Administrative Gazetteer/Place-name Authority List

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The very heart of the system is a systematic list of local administrative units that have existed over the centuries, with information on their various names and their relationships with one another. Our starting point was the set of "place-name authorities" identified by the National Council on Archives. For now, our systematic detailed coverage is limited to the period between 1801 and 1974 in Great Britain, although the system does contain the nation states of Europe since 1815 and is capable of expanding further.

We begin with the "root unit", called "World". This is level 1 and all other units in the system must be part of this, directly or indirectly.

Below this are level 2 units, the "Continents" and "World Organizations" like the "United Nations".

Inside them are "Continental Organizations" and "Sub-Continents" (although level 3 units are not obligatory). An example of a Sub-Continental area would be "The Isles", with "British Isles" as an alternative name.

Within units at levels 2 and 3 are "States" (level 4). There are five within "The Isles": the United Kingdom, the Irish Republic, the Isle of Man, and the States of Jersey and Guernsey. For now our detailed coverage is limited to the three (level 5) "Nations" of England, Wales and Scotland, but we do include some Irish material.

Our main source for England is Frederic Youngs' Guide to the Local Administrative Units of England, published in two volumes by the Royal Historical Society in 1979 and 1991. The system includes almost all the units listed by Youngs apart from the links between higher and lower-level ecclesiastical units. We have added a great deal of information from the census reports: alternative names; additional categories of units, like Registration sub-Districts; details of boundary changes. We have also added information from the National Archives' Manorial Documents Register for certain counties.

Our starting point for Wales was Melville Richards' Welsh Administrative and Territorial Units, published by the University of Wales Press in 1969. However, in order to make our coverage of Wales consistent with that for England, essential to provide a framework for our census data, we had to greatly extend his coverage of units from the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Our main additional sources were the census reports, especially the parish tables.

For Scotland, we began with existing computerised listings of counties, parishes and burghs created by the Scottish Archives Network (SCAN), however most of this information has since been "re-attributed" to census reports by cross-checking against multiple census listings. We also added information on poor law combinations and on boundary changes from other sources. One unavoidable problem is that villages of any size have almost always been some kind of parish in England and Wales, but this is not true in Scotland, so many important settlements do not necessarily appear in our system.

British Parliamentary Constituencies have been added more recently from Richard Cheffins' Parliamentary Constituencies and their registers since 1832 (British Library, 1998).

All of the above sources are relatively recent, and our goal has always been to use modern database technology to create the most usable and consistent resouce, rather than to exactly reproduce the pages in these books as faithfully as possible. The original authorities, even the SCAN Gazetteer, are organised into entries for units, each of which includes information about relationships with other units and, unsurprisingly, there are inconsistencies. In our system this is impossible, because each "parish X was in district Y" relationship is held only once, in a table of relationships which is drawn on when creating web pages for both X and Y. Of course, ensuring consistency does not guarantee correctness!

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