Political Bounds

I’m sure many of you have run across the same problem I have during your documentation: What place name do I use, historical or current?

I have troubles also with the boundaries of France and Germany, the many Kingdoms that Sicily was ruled by, and do not get me started on the ever-changing Italy.  Even today I sometimes wonder how Italy stays together as one united nation!

I run across this quite frequently, especially with my own Grandfather.  My father’s father immigrated to America in about 1904 from what was then called the Austro-Hungarian Empire (See http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/44386/Austria-Hungary).  The political boundaries of the Austro-Hungarian monarchy in 1904 included all or part what we today know as The Czech Republic, Slovakia, Austria, Italy, Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia, Hungary, Romania, and Ukraine.  (See http://etc.usf.edu/maps/pages/6700/6750/6750.htm)

This place name meant nothing to his children, my aunts, uncles and Dad.  They always identified themselves as Bohemian or Czech.  I have even heard the place referred to as “Bohemia-Austria” which as far as I can tell never really existed (wishful thinking on my family’s part?)  Czech was spoken in the home (especially when they didn’t want the children to know what they were saying!), and the two oldest girls went to school without knowing any English.

Today I know that my grandfather was born near or in Drahobudice in what is now the Central Bohemian Region of the Czech Republic.  I have always embraced the romantic idea of Bohemia, even though the kingdom itself had been swallowed up in the mania to create empires long before my Grandfather was born.  My Dad’s generation embraced Czechoslovakia, which was the combined the historical kingdoms of Bohemia, Moravia, Silesia and Slovakia, and on some maps Sub-Carpathian Rus or “Ruthenia” after WWII. (See http://www.usgennet.org/usa/ne/topic/ethnic/czechs/images/cz-4-map.jpg)  Even I had a hard time switching over to the name “Czech Republic” after the breakup of the country in 1989.

So, the question is then when I have to indicate where he was born, do I use Drahobudice, Austria-Hungary; Drahobudice, Bohemia, Austro-Hungarian Empire; Drahobudice, Czechoslovakia (like my family still does!) or Drahobudice, Central Bohemian Region, Czech Republic?  Do I default to the place name used at the time, or go use the modern name?  The good news is Drahobudice does not seem to have been called by any other name for at least a few centuries, so I don’t have to deal with a changing village name on top of it!  But this has always been a question that I have yet to resolve in a way that is comfortable for me, but not difficult to decipher for other researchers.

So, how do you deal with political boundaries and place names in your research?  Does it drive you nuts or do you have an easy fix?  Let me know by commenting or sending me a note through the links on this page!

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