Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Surname in CAPS and Missing Maiden Names

Some great questions from my friend Dee who writes to inquire:


I have just migrated to Roots Magic 6, and am setting up my database. Now I realize a lot of this is personal choice but have to ask:

  1. Is there a benefit to having surnames in all CAPS?
    I suggest permitting the software program to insert CAPS for the surnames, just from a readability standpoint. These ol' bi-focals provide challenges to this ol' gal sometimes. I wouldn't type the surname in caps because you don't always want them to show up that way in a report.
  2. How do you suggest entering females whose last names you do not know? I dislike leaving the line blank bur don’t want to have the husband’s surname listed there either.  UNK is an option but is it a good one?
    Simply insert the name as you know it, and don't worry about the maiden name until it is determined. You won't mind the blank line in printed reports, as this may encourage folks to write in the correct info.

    Using the husband's surname is definitely out, even though the woman is known by that name during her married years. It will totally skew things if, for instance, you have a Mary Jones marrying a Thomas Jones, where Jones is indeed Mary's maiden name. You want that "surname" field to reflect the woman's maiden name. Leaving it blank means it is unknown at this time.

Regardless of your "genealogy management program" these points will help in data entry. If you are having challenges choosing software, may I suggest:


Happy family tree climbing!

Myrt     :)
Your friend in genealogy.

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  1. I have my RootsMagic program have everyone in standard format (i.e.,not All Caps)... BUT, I then mark all direct line ancestors' surnames in CAPITALS, therefore immediately telling me that I'm in a direct line or in a collateral line when I'm going through name lists or going up and down ancestor lines. This is particularly helpful when I run across three to five men with exactly the same names in about the same time frame in same place. I definitely agree with the readability issue - surnames in CAPS is helpful for reading, and avoids the issue of questioning which name is a first name, which is the surname?! Excellent questions to ask, and helpful answers.

  2. I prefer the non-CAPS form myself, but can easily-enough swap it to CAPS for a report if wanted. :)

    If I know only a married surname without the maiden, I use a "[_____] Married-name" pattern -- shows up in the same "(Maiden) Married-name" pattern showing which is unknown. For example (if I hadn't already known it), a great grandmother's surname would have been listed as "[_____] Haram" until I found her maiden name, then edited to "Blindheimsnes". If I had a report that did show both, it would then list as "(Blindheimsnes) Haram". The "[_____]" part also sorts separately from the others and visually differentiates from the others.

    As it is, I have plenty of "[_____] _____" surnames married to "_____" males with unknown ones, too. Good old patronyms only give hints at the father's given name. :)

    1. I use a similar method to identify unknown maiden names. If I know the first name and the husband's name, I will identify them as "Mary (___) Smith"; if i have information on the wife but have no clues as to her first or maiden name, I identify her as "WifeOfJohn (___) Smith" to distingusish her from all the other unknown individuals when I am looking in my index of individuals. I use the same method for parents when I have information on them but no names: "MotherOfJohn Smith" & "FatherOfJohn Smith".

  3. Re: maiden names
    Be aware that a woman's surname on a marriage record may not be her maiden name; I've had a few of those turn out to be name of the previous spouse when I tried to find more on her background. It's not always clearly (or honestly) recorded.

  4. As records are being entered in Family Search, it might be a good idea to search for an image of the register for the marriage. In some states and some time periods the name of the parents are shown. This can give clues to a previous marriage.

    1. @Abbymac,
      In looking at your profile, I see you have a blog, but have no postings. How about going to Blogger.com and logging in, to begin creating articles reflecting your genealogy research experience?

  5. I usually enter LNU (Last name unknown) for the females when I don't know their maiden names. This way when I run a name report, all of the ones with LNU are alphabetized together.

    1. Thank-you. The same thing is accomplished by just typing the first name, as you will have them all alphabetized together at the beginning of your name report like this:
      , Abgail
      , Ann
      , Ane
      , Beatrice
      , Cathrine
      , Elizabeth

      and such. Whatever works for you. Ol' Myrt here prefers typing in just what you know, i.e. the first name.

  6. Some pretty good tips, but I myself when encountering any "unknown" information (whether it be birth/death place, marriage place, first name or last name) I always specify WHAT is unknown.

    For example say I know a wife's first name but unknown maiden name I'll present her information as Mary "(Unknown LastName)".

    Also, with an unknown birth place I'll present the information as "(Unknown BirthPlace)."

    By specifying the unknown information my website readers tend to provide me with that specific information when they encounter it, as opposed to just "unknown".

    There are most of my "unknown" statements:
    Unknown LastName
    Unknown MaidenName
    Unknown FirstName
    Unknown BirthPlace
    Unknown DeathPlace
    Unknown MarriagePlace
    Unknown Gender