Now, just as with personal names and dates, it is important to be consistent with place names. But it is also important to avoid unnecessary abbreviations. For example, a lot of my people come from Gloucestershire. But if I search for Glos (an abbreviation), or GLS (the Chapman code) for the county, how much data am I likely to find? No, it just makes sense to enter Gloucestershire as the county. Equally, Salop or SAL for Shropshire makes no sense when wading through an online search. So, I am being practical when I advise using the full name of the county.
Now, most people are going to get back before 1801, or even 1707. Why are those years significant? Well, prior to 1707 there was no United Kingdom of Great Britain (known as Great Britain) and prior to 1801, there was no United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland (known as the United Kingdom). Let’s be honest, my research is almost exclusively in England. I get no substantial benefit from using the terms Great Britain or United Kingdom in my searches. I figure that the line of least resistance (and most search results) is to search for towns and counties in England, not GB or the UK. By the way, I place the street address in the place details rather than making it part of the place.
Now, I fully realize that this blog is about family history research in England (and Wales). But, being realistic, how many people have relatives who only live in England? Maybe a few who are only interested in their direct line, although you’re not going to find many cousins to share the load going that route. But if you also research collateral lines then you will inevitably be doing some research outside England. Perhaps one branch of the family moved to Canada, for example, another to South Africa, and another to Australia. Maybe even Scotland or Ireland. All of that being so, it makes sense to have a system in place for recording places outside England as well.
But you can’t completely escape the historical boundaries when you search in other countries. For example, the United States of America did not exist prior to 1776, while states, territories and counties have been divided and subdivided, such as Virginia and West Virginia, or the Utah Territory, parts of which went to make up the states of Idaho, Wyoming, Nevada, Colorado, and Utah. Bear in mind, the last two states (Alaska and Hawaii) were not added until 1959.
So what was it before 1776? British North America, but if you feel that is too long, use some kind of abbreviation, but do it consistently. Typically, you need town, county, state and country for the United States, but you only need the town, state (or territory) and country for Canada and Australia.