RootsTech 2014


Some people eat, sleep and chew gum, I do genealogy and write...

Thursday, April 24, 2014

The Good and the Bad of Names, Dates and Places -- Part Four Places

In this series of posts about names, dates and places, I am finally to the really controversial and most difficult of all of these considerations. If names and dates have some issues, they are a like minor neighborhood battles and places are like World War III. The main reason is that if a name or date is wrong, it is just wrong. Variations in names and dates are usually understandable. Adding places to the mix opens up a whole world of controversy.

Let me start with the accepted genealogical rule on place names: they are to be recorded as they were at the time the event in question occurred. Well, that seems simple enough, doesn't it. Maybe I should just end this post with that statement and avoid all the controversy? Hmm. That wouldn't be very much like me would it?

Here I go, I'll bite the bullet and dive into the deep end (mixed metaphor warning: if these drive you crazy, you will probably be well over the edge by the time I am through). Let's get started with a list of possible alternative ways of recording places taken from Family Group Sheets. By the way, has 5,337,178 old family group records digitized in the "Family Group Records Collection, Archives Section, 1942-1969." This is a wonderful way to see a lot of messed up information lacking sources. No, really. These sheets are valuable and do have some helpful information that was not necessarily preserved as the names were transferred into various online family trees. Here are some examples of place names. I was going to hold a contest to see if anyone could actually identify the places from the entries on the Family Group Records (Sheets or whatever), but I decided the point would have already made. Here is the list:

  • of Wimboldsley, Middlewich, Chshr, Engl
  • of Middlewich, Chshr, Engl
  • of Over, Chshr, Engl
  • of Frodsham, Ches.,Eng.
  • Overton Frodsham, Ches. Eng.
  • of Montgomery Co., Va.
  • Elliston, Montgomery, Va.
  • of Highland Co., Ohio
  • Marshell, Highland, Ohio
  • Clovis, Curry, N. Mex.
  • of Grossniedesheim, Pfalz, Bvr

The list could go on and on. By the way, none of these abbreviations were due to lack of space on the form. It always looked to me like these folks were being charged per character for filling in the forms. I picked one of these place at random from the 5+ million records and decided to look it up. The last one on my list above is recorded as "of Grossniedesheim, Pfalz, Bvr." The associated date is 1844. Let's see if that works out?

A first quick check in Wikipedia gives us the following: Großniedesheim is a municipality in the Rhein-Pfalz-Kreis, in Rhineland-Palatinate, Germany. By the way, the coordinates are 49°35′N 8°19′E. So why do we care? The real question is where are the genealogically pertinent records? This is where the municipality is today, where was it located in 1844? The rule is that genealogically pertinent records are created at or near the place where the event occurred depending on the jurisdiction in which the event was located. Records pile up like pancakes in layers depending on the time the event occurred. For example, there may be local, district or county, township, state and national records created at any given time depending on the event. Military records may be kept on a national basis. Church records may be kept in the administrative division of the church. Tax records may be kept by the taxing authority and so forth.

Let's go a little further. The Rhein-Pfalz-Kreis is a district (Kreis) in the east of Rhineland-Palatinate, Germany. The district was created in 1886 under the name Bezirksamt Ludwigshafen, one of the last acts of king Ludwig II of Bavaria. See Wikipedia. Hmm. So in 1844 this place did not exist as it is today. By the way, the word "Kreis" means district in German. Oh, actually it also means "circle" but is used for district. The German words for "district" are Bezirk, Kreis, Stadtteil, Viertel, Gegend, Gebiet, Gau, Teil, Quartier, Revier and Stadtviertel. Let's go a little further with this discussion.

The Rhineland-Platinate is one of the 16 states of the Federal Republic of Germany. See Wikipedia. This state was created in 1946. So we can pretty much appreciate the fact that records created in 1844 or there abouts might be a lot of places.

