8 Rules to Properly Record Names in Genealogy

Learn how to properly record names in your family tree.
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When recording your genealogical data on charts, there are some important conventions to follow with regard to names, dates, and places. By following these standard rules, you can help to ensure that your genealogy data is as complete as possible and that it will not be misinterpreted by others.

Genealogy software programs and online family trees will each have their own individual rules for entering names and/or specific fields for nicknames, alternate names, suffixes, etc.

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Record Names in Their Natural Order

Record names in their natural order—first, middle, last (surname). Use full names if known. If the middle name is not known, you may use an initial. Example: Shawn Michael THOMAS

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Many genealogists print surnames in upper-case, although this convention is purely a matter of personal preference. All caps provides easy scanning on pedigree charts and family group sheets, or in published books, and also helps to distinguish the surname from first and middle names. Example: Garrett John TODD

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Maiden Names

Enter women with their maiden name (surname at birth) rather than their husband's surname. When you do not know a female's maiden name, insert only her first (given) name on the chart followed by empty parentheses (). Some genealogists also record the husband's surname. Both ways are correct as long as you are consistent and follow all naming rules. In this example, your ancestor Mary Elizabeth's maiden name is unknown and she is married to John DEMPSEY. Example: Mary Elizabeth () or Mary Elizabeth () DEMPSEY

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Women With More Than One Husband

If a woman has had more than one husband, enter her given name, followed by her maiden name in parentheses followed by the names of any previous husbands (in order of marriage). If the middle name is known then you may enter that as well. This example is for a woman named Mary CARTER at birth, who was married to a man named Jackson SMITH prior to marrying your ancestor, William LANGLEY. Example: Mary (Carter) SMITH or Mary (Carter) SMITH LANGLEY

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If there is a nickname that was commonly used for an ancestor, include it in quotes after the given name. Do not use it in place of a given name and do not enclose it in parentheses (parentheses between a given name and surname is used to enclose maiden names and will cause confusion if it is also used for nicknames). If the nickname is a common one (i.e. Kim for Kimberly) it is not necessary to record it. Example: Rachel "Shelley" Lynn BROOK 

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People Known by More Than One Name

If a person is known by more than one name (i.e. due to adoption, name change, etc.) then include the alternate name or names in parentheses after the surname, preceded by a.k.a. Example: William Tom LAKE (a.k.a. William Tom FRENCH)

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Alternate Spellings

Include alternate spellings when your ancestor's surname has changed over time (possibly due to it being spelled phonetically or due to the surname being changed upon immigration into a new country). Record the earlier usage of the surname first, followed by later usages. Example: Michael HAIR/HIERS

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Use the Notes Field

Don't be afraid to use the notes field. For example, if you have a female ancestor whose birth name was the same as her husband's surname, then you will want to make a note of that so that it is not assumed that you had just entered it incorrectly.