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This is intended to be a place to discuss place names in GRAMPS.

Work already done

There is an existing ISO (ISO-3166) that is used as the baseline for geonames. This provides general guidance for abbreviations (eg 2 or 3 character codes, the US 'fips' definitions) for countries.

There are still some confusions in the list - eg, the United Kingdom/Great Britain tangle.

You can see the list at

Storage methods

When we think about places, we tend to think of them in our own situation. So, I might live at 135 Copley Place, Beverley Hills, Los Angeles, California, USA. (I don't). I think of them, in order, as Address, Suburb, City, State and Country. Other places use different nomenclature - county, province, prefecture, name just a few.

In the world of databases, parsing an address like the one above would be most inefficient - if it could be done at all. It is better to use the database and its strengths to assist us.

So, I would prefer to think of all those geographic descriptors as "levels", starting with the country (we can all agree on that, I think) as the base level - Level 0 - and then moving on to Level 1 etc. Having defined our Level 0, all Level 1s are therefore sub-ordinate to it. You can, of course, have as many 'Level 0's as you need.

So the computer application will think in reverse to us, preferring to start with a country, then finding the names of the places sub-ordinate to it, and so on. Accordingly, the database setup needs to reflect this. As an example:

place# parent# level place long lati
1 0 0 USA W100.00 N39.00
6 1 1 California W119.300 N36.000
7 6 2 Los Angeles W118.230 N34.05
8 7 3 Beverley Hills W118.400 N34.07
25 8 4 135 Copley Place W118.4224 N34.0767

Other places in Los Angeles would "share" the first 3 rows in the table, but then start a new branch.


A well-designed database could derive from a GEDCOM using the correct structure:

0 INDI @987@
2 DATE 23 JUN 1967
2 PLAC Beverley Hills, California, USA
4 LATI N34.05
4 LONG 118.230

but in practical use, the last 3 lines can be left out, and the 2 PLAC information linked to a lookup "places" table to prevent bloating the GEDCOM with repeat information.

Not all applications adhere to this pattern. TMG expects you to enter the data in this format:


where the first seven characters represent the latitude and the last eight characters represent the longitude. DD is degrees, MM is minutes and SS is seconds. The "C" is the compass heading (NSEW)

TMG exports the lat/lon data as the last portion of the PLAC record, like this:

2 DATE 23 JUN 1935
2 PLAC St Columba's Church, 2340 W. Lehigh Avenue,
Philadelphia, Philadelphia Co, Pennsylvania, USA,

It really needs to look like this:

2 DATE 23 JUN 1935
2 PLAC St Columba's Church, 2340 W. Lehigh Avenue,
Philadelphia, Philadelphia Co, Pennsylvania, USA
4 LATI N39.9958
4 LONG W75.1703


If there is a problem with this, it is that you might need to edit all the geonames in your family file. The strength of the process depends on strict adherence (and identical spelling) to the table structure.

Old place names

If you are going to add Google maps with references from, say,, then the old names for places won't be found. The easiest solution to this is to add the old names as notes, but map them with their current names.

However, you should be able to hand-edit. For example, say you know a small place, now vanished from the face of the earth, outside Vienna where someone was born. You study maps, derive the co-ordinates to be 48.055026 16.513064 (it's just a ploughed paddock). You should be able to give the proper name for the place that is long-gone, and add the co-ordinates yourself.

Google Group

There is an interesting forum at!forum/geonames

See also