Question: How can I tell if a location mentioned in family papers is a town or a county?
Answer: Be careful and pay attention to details when considering the name of a location. Place names can create a load of problems for researchers. When you are working with locality be as precise as possible. If someone left information without the details needed you will want to check it out thoroughly before you make a definite decision.
Using logic you can at time guess the correct location. For Example: Morgan, Utah is in Morgan County, Utah.
But this is not always the case. For Example: Morgan, Georgia is in Calhoun County, Georgia. Not to be confused with Morgan County, Georgia. And they are located in totally different areas of the state.
Make a note and remember there are also townships which may add to the possibilities. A township in the United States is a small geographic area. They range in size from 6 to 54 square miles with most townships being about 36 square miles. A survey township is a geographic reference used in deeds. A civil township is a unit of local government; and in Michigan a charter township is similar to civil township with special rights and responsibilities.
Take time to analyze your data, look at a map, read descriptions from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia, and check details found in gazetteers for more specific information and waterways.
When entering your genealogy into a database provide as much information as possible to help others following the same path.
Good luck with your research!