Before going on. Remember, our genealogist recorded this place as "of Grossniedesheim, Pfalz, Bvr," so we don't even know, at this point, if the event of 1844 took place in this location or somewhere else. The individual ancestor may have moved to this location later in life and was actually born in a completely different place. When the place was recorded as "of..." such and such, what did that mean? Well, we don't really know. If there is no source noted on the Family Group Record, we have to guess as to how the genealogist associated this person with this location.

But my point is that the location may or may not exist or at least, may not have existed at the time recorded for the event. So how am I supposed to find the record that produced the date? Hmm. Well, in this particular case, the genealogist was well above average and noted the following:

Evangelical Luth Ch Rec of Grossniedesheim, Pfalz, Bvr (GS ser no 26214 pt 2)

Hurray, a source citation. A quick check in the FamilySearch Library Catalog to see if there is a film number shows that the number is not from Germany, it is the Annual Genealogical Form from Nibley Ward, Utah. So let's look in the Catalog and see if there is still such a record.

Searching in Catalog for Bavaria gives me the following: See Germany, Bayem. I can then look for places inside of Germany, Bayem and there are probably 500 or so places listed and here is part of the list for places called "Pfalz."
  • Pfalz
  • Pfalz (Kurfürstentum)
  • Pfalz-Neuburg (Herzogtum)
  • Pfalz-Zweibrücken (Fürstentum)
OK, so now I am completely lost. So I will go back and see if there is anything for "Grossniedesheim" and skip all the other stuff. Now we are getting someplace. the FamilySearch Catalog has a place called "Germany, Bayern, Großniedesheim." Here are the records listed

Germany, Bayern, Großniedesheim - Church records ( 2 )

Kirchenbuch, 1700-1954
Author: Katholische Kirche Beindersheim (BA. Frankenthal)

Kirchenbuch, 1709-1936
Author: Evangelische Kirche Großniedesheim (BA. Frankenthal)

Germany, Bayern, Großniedesheim - Civil registration ( 1 )

Zivilstandsregister, 1807-1824
Author: Großniedesheim (Bayern). Standesamt

The church book records cover the time period and one of the records is for the Evangelical Lutheran Church. By the way, FamilySearch records the place as Manuskripten im Protestantischen Landeskirchenarchiv der Pfalz, Speyer, Bayern, Deutschland. Guess what? The records are of confirmations and deaths. The date recorded was for a birth. 

You can see why this is a series. I will continue this particular discussion in the next installment. 

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

The Good and the Bad of Names, Dates and Places -- Part Three Dates

This is the third in a series about names, dates and places as recorded for genealogical purposes. I am now to the issue of recording dates. You might think this to be a very limited topic. If it were only so! Let's see how inventive our fellow members of the genealogical community can be.

Stating the current standard is easy. Dates are recorded in the European fashion, that is day, then month spelled out and then year. Here is what todays date should look like for genealogy:

23 April 2014

Umm, isn't that easy? As I just wrote, we can only hope. Here are a few of the attempts at this from members of the community. Remember, to a computer program, every character (including punctuation) is important and changes the order when sorting on that particular field. So, abt and abt. are two different categories.
  • abt 2014
  • abt. 2014
  • 23 Apr 2014
  • 23 Apr. 2014
  • 23 April 2014
  • 2014
  • bef 2015
  • bef. 2015
  • aft 2013
  • aft. 2013
One thing to note is that the various genealogy programs force you to enter dates in a certain pattern. Some, allow you to choose the pattern. So you don't see quite the variety that you could see on paper Family Group Records in the past.

