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Archiver > TMG > 2005-09 > 1127362497

From: "Don Litzer" <>
Subject: Re: [TMG] Pre-USA country designations
Date: Wed, 21 Sep 2005 23:14:57 -0500
References: <008e01c5bf0c$960e75d0$63aa6147@D9Z0TR71><>

Bobbie and Darrell,

Interesting points, indeed. To Bobbie's observation that colonial wills
mentioned the colony, but not the nation-state (England/Britain), I'm not
sure if that reflects a level of allegiance so much as a level of
appropriate jurisdiction to the document. My birth certificate doesn't
mention the United States of America either. How about this: allegiance to
the Crown, even if grudging, was so self-evident that it didn't need to be
mentioned. Even if colonial New Englanders were lightly governed and/or
lightly self-identified themselves as subjects of the Crown, it doesn't mean
they weren't in fact English/British subjects, if only as compared to being
a subject of the King of Spain, or the King of France.

To Darrell, you're correct that one could speculate forever about how to
represent a territory whose governance is uncertain owing to war or civil
unrest. If you were born in Poland during WWII, for example, you might
consider the best description to be that you were born in the General
Government even though there was a Polish Provisional Government in London.
For me, however, the least historically representative option would be to
backdate the eventual winner's sovreignty to the beginning of the
insurgency. You yourself noted "a veritable mishmash of contradictory
authorities and allegiances" in recordkeeping and, by extension, of civil
administration, reflecting not only that the town and colony were *not* in
charge, but that backdating U.S. sovereignty to 1776 (as you suggest might
be appropriate) would not accurately represent the situation, because
although the British weren't in charge, neither was anyone else. Some
indication such as "Revolutionary America" reflecting an absence of order
might be most appropriate. Nothing repugnant about that; whether that
favors "patriots" or not is irrelevant to a historian--in fact, to
acknowledge that, during the conflict, its eventual outcome was not
foreordained, but indeed at best was in serious doubt, might best reflect
the uncertainty and danger of the time and reflect in the most favorable
light those who influenced the final outcome.

Is it "bad" to show solely present-day place names, so long as it's evident
that that's what's being presented? That's a bit harsh. I'd prefer to
quote one of my college history professors: "It's good as far as it goes."
I do believe that contemporaneous place naming adds a level of historical
texture, can reveal research opportunities, and, for me anyway, avoids
internal contradictions that ultimately creep in upon creating some
construct of what a "right" place name is other than what it actually was
when what happened happened (like, what do you do when the suburbs catch up
to the place that was a township when your project started)! On the other
hand, I've been called fanatic just for having this avocation. Fortunately,
as you've noted, TMG lets us communicate the ambiguity of history in many
ways. Have fun however you want to place it!

Don Litzer
Cheesehead forever; reluctant Hoosier

----- Original Message -----
From: "Darrell A. Martin" <>
To: <>
Sent: Wednesday, September 21, 2005 8:49 PM
Subject: Re: [TMG] Pre-USA country designations

> At 12:28 AM 9/22/2005, Don Litzer wrote:
> [snip]
>>When to begin calling the colonies the United States or whatever is an
>>interesting question. I didn't have any ancestors here that early so I
>>haven't needed to fill in that blank. I wouldn't choose to start with
>>1776-an insurgent force doesn't win until the other side loses. After
>>Yorktown in 1781, yeah, I could agree it's not really Great Britain
>>anymore-getting the Treaty of Paris was just details. Either way,
>>splitting hairs between the British incumbent/occupying power and
>>Washington's guerrilla army is not as bad as just blowing off the question
>>To refer to a place solely by its present-day political designation is
>>misleading to those we're creating history for and avoids the
>>establishment of research leads that might someday come in handy.
> [snip]
> Hi, Don:
> As to your first point, that an insurgent force doesn't win until the
> other side loses; I think the finality of the loss is mostly irrelevant.
> All eventually triumphant insurgents back-date their success to some
> beginning point of the struggle. It is politically, perhaps even morally,
> repugnant to state that one's "country" did not exist even though one is
> fighting for it. If the sole legitimate government of the English-speaking
> American colonies from 1774 to 1783 was the incumbent British, then Nathan
> Hale was not a patriot in *any* sense; merely a traitor who would not have
> been prosecuted by his fellow traitors, had he survived.
> The real question, especially for genealogists, revolves around effective
> governance. Who was running the place? Who was collecting the taxes? And
> supremely, who was *writing it all down*? Very seldom will one find truly
> parallel sets of records created by competing jurisdictions. Even for what
> is now my home state of Vermont, during the Revolution a veritable
> mishmash of contradictory authorities and allegiances, has only scattered
> New York records for that time (although they can be very valuable).
> This notion of effective governance will provide a necessary
> counter-balance to your absolute assertion that "referring to a place
> solely by its present-day political designation is misleading". For most
> of New England, to which I have limited my commentary, effective
> governance existed and exists at two levels; Town and State (previously
> Colony). There are exceptions, but I don't think any affect place names. A
> *very* few places have been reassigned from one Colony/State to another,
> such as Enfield, Massachusetts/Connecticut, and in those cases I make a
> clear statement to that effect. But in the vast majority of cases there is
> a continuity, for both Town and State, of place identity *and record
> keeping* that strongly suggests the use of the current name as standard
> practice. Using an obsolete name is at least as likely to cause problems
> as it is to foster clarity. Killington, Vermont is just one example.
> Part of the flexibility of TMG is this: not only is it possible to choose
> between using contemporary or current place names, it is even possible to
> use *both* systems in one dataset, applying whichever of the two is most
> appropriate for each place. Make such notes to yourself, and your readers,
> as the situation requires.
> If you want to be as fanatical about contemporaneous place names as I am
> about avoiding Tag local sentences, have at it, in your own data. It's a
> perfectly valid approach. But don't tell me that my approach, using
> contemporary names with such memos as I find useful, is ipso facto
> misleading. I'm not buying it.
> Darrell
> Darrell A. Martin
> a native Vermonter currently in exile in Illinois

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