How to Correctly Document Names for Genealogy Purposes
The manner in which you record your ancestors’ information can make or break your family history research. In fact, if you don’t add names and surnames correctly to a family tree or genealogy chart, your family’s story can face inaccuracies. And this can be frustrating to others who are researching your family history! Just as there are certain genealogical standards when it comes to citing your sources correctly, there are some general rules you will want to keep in mind to ensure that your ancestors’ names are added to your family tree properly.
Of course, there are always exceptions to the following rules, so use these tips as guidelines for recording your genealogical data.
Recording Names for Genealogy: 5 Helpful Tips
1.) Always Enter Names as You Would Read Them
This tip is probably the easiest to remember. When you record names in your family tree or on a genealogy chart, keep things simple for you and others who will be viewing your research later. Record names just as you would read them: first name, middle name, surname (last name). If you don’t know a middle name of a certain relative, simply document the first and last name. You can also input a middle initial if that is the only information you have. Ex: Joseph Aaron JONES; Frank WASHINGTON; Christopher D. SMITH. If a family member has a suffix (Jr., Sr., III) you will document this after the last name, separated with a comma. Ex: Christopher D. SMITH, III.
2.) Record Surnames in Uppercase
While you’re researching your family’s history, you will likely find that many genealogists record last names using uppercase letters. And no, this isn’t a typo! Actually, there is good reason for it. Entering surnames using all uppercase letters in family trees, genealogy charts, books, etc. allows you and other researchers to find certain surnames rather easily. It can also aid researchers in deciphering exactly what they’re looking at: a surname, as opposed to a first name or middle name. Ex: Kevin ROBERTS; Victor Michael HARRIS.
3.) Remember to Input Maiden Names
Just as you may have trouble finding your elusive female ancestors, entering women’s surnames into your family tree can pose some issues, too. One of the reasons it is difficult to find information on the women in your family is that their names may not have been recorded properly in the first place! For example, you could discover that some of your ancestors were recorded using married names, names of prior husbands, or maiden names. The proper way to record your female family members’ names is actually be their maiden names which can help you uncover who their parents were, too. But you will also want to indicate the names of her husband(s). Here’s how to properly record a female ancestor’s name in your family tree:
- Enter her first name, enter her middle name or middle initial (if known), enter her maiden name. Ex: Violet Mae SAMUELSON.
- Make a note in your chart or family tree if Violet was married. Ex: If Violet was married to someone named Charles Lincoln, her full name in your notes would include her first name, middle name, maiden name in parentheses, and then the surname of her husband: Violet Mae (Samuelson) LINCOLN.
- If Violet had been married more than once due to a husband’s death or a divorce, in your notes, you would want to make sure that all of her husbands’ names are listed, with the latest husband listed last. If Violet’s second husband had the last name “Smith” her name would then be entered as such: Violet Mae (Samuelson) LINCOLN SMITH.
- If Violet’s maiden name is actually not known, then simply provide parentheses without a name inside. Ex: Violet Mae () LINCOLN.
4.) Don’t Forget Nicknames
If your ancestor went by a nickname, always include it in your documentation. But whatever you do, don’t replace a given name with a nickname, even if your ancestor went by this name more commonly than their actual first name. Instead, include nicknames in quotes. Ex: Richard “Dick” LESLIE; Roberta “Bobby” (Shoaf) MAUGHAN.
5.) If Known, Add Alternate Names
Sometimes you will stumble upon family members who have alternate names, rather than nicknames. This commonly occurs if someone was adopted or changed their name on their own accord. In this situation, you will want to include the alternate name in parentheses, following a surname. You will also want to add “a.k.a” (also known as) to make things clear. Ex: Judith Mary YATES (a.k.a. Judith Mary ZIMMERMAN).
You are also bound to stumble upon alternate names due to variant spellings (they can sometimes change over time due to phonetic spellings or from immigration). What you will want to do here is enter the first usage of a surname first, followed by the alternate spellings. Ex: Linda Abigail PEYTON/PAYTON.