Ancestry they use the term 'inferred county'. One set of my grandparents married in 1942 in Crosby (Liverpool) which was in Lancashire at that time, but the transcriber has given the 'inferred county' as Merseyside, which did not exist until several years later, I think. Things like that just complicate matters further.
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Re: County Names - Historic Or Modern?

Postby AdrianB38 » Thu Jan 16, 2020 4:09 pm

... county of 'Lancashire & Bootle' ...

My understanding is that the counties used for civil registration purposes were not the administrative counties nor the ceremonial counties nor ... They were registration counties concocted for the purposes of registration(!) The reason yet another type of county was created was that the original registration districts were based on the Poor Law Unions and sometimes these spread over the boundaries of the (historical) counties. Being of statistically tidy minds, the GRO created registration counties which adjusted the boundaries so that no registration districts crossed boundaries of registration counties. "Lancashire & Bootle" will be a registration county, I believe, but maybe its area covered bits of both the historic county of Lancashire and the County Borough of Bootle. The GRO might well have changed names and / or coverage between those dates - tricky to tell. I've always ignored registration counties in favour of the historic / administrative county applicable at the time.

If someone was born and died in the same town, maybe even the same house, it just seems strange to say the 2 events were in different counties because that person lived through a time when names changed.

That was my original logic - however, the other considerations that I mentioned eventually overcame that.

I am also trying to see if anyone else does it like me

Lots of people standardise on the Historical Counties and ignore post-1974 changes.

Where I differ from Adrian (above) is that for census returns in particular, I always convert a birth county to traditional county name appertaining to the date of birth, as far as possible.

No, that's exactly what I'd do - the contemporary county for a birth is the county applying at the time of birth. And yes, I'd be happy to see the country change if appropriate - it's part of the story.
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Re: County Names - Historic Or Modern?

Postby AdrianB38 » Thu Jan 16, 2020 4:26 pm

Since it's been mentioned, I will comment...

London? Bah! That's partly spoken like a true Northener but I have a problem. Frequently my relatives, flitting through London, had children born there but when it came to censuses, all they entered on the census was a birthplace of "London". No "Middlesex" or whatever... Hence I ended up treating "London" as if it were a county in its own right, ignoring Middlesex, Surrey, etc, right back into the depths of time. And if you look at the censuses, the analysis is done as if London (in the sense of the Metropolis) were a county in its own right while the Middlesex etc, analyses just cover the area outside the Metropolis. (There is a map somewhere online that shows the area defined as "London" for the purposes of the 1851 census).

So London existed as a concept outside the City of London way before the London County Council.

This also allows me to slightly shorten my place-names - I have "Pentonville, Clerkenwell par., London, England" (par. = parish) whereas "Pentonville, Clerkenwell par., London, Middlesex, England" is starting to get ridiculous. True Londoners may content themselves with "Pentonville, London, England", knowing exactly where it is and its relation to "Clerkenwell, London, England" but I don't have that gut feeling, hence my need to include both Pentonville and Clerkenwell in the place-name.

And that's another point - your place-names may differ from someone else's place-names for the same places because one of you takes something for granted and the other needs to record it to remind themselves.
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Re: County Names - Historic Or Modern?

Postby Robbie J N » Thu Jan 16, 2020 5:50 pm

London does cause difficulties!

For instance, my grandmother was born in Marylebone, London but her younger brothers were born in Harrow, Middlesex. Going back a few decades before that, their father was born in Holborn, Middlesex, even closer to the City Of London than Marylebone. Places like Harrow were some of the last places to be added to London, hence the lack of a ‘directional post-code’, if you see what I mean. (They have HA, not NW etc.)

Plus another thing I used to do, a 4th difference to the historical counties, was my great-grandfather’s brother who was born in Forest Gate (West Ham) in 1882. At the time it was in Essex but during his lifetime became London, so I used to list his county of birth as ‘London / Essex’, but that seemed too complicated so left it as simply Essex.

I simply divide London along the Thames, which makes it easier, if not as accurate or faithful to what was on the records at different times since 1837, and even before that time.

I personally think of myself as coming from both London and Middlesex. My postal address still uses Middlesex, even if it is no longer required, but I always have and find no need to change it. (I was born after 1974, so in the age of ‘modern’ county names.)
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Re: County Names - Historic Or Modern?

Postby junkers » Thu Jan 16, 2020 10:16 pm

Robbie J N wrote:I was wondering how other users to this site name the counties where various events regarding their ancestors took place.
Do you use the traditional historic county names or the modern ones?


In my case I go with the traditional ones with 3 exceptions:
The ‘Isle Of Wight’ is separated from mainland Hampshire, as it is a geographical boundary.
Greater London north of the Thames, labelled as ‘London / Middlesex’.
Greater London south of the Thames, labelled as ‘London / Surrey’. (I know large amounts of Surrey still exist outside of Greater London, but none of my ancestors were born, married or died in those parts.)



Of course there is Kent which is also south of the River Thames and some of it was later incorporated into Greater London in 1965. As far as I am concerned I use the counties as existed then, I view 'London' as it started to be the 'City of London' and the changes of boundaries in 1889 (I think) and 1965 expanded what people considered 'London' was. Ancestry has got it wrong describing Woolwich as being in Newham (Essex) whereas it has always been in Kent and then Greater London, but North Woolwich is in Essex across the River Thames. You mention Hampshire, which itself used to be called the 'County of Southampton'. Scotland can be even more complicated with the old county of Aberdeenshire, replaced in 1965 by Aberdeenshire, taking the northern part of Kincardineshire and the eastern part of Banffshire (the western part went to Moray) with Banffshire disappearing. Part of the old county, I think it was St Fergus, was described as being in Banffshire as it was owned by the Sheriffs of Banffshire until 1854, even though it was physically located in the county of Aberdeen. As far as overseas goes I use the area name at the time, so Karachi as a place of birth before the partition in 1947 should I believe be listed as India.
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Re: County Names - Historic Or Modern?

Postby AdrianB38 » Thu Jan 16, 2020 10:53 pm

junkers wrote:... Scotland can be even more complicated ...

Another Scottish oddity re county names is that the tidy-minded bureaucrats decided that county names should be of the format county-town-name-Shire. Thus Angus, of long history, got renamed to Forfarshire, before eventually, gradually, slipping back to Angus. And Midlothian became the incredibly (to me) odd sounding Edinburghshire...

Curiously they didn't insist on renaming Kent to Maidstoneshire nor Devon to Exetershire.
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Re: County Names - Historic Or Modern?

Postby Robbie J N » Sat Jan 18, 2020 11:07 am

Thanks for all the various insights.

Having encountered differences in the actual addresses where events occurred, compared to where they were registered, has anyone gone to the trouble of locating a particular street (on a map, not literally travelling there) to see precisely if it was within the boundaries of the place where an event was registered? Also, what do you do if the street no longer exists on modern street maps, do you go to the trouble of locating it on old maps from 100+ years ago? Is that a necessary procedure to go through?
An example might be if something was close to a border between a borough that was in London at a particular time, but the other side of the border was not incorporated into London until several years later. Also, outside of the London area (trying hard to not be overly London-centric in this post), some county borders, such as north-east Gloucestershire and its border with Worcestershire, moving so a town was on one side, then later on the other side, as another example. (Ashton Under Hill being one such place where some of my ancestors lived.)
Is that just too much detail to get into?
The basis for trying to find these things out would be based on discrepancies such as the St Neots birth being registered in Bedfordshire, as an example. Without seeing the actual birth certificate, you would not know what the true county of birth was.
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