Wait, what country is that?

I've recently been looking at records for ancestors on my trees that lived during the American Colonial period in the 17th and early to mid-18th century.  In doing this research, I've noticed what could be a problem if it is extended to territories beyond those in North America; it has to do with where the country borders were and what the territories were named.

It's probably a bit of laziness on the person posting the data that I see, but I have yet to find posts in genealogical databases that reference locations in the American Colonies as anything but United States for the country.  Now, wait a minute.  The American Colonies weren't known as the United States until the late 18th century.  Before the American Revolutionary War, the Colonies were part of the United Kingdom and not the United States.  Paul Revere didn't yell "the British are coming" because the colonists were themselves British citizens; Colonial historians tell us he said "the Regulars are coming" referring to the British Regular Army.  Aren't genealogists some of the most extreme sticklers for precision when it comes to vital records?  So why don't more of us recognize this and note these locations as being in the American Colonies?

The most troubling part for me in this problem is that if we apply modern political boundaries to the world, we could easily be searching the records from the wrong countries and wasting our resources.  For example, the region that we now know as Alsace-Lorraine has been within the jurisdictions of the Roman Empire, a Germanic tribe known as the Alemanni, the Franks, then split between France and the German Empire, was for a time goverened by Charles of Burgundy who also ruled the Netherlands, then back to France, and the German Empire again.  In the early 20th century, this region was an independent republic, albeit for less than a month before it was reincorporated into France.  Sending record requests to Paris is entirely different from sending requests to Berlin, and this is only one example of a location in my research where I have to study the political history of a location in order to know where best to search for records.  I'm sure you can come up with many more examples from your own research.

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