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This topic was brought up right at the start of beta: Applying geographic tags to questions?

But I think it is worth revisiting, as there seems little consistency these days when it comes to geographic tags.

Some questions have a country tag, some just a state or province tag.

Some recent tags exist for former and current regions – e.g. and .

Some questions are tagged with a place even if the place is nothing more than a word mentioned in the question, and the question is not really about the place at all.

Should there be any guidelines for which geographies get tags? If so, what? When and how should geographic tags be used?

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As with all these questions, it's complicated and I don't think there's a single rule that fits all circumstances. In many cases consistency is a false god to which utility is sacrificed.

If you're asking about Civil Registration in England and Wales (or about Probate records post circa 1858) all you need is an England-and-Wales tag as the records and the process of locating them are the same across that geography (as long as you tag for the record type -- maybe we need a civil-records tag).

If you're asking about Parish registers (or Probate records prior to 1858) then you probably need a country tag and a county tag as the process of locating the records varies with county (which is a proxy for diocese). (I hope nobody is suggesting diocese tags!)

Some geographies need multiple tags -- Israel and Palestine and British-Mandate-Palestine are not the same place, even though they occupy overlapping land albeit at different times. Looking for a marriage record in Palestine is a different process to looking for a marriage record in British-Mandate-Palestine.

I think the fundamental guidance when tagging for geography should be:

  • Does the geography matter to the answer? If not, don't tag for geography.
  • Do one or more geographic tags help questioners find similar/related questions that might let them answer their own question or at least expand their knowledge in area of interest; and steer them away from rabbit-holes; (See my example of Palestine versus British-Mandate-Palestine).
  • Do they help experts find questions to which they can contribute expert answers (I know a fair bit about the availability of records for Pembrokeshire, but nothing about Monmouthshire, for example).
  • Or do they just summarise the question (which is a tagging no-no)?

    coupled with

  • Is the geographic tag at the lowest relevant level for an answer to be targeted and at the highest level for an answer to be as applicable to as many related questions as appropriate.

  • If the OP has tagged at the wrong granularity, an expert ought to fix it.
  • If the tag is ambiguous (Birmingham, for example) it should be disambiguated unless the ambiguity doesn't matter (in which case it probably doesn't need a geographical tag anyway).

(As an aside, using two tags for geography can be constraining on other tags when there's a maximum of 5, so we might want to consider combined tags such as England-Worcestershire, or USA-New York State. Consider tag sequence: England, Warwickshire, birth-records, civil-records, 19th-century, locating-records -- which one should be dropped?)

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In this answer I only wish to address one aspect from your question:

Some questions have a country tag, some just a state or province tag.

I like to see a geographic tag on most questions. I think for most countries we have a small enough number of questions that the appropriate level of granularity is the country e.g. with 12 questions.

However, for states of America, counties of the UK, perhaps states of Australia, and perhaps provinces of Canada, there are sufficient question numbers and differences in record keeping to warrant a second geographic tag for the state/county/province.

This then leaves me with the dilemma of whether to have tags for both the country and the state/county/province. At the moment I think most questions with geographic tags are tagged this way.

I am beginning to think that when a country warrants state/county/province tags, then we should stop also including a country tag.

I started writing this thinking that having too many questions with the same tag (e.g. , ) makes for boring tweets from Twitter but when I tried a test just now it does not seem like the most common tag gets prepended any more.

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    There are many instances -- such as questions about the research process or about software -- where a geographic tag is not appropriate. In fact, of our five on-topic areas, only two of them (finding/using sources and breaking down brick walls) would warrant a geography tag IMO. – user104 Sep 13 '16 at 16:00
  • @ColeValleyGirl I disagree that only two of our five on-topic areas would warrant a geography tag. I frequently use geography to gain insights into my genealogy and family history in all five of those areas. – PolyGeo Sep 15 '16 at 6:40
  • You'l have to give me some examples of how geography applies to a question about software, or documenting your research results, or the research process (other than locating records). – user104 Sep 15 '16 at 10:07
  • Software - integrating historical basemaps - these are rarely global and can be served in many formats by many products - some of these are international but many others are available or common in only a few countries. – PolyGeo Sep 15 '16 at 10:26
  • Documenting research results - where do I archive my research – PolyGeo Sep 15 '16 at 10:27
  • Research process - what to ask living ancestors during interviews that is specific to where they grew up – PolyGeo Sep 15 '16 at 10:35
  • Geographic tags are mostly useful for locating records but then most of our questions are about locating records which means, I think, that a geographic tag is appropriate for most of our questions. – PolyGeo Sep 15 '16 at 10:37
  • 39 questions about gedcom, 72 about software, 75 about dna, 44 about relationship-mapping, 42 about representing a family-tree, 28 about standards, 23 about producing a website, 17 about preserving records, 16 about sharing info, 13 about publishing info -- I gave up at that point but even allowing for (a smaller degree than you'd expect) of overlap, that's 15-20% of our questions that don't need a geography tag. So I'll go with most but NOT "not quite all". – user104 Sep 15 '16 at 11:05
  • That mapping question is a pretty specialist one -- I doubt we'll get many variants on that and a non-geographic specific answer might be more useful if it has pointers to a approach. Same for the other two examples. – user104 Sep 15 '16 at 11:08
  • "not quite all" was meant more in the sense of "definitely not all" rather than "almost all" so I had no qualms simply removing it. – PolyGeo Sep 15 '16 at 11:19

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