For a content type (place), on creation, as the user is entering the name field, I would like to check the previous records for that field. If there is a match, I will present it to the user to prevent duplicate entries. is there way to do this?
Check out the Unique field module.
This module performs additional validation when a node is created or updated by a user to require that a node's title, author, language, and CCK fields are unique within a given context.
In D7 you could also implement your "place" as a taxonomy and then use a "auto tagging" widget. As users type in the place name they see similar names that are already entered. That would prevent miss spellings.