State of Confusion

In the Yahoo Group [AncestralQuest] an interesting question was asked this morning.

I’m attempting to identify all of my ancestors who have been born, lived, married or died in a particular state.  How do I generate such a list?

There are two general approaches to this problem.
1. Use the Contains operator.
2. Query the State position within the place name.

Each of these methods can be problematic, but for different reasons. Let’s start by deciding which of the two methods we will use, and why we will use it.

My years as a volunteer at the Ogden FamilySearch Library have convinced me that most people either are not aware of the advice Gaylon Findlay gave about creating place names in Ancestral Quest, or they have chosen to ignore that advice. He suggested that if we want to be able to use the ability of AQ to select particular groups of places for events in the records, we will need to construct place names in the following format:

City, County, State or Province, Country.

It seems like an easy task, but after viewing many files while trying to help others, I have seen three deviations from this format which appear consistently:

1. Cemetery, City, County, State, Country
2. Church, City, County, State, Country
3. Hospital, City, County, State, Country

AQ will accept these formats for place names and report them faithfully but at this point, the ability to select by position in the place name is lost.

It is the comma which defines the position within the place name. Everything up to the first comma is considered by AQ to be the City for selection purposes. Everything after the first comma and up to the second comma is in the county field. Everything after the second comma and up to the third comma is the state or province, and everything after the third comma, including other commas, is the country.

It is possible to have retained part of the positional representation by using these formats:

1. City, County, State, Country, Cemetery
2. City, County, State, Country, Church
3. City, County, State, Country, Hospital

It would still be impossible to identify countries this way because the country name would also have contained the name of the Cemetery, Church or Hospital.

This is where logic would tell us to use the Contains operator since it doesn’t depend on the position of the state name in the place name.

Let’s start our report using the Contains method. We would begin by building a Custom Report with the fields we want to examine.

When the fields and sorting order have been determined, click on the Select button.

It is at this point that we will go to the Advanced Filter/Focus and tell AQ to select any record that contains our desired state name in any place name.

Highlight the Any Place field and use the > button to push it into the Current Filter.

Since we are not using positional notation, click on the Full Place radio button. Select Contains from the pull-down window. Enter the name of the state you want to select, and click the OK button.

Our Current Filter looks good, so click on the OK button.

AQ tells us how many records were selected, and we click the OK button.

If we are printing to a PDF file, we click Print, otherwise click Preview. As you examine the report you may notice records which have no place names within Utah or your selected state. How can that be?

Counties and cities across the USA are named after states. Many have their own state name, but this would not be a problem since that’s the state we wanted anyway. The problem is that many counties and cities are named after states other than their own. Here is a list of states that could appear on your list if you select a state which has the name of a county or city equal to or containing the name you selected. This list does not show such places as Kiowa County in Arkansas and Kansas, and it does not show cities with multiple word names.

In the following list, you will see the states in alphabetical order. To the right of the state name, you will see either the name of a county or a city in that state which has the name of a different state.

Here is the list:

If you have followed the advice given as to how to form place names, you can instead follow the same procedure as before up to this place:

Here you would click on the 3 (State) radio button, select Matches from the pull-down window, Enter the name of the desired state, and click OK. If your place names are all built correctly, you will get only the records you wanted.

Suggestions/Questions about AQ Will Do or Subjects discussed here? Click the Comment tab. I would like to hear from you!


  1. Interesting. I saw the question in the Yahoo group but have not read the replies. I’ve never used the Custom feature and will have to look into it.

    • Hi Cathy
      I use the Custom reports to correct mistakes I have made in the past, and mistakes I have imported from other sources. It is a great tool for making lists of records which all need the same type of correction. I also like them because I can shorten the space allotted to each field, and fit more information into the report. I use the Sort feature to group similar responses like cemetery names that have been abbreviated and do not make an acceptable sentence in footnotes.

      • Thank you, Dale. I will look into it. I appreciate anything that makes my life easier.

I would like to hear from you!

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