Wednesday, April 29, 2020

Dear Randy: "Why Do You Add Alternate Names To Your Family Tree?"

A society colleague asked me this question when I was moderating the SDGS RootsMagic Group meeting several months ago.

Names are tricky things sometimes.  Each person is given a birth name by their parents, and then family, friends and associates call them a nickname, only part of their given name, or their initials.. Sometimes the name is changed (by marriage, by a court, etc.).  Names can be misspelled in a record.  Some names may be entered in records with an 's' added or letters left out - such as 'Seavers' rather than 'Seaver' or 'Sever' rather than 'Seaver.'   Some names may be entered as heard by the clerk or recorder, and if the person providing the information has an accent the name could be spelled differently - in New England, I find "Seeva' occasionally.  Then there's foreign languages, translated names, and patronymics, and dit names, and more!

It's not unusual to find a family tree profile with five or ten alternate names.  My own name has been provided as:

* Randall Jeffrey Seaver
* Randall J. Seaver
* Randell J. Seaver
* Randy Seaver
* Randy J. Seaver
*  R.J. Seaver
*  R. Jeffrey Seaver
*  Randolph Seaver
* Randy Seaver Geneaholic

I use what I consider the "best" given name and surname as the preferred name for my profiles, but I add alternate names to the profile.  That "best" name may not be the name given in a birth record, but may be in a subsequent record.  An example may be the birth record may be 'Devier J. Smith' but another record says 'Devier James Smith.'  The alternate names can have notes and sources attached to them.  In the example, 'Devier J. Smith' would be an alternate name sourced to the birth record, while 'Devier James Smith' might be sourced to a Bible record, a marriage record, or a death record.

My standard is to use the maiden surname of females in my family tree, notwithstanding the use of "last married name" in certain family tree systems (e.g., MyHeritage, WikiTree, Geni, etc.).  If I find a record for a married female that uses her married name, I add that name as an alternate name and provide a source for it.

By adding the alternate names to my family tree, with a note and a source to records using that name, the alternate name appears in my family tree index and can be found in a search in my family tree.  That saves me time searching when I can't recall the maiden name but have entered an alternate married name for a profile.

Of course, no family tree system is perfect, and the name standards used by any genealogist or family historian may vary from my standard.

Here is the "Adding People" section for "Names" in RootsMagic Help:
The last line says:  "Ultimately, each person will have to define their own data entry "guidelines" using the various facts and fields and name parts to record the data and tailor the output to meet their needs."

What name standards do you use?  What name entry standard does your software program or online tree use?

Here are links for some articles about the standardized name subject:

*  Getting It Right: Data Entry Standards for Genealogists

*  Genealogy Name Basics

*  Genealogy Standards: Names, Dates, and Places | Ancestry (YouTube)

*  How should I enter names in Family Tree?

*  Using Name Standardization in Genealogy Research

 8 Rules for Properly Recording Names in Genealogy


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1 comment:

Barbara said...


I believe you answered the question for RootsMagic. But what about Ancestry?

I tried using non-preferred names but "Tree Search" doesn't find them. (On the person's "Facts" view, the pull-down "Name and gender" lets you add additional names.)

My solution: use both names in the preferred name field with the nickname in quotes, such as Randall Jeffrey "Randy"

What do you suggest on Ancestry?