I know where “Chili” is in Hancock County, Illinois, but apparently there’s a part of it that has been hidden from me for years and which has been discovered by Ancestry.com.

I’ve been playing with Ancestry.com‘s “U.S. WWII Draft Cards Young Men, 1940-1947.” Experimenting with a database is a great way to learn about it, understand it, and make discoveries.

But some Ancestry.com databases make me question my knowledge of geography. 

While searching for cards showing a place of birth in Hancock County, Illinois (as an “exact” search), two interesting results showed up:

  • Albert Callijas born in 1901 in Wythe
  • John Herbert born in St. Mary in 1901

Looking at the extractions from the cards I realized why these two items were returned. The Herbert card made some sense–the Callijas card did not.

Hancock County, Illinois, contains locations named Chili and St. Mary. Herbert’s card does not provide a state of birth, so it is understandable why his entry was returned for my Hancock County, Illinois, search. After all, it said he was born in St. Mary and it could have been referring to St. Mary in Hancock County–which actually is called St. Marys.

But the Chili entry?

Chili in South America? I’m not so certain why it was returned–there was a complete location given. The place of birth was entered in the database as “Chili, South America.”

It all goes back to Ancestry.com standardizing place names in its databases in order to facilitate searching–particularly searches of nearby locations. With that standardization comes some tradeoffs. It is the nature of search.

Being aware of limitations and pitfalls allows us to make more efficient use of databases. They are, after all, finding aids. They are not perfect. They are tools that we should know how to use–even if they are imperfect.

Although I’m still wrapping my head around how Hancock County, Illinois, is in South America.





2 Responses

  1. My guess is that John Herbert was born in St. Mary’s County, Maryland—about 1/2 hour or so south of Forestville if there’s no traffic. But I’m really not sure why Prince George’s County was given that weird orphan capital S at the end.

    • That sounds pretty reasonable. People sometimes forget these records were created in the context of “real life” and, as you know, sometimes “obvious” details weren’t included. After all, who will be looking at these records 75 years after they were created?

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