Online Volunteer Opportunity: Help Improve Place-Names

July 7, 2020  - by 
Man showing a phone to another woman.

Sometimes all you need to help others with family history is a computer, a few minutes, and an internet search engine.

Over the last month and a half, over 230,000 volunteers have been using a new, super simple volunteer tool on to help improve place-names in the FamilySearch Family Tree.

After a recent update, the improve place-names tool now lets you select specific countries you would like to work on, allowing you to focus on countries you are most familiar with. You can also change place information when it is slightly incorrect to get an updated list of possible standards.

What Are Place-Names and Why Do They Need to Be Improved?

Most ancestors in the Family Tree have at least a few place-names (names of locations) documented on their profiles—these locations could be birth places, places the ancestor lived, and so on. When these place-names are standardized, FamilySearch can help website users see a map of where their ancestors have been, show free record hints, and more.

How Can I Help?

In the past, FamilySearch has used automation to help people select missing standards. But automation can do only so much—and that is where you can help! A new tool is available (on both desktop and mobile) that allows you to improve place-names by matching them with a standard place that can be recognized by a map.

For mobile: In the Family Tree app, click the 3 bar menu at the top (Android) or the 3 dots in the bottom menu (iOS). Then find where it says Improve Place-Names.

What Does the Experience Look Like?

The new tool allows you to review a small batch of 10 places at a time. For each place-name, you complete two very easy steps:

  1. Look at the user-entered place, and compare it to the places in other life events.
Screenshot of Improve Place-Names tool opening screen.
Android screenshot of volunteer opportunity to improve place-names.
  1. When the list of standard places pops up, pick the one most similar to what the user entered.
FamilySearch improve place-names tool, selecting a standard place-name.
Saving a standardized place-name.
Thank you screen in FamilySearch volunteer place-name tool.

When you select a standard place-name, the Family Tree won’t delete any information, only add to it. The user-entered data will remain next to the new standard.

User tip: When you can’t find an exact or similar match in the list of standards, you can select a broader area. For example, if “Albany, Cape Province, South Africa” doesn’t show up, you could select “Cape Province, South Africa.”

Feedback from Volunteers Who Have Tried the Tool

By doing simple batches of 10 place-names at a time, thousands of volunteers have helped standardize 1.7 million place-names, though there are many still to do. Here is what some have said about their experience:

From Amanda:

I love standardizing the place names! This is ingenious! I wish I had more time to help. That would be very cool and a great motivator for people. Thank you for continuing to think of ways to make FS better!! ❤️

From Eliza:

This was actually pretty fun and not too hard to do! Thanks for the experience. I will keep going!

From Anonymous:

I really enjoy the “Improve Place-Names” feature added. It is really fun and really relaxing. It allows me to feel like I’m making a difference in Family History work without needing to dedicate a lot of time. If I’m ever just feeling some stress, I can go there and spend a few minutes trying to help. I like it a lot!

From Julie:

It’s a fun, fast way to get a little family history in each day. Thanks!

From Danielle:

Love this kind of contribution! So easy and really hard to mess up. You feel like you get a lot done in a short amount of time. I also really like that adding a standard place won’t replace the more specific nonstandard location manually put in. Great job! Keep doing amazing work.

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  1. When all you have is the World or for example Pacific Islands is it best to skip when thr information is so vague?

    1. Hi Sharon! Thank you for your question. Yes, you can skip any of them that you don’t feel comfortable doing. Thank you for reading the blog!

  2. Help Improve Place-Names has not been working for me the last two days. When I go to choose a country, there is only down arrow. When I click on the down arrow everything Just go away.

  3. Help Improve Place-Names is a great feature. When I started I thought I was only helping others. Then went to the page of the person with the address change and clicked on “View My Relationship” and found that most of addresses I was correcting decendancy or direct lines. Examining these cousins I have found many that still need ordinances.

  4. Much of my research is in Sweden in the period of 1700 to 1920.
    I often find a reference to a place that existed in the past but no longer exists as a populated place in the present. The places can be found on old maps, but often cannot be found on current maps. Is there a guideline for asking that a place be added to the standard place names in these situations?
    This can be rather common in Sweden as the population became more urban over time.

  5. I am finding lots of records have had their place names changed to somewhere nonsensical. I found 2 records from Milwaukee that are now indexed as being in Ward, Texas. How will these volunteer efforts be audited for accuracy?

    1. Hi Margaret! Thank you for your question. I am still trying to get a definite answer for you. However, if there is a tracking tool, it is not something that is made available to the user.

  6. Some of the “Standard Place Names” for New Zealand are very wrong and need to be corrected.
    eg there is a city named Nelson in the Tasman region. Ther are many others that are wrong.
    Regards, Rex

  7. The place names I have been viewing want to match with a Village, Town, or City. How do I know which one to choose?