Jurisdiction/Location Parentheses vs. Commas

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eevande's picture
Jurisdiction/Location Parentheses vs. Commas

Dear Editor,

My friend and fellow genealogist and I are pondering the lack of parentheses around part of the location/jurisdiction in most cases in EE, as opposed to their use in 2.31 and 7.12, for example. Here are reference notes from 2.31 and 7.12:


1. Christian County (Kentucky), 1799 Tax Book, List 2; Kentucky State Historical Society, Frankfurt; FHL microfilm 7,926.



2. St. Mary’s Church (New Orleans, Louisiana), Marriage Book 3, p. 91, Guérin-Mailloux; Archives of the Archdiocese of New Orleans.

In 10.35, as in much of EE, the location/jurisdiction are written as a string separated by commas, then the citation continues into directly into the docket book. This is just one example of most of the book where a jurisdiction is used.

We wonder why instead of

1. Bedford County, Pennsylvania, Orphans’ Court Dockets, Book 2:182, 237, Jacob Whitmer, administrator, estate of Abraham Witter, April 1810 and August 1811; Prothonotary’s Office, Bedford.

as in the book, we don’t write

1. Bedford County (Pennsylvania), Orphans’ Court Dockets, Book 2:182, 237, Jacob Whitmer, administrator, estate of Abraham Witter, April 1810 and August 1811; Prothonotary’s Office, Bedford.

I remember your saying on this forum (or my reading in EE) that regardless of our choice of minor formatting (outside of the need for layers to be separated by semi-colons, including a period only at the end other than for an abbreviation, ending the whole citation with a period unless the analytical notes are short, etc.), consistency is important.

I also know that sometimes you say, “Both are correct,” about certain items.

We actually both find more clarity and consistency with the parentheses

Can you help us to understand if there is an intentional difference between using parentheses and not using them in these situations?


EE's picture

Yes, eevande, there is an intentional difference.  Let's focus first on the grammatical purpose of parentheses.

Regardless of where we use parentheses—in formal writing or informal; in a narrative or notes—the basic purpose of parenthetical data is to provide additional but not absolutely necessary information about whatever it refers to.

At 10.35 (the Bedford County, Pennsylvania, example), the author itself is "Bedford County, Pennsylvania." In this context, "Pennsylvania" is not parenthetical to Bedford County. It's part of the identity of the author.

At 7.12 (and all the church and cemetery examples), the phrase "St. Mary’s Church (New Orleans, Louisiana)" represents two different things. "St. Mary's Church" is the author. "New Orleans, Louisiana," is not the author—it's the location of the church, a separate entity. It is parenthetical because it tells us more about the author, it tells us the city-state in which the author is located, but omitting it does not change the identity of the author.

Now to get even more technical, we can discuss standard punctuation rules. (Normally, I would not dive this deeply into the woods in a query; but by now I know you are someone who loves precision and wants to know exactly why everything is done this-way or that-way.) ...

As a rule—regardless of the type of writing—items in a series are normally separated by commas. If any one of those items has an internal comma, then we use semicolons to separate the major items so that divisions between those items in the series are not confused by the internal commas.

This rule is used in constructing citations also.  A simple citation is separated by commas. In a short-reference note, for example, we say:

                Jones, U.S. Army’s Seventeenth Infantry, 23.

Here we have a simple series of three items—author surname, title, page—each separated by a comma.

Manuscript citations, on the other hand, are more complex. Individual item in the series of details typically have internal commas. Therefore we use semi-colons to separate the major items. For example:

John Jones to Sam Smith, letter, 1 July 1850;  folder 23, Smith Collection; Anytown Public Library, Anytown, Whatever State.

Here, we have three main divisions in the series (the ID of the item, the ID of the folder and collection, and the whereabouts of that folder and collection).  Within each division in this series, we have internal commas. Therefore, the bigger divisions are separated by commas.

Now, of course, all rules have their exceptions.  Locality names are one of those. When we cite "Bedford County, Pennsylvania," as an author, everyone knows that those words all go together and should be read as a phrase. Together they constitute a distinct entity. 

Technically, however: in a citation that uses a comma between the author and the title, then using an internal comma in the author field "violates" the punctuation rule. We go ahead and do it because, in the case of this Bedford County example, no confusion results. Everyone understands that “Bedford County, Pennsylvania” as a phrase, represents the author and that “Orphans Court Docket, Book 2,” (which also carries internal commas) is the title of the source.

On the other hand, the church example presents a different situation.  If we write

St. Mary’s Church, New Orleans, Louisiana, Marriage Book 3, p. 91 …

… we will have created an ambiguity. Are we saying that

  • "St. Mary’s Church, New Orleans, Louisiana," is the creator of a register titled “Marriage Book 3”? 


  • "St. Mary’s Church" is the creator of a register titled “New Orleans, Louisiana, Marriage Book 3”?

To avoid this ambiguity, when a city/state is not the author but simply a descriptor that tells us more about the author, EE places the city/state in parentheses.


Now, having said all this, it's face-palm time for EE's author and proofreaders. The parentheses should not be there at 2.31 and definitely will be removed when this edition is reprinted.  Thanks for flagging it, eevande!

The Editor

eevande's picture


I apologize for the delay in responding. I got tied up.

What you say makes sense. For me, the mistake with 2.31 was what caused confusion. My friend is going to use the parentheses for all juristiction citations, even ones such as in 10.35. I was unable to convince either before or after making my post and receiving your reply.

I was taught how you describe that parentheses are to be used -- you need to be able to lift them out of your sentence and still have a full descriptive sentence with the information you need.

My mother had a couple of careers, and one of them was as an English teacher. She taught me everything she knew from the time I was very young. So yes, I do like the technicalities and to dive deep into the details. Thank you for acknowledging that and humoring me.

Unrelated to this citation issue, but as an example of semicolon usage in sentences, even items in a list using bullet points or numbers should use proper colon, comma, semicolon, and period punctuation.

Here is a list of nine cats:

1. Nova, Domino, Twizzy, and Pierce, all black or tuxedo males;
2. Jimbo and Boba Fett, both males with gray fur;
3. Aslan, a long haired and buff yellow male; and,
4. Mama Millie, Twizzy's mama, and Khaleesi, both females.

Just throwing cats into the mix. I hope I didn't make an embarrassing error.


EE's picture

Undoubtedly, Eevande, you've noticed how the grammatical principles your mother taught you now apply not only to "regular writing" but footnotes and endnotes also.  Re the list and it's punctuation, that's the format I also learned way back in English classes; but have you noticed the options now laid out for us by CMOS 6.130–6.132? Some situations call for full punctuation and some don't use it. These options presented an interesting situation with a textbook I'm currently putting to press, wherein individual authors wrote different chapters and chose different constructions, some calling for open punctuation and some for closed.

The Editor

eevande's picture

Interesting! I haven't seen that. I don't have the latest CMOS. I'll have to look at that.

Thank you for all you do.


eevande's picture

Incidentally, the error in 2.31 found by my friend is in the Kindle edition. I'd have to look at the hardcover copy to see if it is also there.


EE's picture

Unfortunately, eevande, it's in both editions. The Kindle edition was made from the file for the print edition.

The Editor