Friday, February 8, 2008

Is the LNU family in your database?

A post on the Advanced Research mailing list linked to a Rootsweb Review article from 2003. The article is is priceless... Here it is:

"In Search of the Wild LNUs

"A long time ago in a kingdom far away there lived a fair maiden by the name of Fnu MNU. She married a handsome young knight named Sir Arthur LNU and thus she became Fnu (MNU) LNU. Wait! Stop! Does this sound a bit like a page out of YOUR family tree?

"Are you spending sleepless nights prowling the Web in search of your elusive MNU and LNU ancestors? Or perhaps you've encountered them in someone's GEDCOM file on WorldConnect at RootsWeb, and after doing more searches have come to the conclusion that there are many researchers out there hunting those wild and crazy LNUs.

"Well, it's time to let you in on one of genealogy's best kept secrets: LNU, MNU, and FNU are not real names. They are acronyms. (Acronyms are combinations of the first letters/syllables in a group of words to form a new grouping of letters that can be pronounced as a word.) They are:

"First Name Unknown (FNU),
Maiden Name Unknown (MNU), and
Last NameUnknown (LNU).

"They are first cousins to the mysterious UNK ancestors that you might have spent time tracking down until you realized that UNK was short for "unknown."

"Researchers have used these acronyms and other symbols and abbreviations for years, with little or no uniformity from file to file, to indicate the unknown or missing names. The meaning of these acronyms is often unclear and can be mistaken for actual names by new -- and not so new -- genealogists. After all, we all have a few oddly spelled names in our trees, so what's a MNU or two?

"On another note, be careful should you encounter any DITTO ancestors in your line. DITTO is an actual surname, but it is frequently mistaken as a surname by those reading an enumerator's "ditto" entry to denote that the name is the same as the one listed above it. (DITTO and DITTOE are Anglicized forms of a Huguenot name of unexplained etymology. The names are found in North America by 1700. Ditto also is a short form of the Italian personal name Benedetto.)

"All of this name confusion serves to reinforce the notion that while user-compiled genealogies are a valuable tool in research, you need to examine original records to verify or refute what the compiled records indicate. When possible examine the records for yourself.

"What can you do to make your files clear as to the abbreviation or acronyms you use to indicate any unknown given names, maiden names, or surnames? There are no perfect solutions or worldwide standards. Some compilers, especially those who use genealogy software, put a question mark to indicate that a name is not known, but this is not recommended as some creative family historians use one question mark, while others use two or three, and a ? for a name might mean one thing to you and something else to another researcher

"A recent unscientific search at WorldConnect http://wc.rootsweb.com/ revealed the following are being used as names:

"Unknown-- 2,742,761
LNU/Lnu -- 14,134
UNK/Unk -- 39,332
FNU -- 139
MNU/Mnu -- 3,357
?? -- 78,201
?,? -- 605,694
??? -- 140,665
___ (underscores of variable lengths) -- 6,244
- (one hyphen) -- 6,491
MRS/Mrs (as a given name) -- 555,699
[--?--] -- 3,125

"Obviously there is no standard for indicating that a name is not known-- hence the confusion. The search even turned up an ancestor by the name of Unk FNU -- with FNU probably used as an acronym for Family Name Unknown. Not surprisingly there was no birth date or place for her and one wonders why such information is even included. It serves no purpose.

"Unknown maiden names should be indicated by using square brackets with a single em dash (or two hyphens, if the software, typesetting or word-processing programs will not accept or use em dashes), or use a question mark amid the em dashes -- e.g. Catherine [--] or Catherine [--?--].

"The same format can be used when the given name is unknown or in doubt. The latter happens sometimes when you learn your female ancestor married someone whose surname is known, but not his given name. Such references can be recorded as [--?--] Smith. Some of the popular genealogy software has to be forced to use this format.

"In formal genealogical writing, the English tradition of putting a woman's maiden name in parentheses -- Elizabeth (Smith) Jones -- is commonly used by many genealogists. Therefore nicknames should not be put in parentheses, but rather enclosed in quotation marks. Example: Catherine "Cathy" [--?--] Jones.
Again, your genealogy software program may or may not handle nicknames in this format or might require some tweaking. For those female ancestors with middle names that might be (or mistaken for) surnames, such as Mary Morgan Kirby, it is important to indicate that Kirby is her maiden name. If her nickname was Polly, and she married a Smith her name should be recorded so that in a family history publication it appears as: Mary "Polly" Morgan (Kirby) Smith.

"Remember you do not have to fill in every field in your genealogy software. If you do not know the given or maiden name of a woman, either leave the field blank or use [--?--]. Her given name is not MRS, and certainly not Mrs. King William of England.

"Using acronyms or various symbols when names are unknown is not a good idea because you want to make it clear that the name is unknown so as not to send others and generations of future researchers on an endless and futile search for the wild LNU. Don't put your cousins in the position of having to ask 'What's MNU? Or who is Unk FNU?' "

The above was previously published in RootsWeb Review: Vol. 6, No. 35, 27 August 2003. Rootsweb Review permits publication of articles not otherwise expressly prohibited by the author or editor.

Seriously, how unknown names are entered into a database is important. I'm in the process of changing all of my UNKNOWN names into the recommended --?-- when I find them. I'm not putting them in brackets though - maybe I should. More work...

3 comments:

Bill West said...

I'm embarrassed over how long it took
me to find out that the Joanna Unk
on my family tree was not someone from the Unk Family!

Heidi Arvin said...

Thank you! This is very useful information to share with all of us "family hunters" out there!

Sara Pierce said...

I'm glad I read this! I had just found an older family member from the Netherlands and I was convinced that Fnu Mnu was just a really unique name! Thanks for clearing that up!