Now what about standards. Here, as with names, there are about as many suggested standards as there are entities that think they are necessary. For example, one large online family tree program, has the following date standards:
  • The most readable and reliable format for presenting dates is day, month, year; this style is least likely to create confusion when entering, matching, or merging data.
  • Abbreviate months as: Jan, Feb, Mar, Apr, May, Jun, Jul, Aug, Sep, Oct, Nov, Dec without a period. Enter days with double digits and present four digits for the year.
  • If a baptismal date is entered into the birth date field because an actual birth record is not available, then precede the date with a code of “bap” or “chr.” Explain this in the research notes field. Document the date in the source field.
  • Some softwares have a designated field for recording a baptismal or christening date. It is not necessary to code baptismal or christening dates when entered into a designated baptismal field or christening field.
  • Dates can be estimated, if documented as such, by preceding the date with one of the following codes which are all entered without a period: about = “abt” after =“aft” before =“bef” between =“bet” calculated =“cal”
OK, now I would not do a few of these with my own data. Here is another "standard" from Judith Schaefer Phelps entitled "Getting It Right: Data Entry Standards for Genealogists." She cites Slawson, Mary H., 2002, Getting It Right: The Definitive Guide to Recording Family History Accurately, Deseret Book Company, Salt Lake City, 263 pgs. Her standards for dates are as follows:
  • The most readable and reliable format for presenting dates is day, month, year; this style is least likely to create confusion when entering, matching, or merging data.
  • Abbreviate months as: Jan, Feb, Mar, Apr, May, Jun, Jul, Aug, Sep, Oct, Nov, Dec without a period. Enter days with double digits and present four digits for the year.
  • If a baptismal date is entered into the birth date field because an actual birth record is not available, then precede the date with a code of “bap” or “chr.” Explain this in the research notes field. Document the date in the source field.
  • Some softwares have a designated field for recording a baptismal or christening date. It is not necessary to code baptismal or christening dates when entered into a designated baptismal field or christening field.
  • Dates can be estimated, if documented as such, by preceding the date with one of the following codes which are all entered without a period:
  • about = “abt” after =“aft” before =“bef” between =“bet” calculated =“cal”
  • The terms, “Infant,” “Child,” or “Deceased.” are acceptable entries in a death date field, if a death date is unknown. Use the code “Infant” for a stillborn. Use “Infant” for a young individual from birth to age 3. Use “Child” for someone aged 3-8. Use the code “Deceased” for anyone older than age 8, if you have no clue about the death date. Explain the circumstances and your reasoning in the research notes field. Document in the source field.
I think you might get the point about now. You see variations because there are variations and there are no uniform standards. Does it matter? Well, that is an entirely different question. My basic rule is that if it is readable and correct then who cares? What both of these "standards" are trying to do is minimize conflicts when moving data from one format in a certain program to another format in another program. That would seem to be a valid concern. 

The main thing I would disagree with is using any kind of abbreviation. That practice is a hold over from paper forms with limited space. I would also never use just numbers for dates, I would always use the order, day-month-year spelled out. Using numbers is like asking for trouble and mistakes. Other than those suggestions, I would say take your pick. What do you think works?

Google adds back in time to Street View

I am still amazed at the number of people who do not know about Google Maps' Street View. When I teach classes on Google, I click down to show the Street View and there are always oohs and awes. Just in case you haven't looked at this valuable tool, here is a screenshot showing the current Street View of the Mesa FamilySearch Library:

The blurry parts of the image are probably people that have been edited out. Now, you can go back and look at previous Street Views of the same location. Presently, this only goes back to about 2007 or the earliest Street View after that date available. This only works if you see a clock in the upper left-hand portion of the screen. I wasn't able to find any of these new clocks in the Phoenix area, but the whole program has just now been introduced. To read more, go to the Google Blog entitled, "Go back in time with Street View." adds Find-A-Record Links

If you are at all interested in an online family tree program that promotes careful research and extensive documentation, you should be familiar with Quoting from the website, "WeRelate is a free public-service wiki for genealogy sponsored by the Foundation for On-Line Genealogy in partnership with the Allen County Public Library. It is the world's largest genealogy wiki with pages for over 2,548,000 people and growing." I have long considered to be one of the most important and viable alternatives to almost all of the other online family trees.

Now, has teamed with Find-A-Record to provide links from each individual in the wiki to that geographically centered record finding website. Here is a screen shot of an individual page in the database with an arrow indicating the link to Find-A-Record.

