Tuesday, May 5, 2015

FamilySearch Place Research Tool

FamilySearch Place ResearchI noticed the other day on the FamilySearch Labs website that FamilySearch is no longer supporting its Place Standard Finder. They have replaced it with Place Research. This tool opens the kimono to expose the feature inside FamilySearch.org that allows you to search using a place name and having FamilySearch return proper results even when the name has changed. For example, a search on FamilySearch.org for a person living in Bristol, Vermont will return records for Pocock because Bristol used to be named Pocock.

Place Research can help identify place name changes. The quintessential example given by FamilySearch is St. Joseph, Arizona. I searched for [St. Joseph, Arizona] (without the brackets). Place Research displayed a list of all its historic names, as well as the applicable dates:


Allen's Camp, Yavapai, Arizona Territory, United States

Populated Place

1876 - 1878


St. Joseph, Yavapai, Arizona Territory, United States

Populated Place

1878 - 1879


St. Joseph, Apache, Arizona Territory, United States

Populated Place

1879 - 1895


St. Joseph, Navajo, Arizona Territory, United States

Populated Place

1895 - 1912


St. Joseph, Navajo, Arizona, United States

Populated Place

1912 - 1923


Joseph City, Navajo, Arizona, United States


1923 - PRESENT

Place Research attempts to make sense out of whatever you throw at it. I searched for [Notts, Eng] and it returned two places: the county of Nottinghamshire and the borough of Nottingham. It scores each result. Nottinghamshire scored 99 while the borough scored 84. I suppose the terminal s gave the nod to the shire.

FamilySearch Place Research lists name variants, even in different scriptsPlace Research supports non-Latin searches. I searched for [台北 ] and it returned three results: Taipei the city, Taipei the municipality, and Taipei the county. I clicked Taipei city and then clicked Variant Names. It showed the name in Chinese traditional and simplified characters. It also showed Pinyin and Wade-Giles Romanizations. It even showed Icelandic. (Icelandic?!)

Using Advanced Search presents additional possibilities. In the Jurisdiction field I typed in [Utah,]. Research Tool displayed a dropdown list of matching localities. I selected Utah County. I then set the Type to Cemetery. Research Tool answered with a list and a map showing all the cemeteries it knows about in Utah County.

FamilySearch Place Finder Advanced Search

Advanced Search also supports specification of a year or range. I set jurisdiction to Utah Territory, year to 1855, and type to county. Place Research presented a list and a map of the counties in the Utah Territory as of 1855, including Carson County in present day Nevada.

FamilySearch Place Research results showing Utah Territory counties in 1855

Advanced Search supports proximity searches, but you must first know latitude and longitude. After identifying where an ancestor’s house may have been, I used Google Maps and found the latitude and longitude to be 41.260568, -95.806873. I tried to find all the courthouses within a 10 mile radius. Unfortunately, Place Research’s database doesn’t include courthouses, at least around my ancestor’s house. Rats!

I put the coverage of the database to the test with a couple of esoteric names. When I went to school at Brigham Young University the locals would talk about Sharon and Edgemont as though they were real places. But they don’t appear on any maps. There are no signs indicating how to get there or indicating you’ve arrived. They don’t have defined boundaries—that I’m aware of. They are real places, but today are just neighborhoods in Orem and Provo. I searched for [Sharon, Utah] and Place Research nailed it. I tried [Edgemont, Utah] and Place Research returned three places. I limited the search to places within the jurisdiction of Utah County. This was sufficient to locate it.

The database behind Place Research isn’t perfect. If you find mistakes you can submit the problem using the Feedback link at the bottom of the page. And while it has millions of place names, covering the entire planet for all of history is pretty impossible. While I found neighborhood names in Utah, I’m guessing place names in Nepal may not be as specific. You will still find yourself going to old standbys like the USGS Geographic Names Information System.

Still, I’m glad I stumbled across this tool and think you will be also.

1 comment:

  1. Good find! I hope it becomes accessible from the FamilySearch site. It is particularly useful to see the dates when a locality was known by a certain name.


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