Throwback Thursday: Changing State Abbreviations

Willennar Genealogy Center’s collection is full of Throwback Thursday potential, so let’s get our #TBT on!

Did you know that U. S. state abbreviations have changed several times since 1831? If you’re working on your family’s genealogy or looking through old publications or letters, you might come across some abbreviated state names that don’t seem to make sense with what you already know about the location of a particular person or event. Let’s take a closer look at this issue, which we’ve come across in some of our own collections.

post Office

Although state abbreviations have been used by many people and groups, they’re probably most commonly associated with the U. S. Postal Service. According to the official USPS website, “until 1963 the Post Office Department preferred that state and territorial names be written out in full to avoid confusion, but accepted the popular public practice of abbreviation.”

Unfortunately, these abbreviations weren’t always consistent, so in 1831, the Postal Service released their first official list of preferred abbreviations.

The Reformer

While not everyone adhered to the list, it’s still a fairly helpful resource, especially when it comes to explaining abbreviations that don’t seem to make sense.

For example, in our collection, we have a book of issues of The Reformer, which was published in 1845 in Centreville, IA, which would seem to refer to Iowa. However, that abbreviation was actually associated with Indiana at the time—and had been since at least 1831. It wasn’t until 1963 that the Postal Service shortened Iowa to IA.

You can check out the official USPS abbreviation list here, and you can explore our online photo database here.

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About Jenny

I am the Associate Director of Eckhart Public Library. My office is in the Administrative Annex, but I can often be found roaming the Eckhart Public Library Campus, performing acts of librarianship in every department! I love to read and learn about history. I'm also a huge fan of movies, TV and pop culture in general, and I love to read books of all types. Currently, I'm working my way around the romance section, with some historical fiction and graphic novels thrown in for variety! But you never know what I'm going to pick up next.
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