Here is a screenshot of part of the resultant list of records from Find-A-Record:

This is a major step for a program such as because now it is essentially directly connected to searches in both's Historical Record Collections and Maybe this is a reason to look at both programs more closely.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Liking a company could lead to giving up legal rights

A local law firm in Mesa, Arizona sent me their Newsletter, (Gunderson, Denton & Peterson, P.C.) with an article entitled, "You Might Be Giving Up Legal Rights by “Liking” a Company on Facebook." This was an interesting thought. The article points out the following:
General Mills, the big company that makes cereals like Cheerios and Chex and also makes many other food products, has added language to its website about arbitration. GM is now telling consumers that they give up their right to sue the company if they join the company in online communities like Facebook or do a number of other things, such as download coupons or enter company sweepstakes. Instead, consumers who do those things will have to resolve their disputes by arbitration, which might be less favorable to them.
The idea with arbitration is the following:
You many have heard that many companies, especially larger companies, have tried to alter the terms of their agreements with clients to avoid jury trials and resolve disputes exclusively through arbitration. Arbitration is usually interpreted as being more favorable toward defendants, especially defendants in big, expensive litigation such as class-action lawsuits.
There are a lot of different levels of "arbitration." In Arizona, the local courts have mandatory arbitration for cases involving claims of a certain minimal amount. What is usually going on in these online agreements is that the arbitration is not the limited, local action contemplated by the local courts. Instead, it is usually set out that the arbitration will be held pursuant to the rules of the American Arbitration Association.  For example, here is the pertinent clause from
If a dispute arises between you and Ancestry, our goal is to provide you a neutral and cost effective means of resolving the dispute quickly. To that end, you agree to first contact Ancestry Customer Support at 1-800-262-3787 to describe the problem and seek a resolution. If that does not resolve the issue, then you and Ancestry agree to the following methods to resolve any dispute or claim between us. First, you agree that this Agreement is governed by the law of the State of Utah, without regard to its principles on conflicts of laws, and the federal law of the United States of America. Second, you agree that you will seek arbitration consistent with the rules before initiating any litigation. If arbitration cannot resolve the issue, you agree to submit to the personal jurisdiction of the courts located within Utah County, Utah for the purpose of litigating all such claims or disputes.

Any arbitration will be governed by the Commercial Dispute Resolution Procedures and the Supplementary Procedures for Consumer Related Disputes of the American Arbitration Association (collectively, "AAA Rules"). The AAA Rules and costs are available online at or by calling the AAA at 1-800-778-7879. . YOU AND ANCESTRY AGREE THAT EACH MAY BRING CLAIMS AGAINST THE OTHER ONLY IN YOUR OR ITS INDIVIDUAL CAPACITY, AND NOT AS A PLAINTIFF OR CLASS MEMBER IN ANY PURPORTED CLASS OR REPRESENTATIVE PROCEEDING. Further, unless both you and Ancestry agree otherwise, the arbitrator may not consolidate more than one person’s claims, and may not otherwise preside over any form of a representative or class proceeding. Notwithstanding the foregoing, this arbitration agreement does not preclude you from bringing issues to the attention of federal, state, or local agencies. Such agencies can, if the law allows, seek relief against us on your behalf. This arbitration provision shall survive termination of this Agreement.
If you have any idea what you are reading in the above statement, you will realize that your options in any dispute resolution with are seriously limited. Now, you may not view this as being a bad thing. Companies such as do business all over the world. They can't be expected to have to defend lawsuits in every small jurisdiction around the world, This type of agreement has been upheld by many courts around the country. 

Now, is this one of those "calculated to scare you, come to our law firm first" type observations? I can assure you that the law firm in question had no idea about the existence of the provision. 

