Place information and the problem with boundary changes

From day one of researching my family history, when entering a place of birth or death, I have always put the accepted modern-day county rather than the historical county as the event place. So Deptford would be in London and Christchurch would be in Dorset, rather than Kent and Hampshire respectively. It has always pained me to stick to this method as it brings about many errors and questions, such as why do I put Bromley as in Kent or Romford as in Essex, when they have been in London since 1965? Bromley is completely within London now, yet it would be difficult to find somebody giving their address as Bromley, London — rather than Bromley, Kent. So what makes one boundary change more acceptable than the next?

I think the reason I stuck to the above method has something to do with just how many boundary changes have taken place over the past century-and-a-bit and how it is mind boggling that London only covered the City of London for such a long time without any changes. That means, for example, that Westminster could not be listed as London until 1889, having been in the historic county of Middlesex. This makes confusing reading when you see somebody listed as being born in 1881 in ‘Deptford, Kent’ and then marrying in ‘Deptford, London’ in 1901. This happens again with anybody from Bristol, which is referenced as being in the counties of Gloucestershire, Somerset and Avon during different periods. It also became a county in itself in 1373 and again in 1996, when the county of Avon was abolished. The 1996 boundary still remains..!

But going further back in the family tree means my method of sticking to modern boundaries, which might not even last another decade, becomes irrelevant. Somebody born in Croydon in 1700 would definitely not have been born in London by any stretch of the imagination. Croydon would have seemed a world away from the City of London, with no direct trains taking you there in 20 minutes; it probably would have not been possible to even get to London and back in a day!

Entering place names for my German side of the family further magnifies the problem. Their hometown was in Stolp in what was then the Kingdom of Prussia in the German Empire. Stolp is now known as Slupsk and is located in modern day Poland. I couldn’t use modern boundaries and place names in examples such as this as they were not from Poland. I realised I was drawing my own lines, using some historical boundaries and borders but not others. The whole reason I thought using modern boundaries was a better idea, was to make things less complicated – referring back to my examples in the first paragraph – but in actual fact, I just caused more confusion!

In trying to retain some sort of blanket system when naming birth places, I’ve lost the sense of historical accuracy in all of it. So I have begun editing all the pages on the site and my family tree software to reflect the name of the county and in some cases even country at the time of the event.

 

Some examples of boundary changes in England:

Before 1889: Deptford, Kent
After 1889: Deptford, London

Before 1889: Bermondsey, Surrey
After 1889: Bermondsey, London

Before 1965: Sidcup, Kent
After 1965: Sidcup, Greater London (although still contentious)

Before 1965: Croydon, Surrey
After 1965: Croydon, Greater London (again, still causes debate)

Before 1965: Knockholt, Kent
After 1965: Knockholt, Greater London
After 1969: Knockholt, Kent

Before 1974: Stockport, Cheshire
After 1974: Stockport, Greater Manchester

Before 1974: Manchester, Lancashire
After 1974: Manchester, Greater Manchester

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