Postal Abbreviations for Genealogists

Today we are quite used to addressing our mail with a two-capital-letter abbreviation for the U.S. state or Canadian province/territory. These codes, however, have not been around forever. They have not even been around for the entire existence of living people. It was not until 1963 the the U.S. Post Office required the use of uppercase-two-letter abbreviations. Prior to that time, abbreviations were longer and of mixed case.

In the early Federal period, states and territories were given one- or two-letter abbreviations, based on their names. States and territories with two-word names were given two-letter abbreviations, usually the first letter of each word. New York, for example was N.Y., and S.C. stood for South Carolina. States with one word might have a single letter abbreviation. In instances where there would be no confusion, a single uppercase letter was used: Ohio, for example, was O., and Pennsylvania was P. But in some cases there were letters that started the names of multiple states. These locations were given two-letter abbreviations, an uppercase letter followed by a lowercase letter. Examples include Va. for Virgnia and Vt. for Vermont.

Chart of postal abbreviations. (Table of the Post Offices in the United States, 1831)

It is important to remember, however, that not all abbreviations are necessarily recognizable to modern researchers. It is critically important when researching in old documents, especially letters, to look at the time period in which the source was created, and to research the history of that time. One should also look in old postal directories to determine the meaning of the abbreviation. Confusion can creep in when we are unfamiliar with the history or the place names of the time. For example, those unfamiliar with history might think that O.T. is the abbreviation for Ohio Territory. In reality, that area was the Ohio Country or the Northwest Territory. It was never the Ohio Territory. The use of O.T. in the early nineteenth century referred to the Orleans Territory, part of the Louisiana Purchase in 1803, the same year that Ohio became a state. Confusion can also creep in when looking at old-style abbreviations that are the same as modern day abbreviations. Today, the abbreviation MS stands for Mississippi, but in days past, Ms. was the abbreviation for Massachusetts.

The 1811 postal guide shows many these early abbreviations, but it was not until 1831 that the post office printed a separate chart just for the abbreviations. In 1874, the USPO published a list of abbreviations that remained relatively stable for the next 90 years, until the introduction of zip codes and two-uppercase-letter abbreviations in 1963.

It is important for genealogists to be aware of these old-style abbreviations not only for research, but for writing as well. We do not use the modern abbreviations in genealogical writing because they are harsh, and in the internet age the equivalent of shouting. They interrupt the train of thought of the reader. So we use the old-style abbreviations to make it easier for the reader to focus on the text. One exception to this is in footnotes. Some journals follow the Chicago Manual of Style, which states that the modern abbreviation can be used for sources. Many genealogical journals, however, continue to use the old-style abbreviation to make it easier on the eye for the reader. Following is a list of the old-style abbreviations used in genealogical writing:

United States

Alabama

Ala.

Montana

Mont.

Alaska

none

Nebraska

Neb. or Nebr.

Arizona

Ariz.

Nevada

Nev.

Arkansas

Ark.

New Hampshire

N.H.

California

Cal. or Calif.

New Jersey

N.J.

Colorado

Col. or Colo.

New Mexico

N.Mex.

Connecticut

Conn.

New York

N.Y.

Delaware

Del.

North Carolina

N.C.

Florida

Fla.

North Dakota

N.Dak.

Georgia

Ga.

Ohio

O.

Hawaii

none

Oklahoma

Okla.

Idaho

Ida.

Oregon

Ore. or Oreg.

Illinois

Ill.

Pennsylvania

Pa., Penn., or Penna.

Indiana

Ind.

Rhode Island

R.I.

Iowa

Ia.

South Carolina

S.C.

Kansas

Kans.

South Dakota

S.Dak.

Kentucky

Ky.

Tennessee

Tenn.

Louisiana

La.

Texas

Tex.

Maine

Me.

Utah

Ut.

Maryland

Md.

Vermont

Vt.

Massachusetts

Mass.

Virginia

Va. or Vir.

Michigan

Mich.

Washington

Wash.

Minnesota

Minn.

West Virginia

W.Va. or W.Vir.

Mississippi

Miss.

Wisconsin

Wis.or Wisc.

Missouri

Mo.

Wyoming

Wyo.

Canada

Alberta

Alta.

Nunavut

none

British Columbia

B.C.

Ontario

Ont.

Manitoba

Man.

Prince Edward Island

P.E.I.

New Brunswick

N.B.

Quebec

Que.

Newfoundland

Nfld.

Saskatchewan

Sask.

Northwest Territories

N.W.T.

Yukon Territory

Yuk. or Y.T.

Nova Scotia

N.S.

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