On a very local level, when I was practicing law, I thought arbitration was almost always a viable and useful alternative to going to trial in a court. However, the expense and time involved in conducting an arbitration through the American Arbitration Association is another level of dispute resolution and not nearly so convenient or inexpensive. You might want to read the fine print. I am not saying that liking on Facebook invokes the arbitration clause but do you know whether it does or does not? Here are some links you might want to read:

The Good and the Bad of Names, Dates and Places -- Part Two More about names

There are several other important topics dealing with the way genealogists record names in their genealogical database programs including online family trees. Here is a list of some of the categories of issues associated with entering names:

  • abbreviations
  • initials 
  • nicknames
  • spelling variations
  • capitalization
  • scripts
  • name changes
  • titles
  • other words

If you think about it, the rules that I mentioned in my last post on this subject will clarify and regularize most of the these issues also. I will repeat the rules for convenience here:
  • All names should be entered as they are spoken in whatever language they were originally given.
  • All names should be recorded as they were given at the time of birth with variations in notes or alternative name sections.
  • Use normal (i.e. upper and lower case) transcriptions.
  • Use all specific characters (now generally available in all computer operating systems) used in the original languages.
  • Do not use Mr., Mrs. or other such designations, titles, etc. unless they were part of the name at the time of birth. 
  • Do not use abbreviations unless they were actually part of the name at birth.
Let's look at each of the above categories one-by-one:

In genealogy there are two main sources when we see names abbreviated. One of those consists of abbreviations used by the people entering names in original records. If you have done any research in original documents such as deeds, parish registers and such, you will very soon learn that early manuscripts contain a lot of "standard" abbreviations. Here is a link to a list of common English language genealogy abbreviations from It was also very common to abbreviate names. Here is another link to a GenealogyInTime Magazine list of common English name abbreviations

Now, should we record the name as it is found in the original record or take artistic license and expand the abbreviation into its equivalent? You will note that my rule says that names should be recorded as they were given at the time of birth. What if the birth record has the name as an abbreviation? I think the rule still stands. You record what the original document says. For example, if the child's name was William and it was recorded as Wm. then your records should reflect what was in the record. Your notes and alternative names etc. can reflect the fact that Wm is a common abbreviation for William, but unless you find another record showing the name spelled out, you should not go beyond the original. Why is this? Suppose you record the name as William and someone else records the name as Wm? Are they automatically to be assumed to be the same person? This type of issue lies at the heart of many of the duplicates in online family trees and other places. Record the name as it is found in the original documents. Expand abbreviations in your notes but record the abbreviation until you find a source showing the full name. 

The other source of abbreviations came from the limitations of handwritten genealogy forms and other forms. How many times have you tried to fill out a form to find out that the originator of the form did not leave enough room for you to fill in the entire name? Hence, the origin of many abbreviations. I will come back to this issue when I discuss place names. 

The use of initials could be considered a sub-set of abbreviations except for one rather unique practice, that is giving children an initial for a name. I have an uncle whose name is Rollin C Tanner. The "C"doesn't stand for anything. His middle name is "C." This practice became fairly common during the major wars when soldiers in the United States were "required" to have a middle name.  In other words, the Army would not accept the form with the middle initial left blank. In some cases, the Army would require the soldier to put "NMI" in the empty field or "No Middle Initial." Now, I have actually seen genealogists who have recorded the name of their ancestor with the middle name of NMI. 

On the other hand, giving only initials for the names of an ancestor usually indicates a failure to do enough research. It is an easy, lazy practice. Unless you confirm that the baby was given the name with an initial at birth, I would suggest that all the single letter initials in your database are an open invitation to do some more research.

By now, you can probably predict my answer to the question of how to record nicknames. If the name was given at birth, it is not a nickname. If the child's name was Margaret and she was always called Maggie, Meg, Peg, Peggy or whatever, then record the name she was given at birth as the name and show Maggie as a nickname or variation with an exclamation in a note. If you never find a reference to her "real" name but only find her nickname recorded, then your records should reflect the name as it appears in the original source record, not your interpretation of the name. 

