Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Data Base Clean Up - How to handle Names

My friend, Randy Seaver, of the Genea-Musing Blog has made another Challenge.

Are there standards for names in family trees?

I am quoting his blog so that responding to his Database Clean up is easier. He asks great questions. I am guessing that each of us have asked our selves the same questions. In fact, last eveing I was a Family Tree Maker, Version 2009, and some of these same questions came up. So, it's time for my take on them.

He starts:

"[For those wondering why I'm still working in FTM 16, it's a long story. Mainly it is because I am real comfortable with it and can work fairly quickly in it, and then I can import the native FTW file to FTM 2009 and RootsMagic.]

My guess is, each of use has done this, especially moving from Version 16 to Version 2008 or 2009. For me, it was the question of Which Version was easier to do the clean up. When I made this conversion, I checked or both versions with Copies of my Working Family File. I wanted to work with the Same Information with both Versions.

Actually, I started my clean up in Version 16, but quickly discovered Version 2009 was easier. Now, I was NOT dealing with the Name issue, I was working on the Place / Location entries. Since Randy was only addressing Names, I will post my thoughts on each question.

Before I start, I suggest two things. Back Up your Family File. Don't go forward until you do.

Second, make a Copy of the file to check out how you want that file to look like when you are done. Especially with the Names, run some test Reports and look at some Test Trees, to see if they look like what YOU want them to look like. In other words, look at the Output to help you determine how you want to do the Input.

Only my opinion and it's what I did.

Randy Continues:

"I would really like to create a genealogy database that I can be proud of, with standardized naming conventions and the like."

That is a Great statement. I can buy into that. Not being a professional genealogist, nor a "wanna be" professional I can only say what I understand what the 'standards' might be. Of interest, is the Comment made on Randy's Blog by Rebecca, referring to a standard that was proposed by Gary Mokotoff. It can be found on this website:

I had not read it until today. What I will say below is not what has been proposed.>

Randy continues:

"When I looked in my index list for the names, I found that I have been very inconsistent with my naming conventions, including:

* (unknown) - I have some persons named (unknown) because I don't know either their first or last birth names. This is different from persons with no names at all who are listed as I deleted them because they had no connections to any other person in my tree. Should I use underscores like _____ for an unknown name? Should I use FNU for "first name unknown" and LNU for "last name unknown?"

Here is my take, and the reason why I suggested looking at Reports and Trees to see how you like the results. Try each of them.

For me, I have used 5 Underscores: _____ . Reason, I can live with the Reports and Tree format. The benefit is when you share your findings, I have found that people, knowing he information will "fill in the blanks".

When you look at Indexes or lists of names, they stand out very clearly what you have unknown Name information. It a reminder to fill in the blanks.

* known first name and unknown last name. I could use underscores or LNU.

* unknown first name and known last name. I could use underscores or FNU.

I use the 5 Underscores for Both. But, please see if you like what that looks like.

* Persons found with more than one first name in the records. Or a diminutive like Harry for Henry, Bob for Robert, Bert for Albert or Herbert, Molly for Mary, Abbie for Abigail, Peggy for Margaret, Sally for Sarah, etc. I've been putting these in as "Henry/Harry" (without the quotes) and getting a notice from FTM that there's an unrecognized character.

For Family Tree Maker, and that's the only program that I work with, has a Field for AKA, or Also Known As. The good news here, is that in most trees or reports, you can Specifiy IF you want the AKA to appear. That field will also be exported in a GEDCOM file. That is for Randy's Bert or Albert or Herbert question.

As for the "what was the real name", where you find in a your research, Family Tree Maker has the option to have more than one Name FACT.

In the example from last night. One document had Michael, another had Michael J. Which to I use. My answer is Both. Two Name FACTs.

The tricky part here is Selecting the Preferred Name Fact. Again, when reports or trees are created, Family Tree Maker has the option to see ALL of the FACTs or only the Preferred FACT. In the Example I have in my file, that I was using last evening, I found 4 different ways the name of the individual was presented in my Source information. Base on the other information and relationships, I could determine that the four names were the same individual.

Of course, there are Source-Citations on each of the names in my file.

Taking this one step further, and understanding of who is going to look at your research, in a tree or report is important. Lets say that everyone in the family knew a gentleman by "Uncle Harry". However, his full real name was Henry. The full NAME FACT would be Henry, but the AKA was Harry, or Uncle Harry. This is a case when the AKA field would be used in my file. Harry is in the AKA field, and the AKA is printed in the tree or report.

* Persons found with a first name in one record and an obvious nickname in another. I've been doing the same thing as the diminutive, e.g. "Henry/Skip." These are usually nicknames and I've seen them input as Henry "Skip" with the nickname in quotes.

I mentioned this above. My further comment is how do YOU want it to look in the Software begin used. In Family Tree Maker the quotes and slashes are not required, but can be entered. As Randy mentioned above, there will be an error Warning to deal with. I don't use those characters since I have control how the Name is displayed.

* Widows (and divorcees too) that marry again. I have a lot of "Mary Jones (widow Smith)" in my database because Tom Brown married Mary Smith in the records and she was the widow of Mr. Smith. Even worse, I have many of these loose widows without a known maiden name. I shouldn't be inputting her as "Mary Smith" because I don't know her maiden surname. Should I be inputting "Mary _____ Smith" or "Mary MNU Smith?' Or just "Mary _____," "Mary MNU" or "Mary LNU" and connect her to an unknown "FNU Smith."

In Family Tree Maker, it is expected that the Birth Surname is entered for the females. Having said that, from the example above, the unknown birth name or maiden name, I handle it like I handle any unknown name.

Within Family Tree Maker, again, you have the option to present the name, in reports or trees. When the married name is desired, the Contents, Items to include, has the ability to "Use married name for Female".