Spelling variations
This is a sore spot with me. The mark of an inexperienced and/or dogmatic genealogist is one who insists that their ancestors' names were spelled one way or another. It is not unusual to find ancestor's names spelled various different ways. Remember that the people who were recording the names often did not hear the name correctly or simply spelled the name the way they felt was right. Your ancestor may not even have known the "correct" way to spell his or her name. Here, more than any place else, the variations in spelling should be preserved in your database. Take the time to show all the variations as they appear in original records and explain where the variations come from. In some cases, family members will simply have to come to a consensus as to which spelling of the name to use. This is another major contributor to duplication in family trees. You might want to start with Name variations: tips & tricks. 

I have very often had people become upset because their own name or the name of an ancestor was not capitalized properly. This issue is very closely related to spelling variations. In some cases, you simply must record all the variations and choose the one you like as the primary way to record information. 

As you go back in time, you will undoubtedly run into scripts that are hard to read, an s that looks like an f and such. Even in Western European countries, the alphabets and characters used to record names and everything else vary from country to country. For example, here is the Danish alphabet from Wikepedia:

  • A, a: /æːˀ/
  • B, b: /b̥eːˀ/
  • C, c: /sʰeːˀ/
  • D, d: /d̥eːˀ/
  • E, e: /eːˀ/
  • F, f: /ef/
  • G, g: /ɡ̊eːˀ/
  • H, h: /hɔːˀ/
  • I, i: /iˀ/
  • J, j: /jʌð/
  • K, k: /kʰɔːˀ/
  • L, l: /el/
  • M, m: /em/
  • N, n: /en/
  • O, o: /oːˀ/
  • P, p: /pʰeːˀ/
  • Q, q: /kʰuːˀ/
  • R, r: /æːɐ/
  • S, s: /esʰ/
  • T, t: /tˢeːˀ/
  • U, u: /uːˀ/
  • V, v: /ʋeːˀ/
  • W, w: /dʌb̥əlʋeːˀ/
  • X, x: /eɡ̊sʰ/
  • Y, y: /yːˀ/
  • Z, z: /sʰeð/
  • Æ, æ: /ɛːæˀ/
  • Ø, ø: /øːˀ/
  • Å, å: /ɔːˀ/

Notice the three letters at the end that are not part of our common English alphabet. In some cases words written with those letters are different than a word appearing with the alternate. Presently, all computer operating systems have the ability to reproduce the characters in all the different languages. I would suggest that genealogists start making this a priority and record the names of their Danish, Norwegian, German etc. ancestors as they were given at birth.

Name changes
Names change. This is a fact of life. There are hundreds of reasons why people change their names, many of them trivial. Genealogists begin to find this issue almost immediately upon trying to research ancestors born in another country. Very often, the ancestor would adopt a new name, officially or very often, unofficially, when they moved to a country with a different language. Just remember the rule about recording the name at the time of birth and then recording name variations in notes or alternative names. I could write a book on this subject. but the rule usually sorts out the issue. 

Titles should be recorded as titles. Almost all genealogy database programs today provide for a way that titles can be recorded separately from the names as given at birth. There is one issue, that is children who were actually given the name of captain, major, doctor or whatever at birth. If the ancestor's name is the same as a common title, then there should always be an explanation. 

Other words
I am at the end of my list. What I find is genealogists who feel compelled to record occupation or other information in the name fields of their databases. If the word or words are not part of the name as given at birth, then don't record it as a name. Occupations should be recorded as occupations etc. 

The inventiveness of genealogists can never be underestimated. I am sure that I will continue to find an amazing number of different words and spellings in name fields in the future. Maybe this will change? Never. Not as long as I make my own typographical errors. 

Monday, April 21, 2014

The Good and the Bad of Names, Dates and Places -- Part One Names

Yesterday I listened to my daughter tell me a long explanation about trying to merge two duplicate individuals in Family Tree. One of the problems she encountered was that a female ancestor had been entered into the program with her married name rather than her maiden name. I have mentioned this issue previously but thought it would be appropriate to review again.

When I first started going through Family Group Records (FGR) 32 years ago inherited from my family, I quickly saw the variations in ways names, dates and places were recorded. Unfortunately, over the years those same problems crop up continually as I review my own and others' entries. Some of the reasons they occur reflect changes in the way entries were accepted at the time. Other issues are just incomplete or sloppy research. Let's take the name "Jane Alice Doe" as an example. Jane Doe marries Alan Edward Roe. Here are some of types of variations you could easily see from review a few hundred FGR over the years for exactly the same person :

  • Jane Alice Doe
  • Jane Doe
  • Jane A Doe 
  • Jane A. Doe
  • Jane Alice DOE
  • J. A. Doe
  • Jane
  • J. Doe
  • DOE
  • Mrs Jane Alice Doe
  • Mrs. Roe
  • Mrs. Jane Alice Roe
  • Mrs. Jane A. Roe
  • Mrs. J. A. ROE
  • Mrs. J. Roe
  • Mrs. ROE
  • ROE

and so forth. In addition, do you put the Last Name (Surname) first or do you put the name in capital letters or what? Now some of these issues are inherited from the way standard FGR forms were printed. For example, here is a common form that I would encounter:

You can see dozens of variations of this form by searching online for "family group record form" or something like that. This particular sheet shows the wife's name to be entered in two parts, Given Name and Maiden Name. Here is a sample of different forms from the first part of a Google Image search for a FGR:

Here is one that I commonly found

Here, the name for both the husband and the wife are simply a line without any designation as to the order of the names or whether to use any particular variation of the possible naming patterns. Earlier sheets usually limited the amount of space given in the form for any individual entry. This became a really important issue with place names, but this is a series and right now I am talking about names of people.

Using FamilySearch (and its predecessors) as an example, if you go back in history, you will see that the standard changed from time to time and from place to place. Early on, say about 1900 to 1920, there did not seem to be any standardized method of recording names. Eventually, there were guidelines such as using maiden name for females but if the maiden name was unknown, then use the prefix "Mrs." with the husband's surname. For a while, with typewritten FGRs, there was a standard that all surnames be capitalized. The immediate problem with this was the issue with names such as McDonald and MCDONALD.

I could probably go on for an entire book outlining the history of all these changes but let's fast forward to today. Do we have any standard way of entering name information? Well, actually we don't. We have a lot of different genealogical database programs, we have a huge number of online programs and very, very few of them give the user a clue as to how to enter names. If they do, the instructions are likely buried in some manual that never gets read. So when we go to an online family tree such as we still see all of the variations, faithfully preserved, from the old FGRs.

It has been pointed out recently in comments to this and other blogs, that we do not have any "Genealogy Police" enforcing standards. But here are a few suggestions. Of course, I expect that there will be disagreements. Oh, before doing this let me mention that computers, rather than solving these issues, merely added another layer of variations. Most genealogists who were accustomed to entering their information in a particular way, simply used the computer to duplicate what they had be doing all along, even though it made no sense. Some of the genealogical database programs let you record surnames in all capitals or with upper and lower case and make the changes from one to another automatically. Why? I can see the reason for the editing changes but WHY ENCOURAGE PEOPLE TO PUT SURNAMES IN ALL CAPS? You might get my point.

One more observation, early computer programs were as bad as paper forms in limited the way names, dates and place due to character limitations built into the programs. Oh well.

Here are some general rules I suggest.

  • All names should be entered as they are spoken in whatever language they were originally given.
  • All names should be recorded as they were given at the time of birth with variations in notes or alternative name sections.
  • Use normal (i.e. upper and lower case) transcriptions.
  • Use all specific characters (now generally available in all computer operating systems) used in the original languages.
  • Do not use Mr., Mrs. or other such designations, titles, etc. unless they were part of the name at the time of birth. 
  • Do not use abbreviations unless they were actually part of the name at birth.

After all that discussion, that's it. If you think about it, most or nearly all of the problems I encountered over the years could be solved with these simple rules.