While we are here, the Name format option also includes the ability to "Display last name in all caps".

There is something that needs to be addressed here. In my family file, I have a married female, who did NOT, legally, take. This latter option might cause a problem. In the same file, there is a female who was married, then divorced. In the divorce papers, she took back, legally, her maiden, or birth surname.

This may present an issue for certain other family members, in printed trees and reports. Entering the data consistently and the use of the Name options are important to know and understand.

In either case, the use of the NOTES section is important to make use of.

In the Proposed Standard, by Gary Mokotoff, he makes a very important point. "Married women are identified by their maiden name, that is, their legal name ..." (page 4, paragraph 1.2). A little further down that paragraph, he discusses an immigrant, that upon entry into the U.S., the "changed her given name ... ". The key term here, for me, is "legal name".

Another entry on this Blog was on Searching Census Records, within Family Tree Maker for females:

Census Search for Females

The above use of the "_____" has little impact on the Surname. When I trying to use "unknown" as a name, there was a tendency to overlook the word "unknown" in the name field. I my experience, it was a little more obvious that an unknown name was being searched for.

* I've also seen the string "--?--" in genealogy periodicals and books for unknown names.

This standard suggests the use of the "?" for unknown portions of name (Paragraph 1.4). I tried that, but found when reading a report or looking at a tree, it was confusing to some of the readers.

Randy concludes:

"I note that the Rootsweb WorldConnect databases have:

* 60,920 entries for surname - LNU
* 11,052 entries for surname MNU
* 92,331 entries for surname - Unk
* 5,232,913 entries for surname Unknown
* 181,428 entries for surname (Unknown)
* 20,305 entries for surname --?--
* 124,687 entries for surname _____
* 1,166,278 entries for surname ?
* 8,117 for surname ?????
* 78 entries for surname Whoknows
* 64 entries for surname Dontknow
* 37 entries with surname Mystery
* 1,493 entries for surname Who
* 35 entries for surname Who?

Are there any standards for inputting these names into a genealogy database? Who has the authority to deal with this? Have there been extended discussions about these issues that I've missed in books, articles, blogs, message boards or mailing lists? What do you do in your genealogy software database?"

Again, one of the comments provide a proposed standard.

This topic comes up frequently on the Various Family Tree Maker message boards and email lists. There has only been discussions, and not one has seen a Name "standard". Not being part of any of the professional organizations, I wouldn't know if a standard is being worked on. I haven't seen a specific discussion, where a conclusion or recommendation was presented and agreed to.

As a User of Family Tree Maker, I can only offer how I use the Program, with my logic on how to handle the issue at hand. Just be consistent in how you handle these issues.

In Family Tree Maker, on the People, Family screen, the Left Panel provides some display options:

  • Use AKA if available as a middle name: If an alias is included in quotes after the middle name , both the given name and AKA (Also Known As) are listed in the Index.
  • Use AKA if available as an additional entry: If an alias or nickname has been entered for an individual, both the given name and AKA are listed in the Index.
  • Use titles if available: If a name includes a title, both the given name and title with name are listed in the Index.
  • Use married names for females: Lists married females by their married name instead of the maiden name.
To open the Options: Dates/Names dialog box in Family Tree Maker 2009:
Click Tools > Options > Dates/Names.
The Knowledge Base website also has:

Two First Names: FTM: How do I enter someone who has two first names?

There is a Tool to convert a Name that had been entered in All Capital letters. The "standard" is the use of Upper and Lower cases, and it referred to in Paragraph 1.8 (Syntax. All portions of the name will be presented in upper/lower case.) This tool will help with this transition.

Convert Names Tool in Family Tree Maker 2009

Another name Knowlege Base article is:

FTM: How do I enter missing or unusual surnames?

PS - for Randy. You might want to look at what the Find and Replace feature will do for you, IF you choose to make any changes. BUT, don't forget to BACK UP your Family File BEFORE you state.

Thanks for listening.


  1. Excellent dissection of the questions and your suggestions. Thank you!

    I will post again on this tomorrow and link to your post and to the Mokotoff article. I am really surprised that no one has done this before Gary did it - only last year!

    Are you suggesting doing a Find = (unknown) and Replace with a _____ ? I'm afraid that I will have to do each widow separately. Someone else suggested putting (widow Smith) in the Suffix field which might work well - still indexed by maiden name but gets the widow indicator into a report.

    And we haven't even touched the date and place fields yet!

    Cheers -- Randy

  2. Randy,

    As I suggested, Back Up your file, then with a copy of your Family File, do a Find and Replace. (unknown) with _____ and the various other ways of handing Unknown Names.

    You already have:

    * 124,687 entries for surname _____

    So you have a bunch already there. Then you have

    * 181,428 entries for surname (Unknown)

    Watch the (Unknown) and the other variations.

    But, you don't really have a "suffix field" in Family Tree Maker. There is only ONE field for a Name (fact). The program breaks that String of Characters up for you. < surname >, Jr. or < surname > III

    Just be aware that if the Find and Replace sees (Unknown) anywhere else, it will replace it with "_____".

    Try it with a COPY of your working Family File then check what reports and trees look like. In the comments on your Blog and on FB, each of us handle Unknown names slightly differently. I can only share what has worked for me. And, when I have shared this, folks have agreed about what the Output looks like.

    Having spent time on this topic for the past two days, the real question that I walk away from, is there a Need for Standardization in the Name.

    For me, folks have been working on a Standardized GEDCOM format. Not sure that we are there. But, in that Standard would need to have some agreement as it IF the Name Field is One Field on multiple fields. That then, might expand to Prefixes, Titles, Suffixes, and other honorary titles. What about multiple First Names, multiple middlenames, multiple surnames.

    Anyway, I look forward to your follow up.

    Thank you.



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