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Guidelines for place names, people names

Guidelines for place names, people names

Posted: 1354499783000
Classification: Query
I can't seem to find any official guidelines for family tree data entry.

One of my questions concerns place names. Should I enter the modern name or the name of the place when the event occurred?

If a person was known by multiple name throughout their life, I know that you can have "alternate names", but how do you decide which name to set as the "main" name? I have been using the name I *think* that person would have perferred or thought of themself as.

Thank you so much!

Re: Guidelines for place names, people names

Posted: 1354500954000
Classification: Query
Names: I use the name on the birth certificate, baptism register, etc.

Places: I use the name of the place as it was known on that date.

Everyone has their own ideas on this.

Re: Guidelines for place names, people names

Posted: 1354504182000
Classification: Query
For names I will use the "Given Name" if it can be discerned. Nick names and alternates names are kept in the "Also Known As" fact.

For locations, I'll use the name used during the time the fact occurred. I'll keep modern names in the notes field or the description field if they are different.


Re: Guidelines for place names, people names

Posted: 1354509418000
Classification: Query
Edited: 1354509884000
Great Question - and very complicated. Here's some of my experiences and practices. Last name is definitely the hardest.

First name: I enter formal names as the primary where obvious nicknames were in the record. I enter the nickname as alternative, and if used during adult life, as the "also known as".

I use "also known as" once and only once for a person. That entry is entered in quotes in your register reports, as a middle name. Extra "aka's" are superflous and are better entered as alternative.

If the person used two first names in their lifetime, I will usually put one as first, middle, then the reverse as alternative first, middle.

As for spelling variations, I post all recorded names as alternative and evaluate which variation was predominantly used.

I will often use two sources that I have created:

... Spelling variation
... Composite name from various sources


First, be aware that many times middle initials in records for married women was not their middle initial, but the initial of their maiden name.

I have found middle initials found in records wrong so many times that I usually don't use middle initials until I have two records that agree; or I can see the original record and there can be no mistake - especially with M vs W, L vs S, F vs T,etc - which are often very hard to distinguish in older spencerian writing in capital letters.


This is the hardest and most frustrating for me; and I have a have a rather simple name with only 4 regular variations: Hallock, Halleck, Hallick, and Halluck.

I usually don't switch from the spelling in that branch until I can tell the children of a family have continued the variation started by a father. For example, I may have someone in the fourth generation of Hallocks. He used Hallock, Halleck and Hallick indiscriminately during his lifteime in 6 records. - Or the writers of those records devised that spelling variation and the family person had nothing to do with the spelling. The frustrating thing is when one child and his children seem to use the Halleck spelling; but the others use Hallock.

This is made more frustrating because FTM doesn't allow us to assign an "index" type name to use for all descendants of a commmon ancestor - in addition to name as the primary name for reports and then alternatives for all of the alternatives.

This is a real problem for me. I pity the poor folks with Eastern European ancestors who could have a dozen spelling variations. How does one remember which spelling to look up a person in an index if you don't remember which of a dozen spelling variations you have as primary? It can be frustrating.


When FTM introduced their Places Workplace, with a structure that includes a "lookup" for current names and which maps locations - the obvious pressure to make use of these tools is to use the current place name. But, the place of record, and/or historical name are most important for accuracy and to leave a trail to others following you just where that person and event happened - and where the record can be found.

Some people, including me, use two place entries for the event/fact - one current, one historical or place of record. Or, you could use Anytown, was Smithtown, Montana, USA.

Re: Guidelines for place names, people names

Posted: 1354552476000
Classification: Query
Cynthia wrote:
"One of my questions concerns place names. Should I enter the modern name or the name of the place when the event occurred?"

Traditionally people include modern place names and jurisdictions in parentheses, e.g., Virginia (now West Virginia), USA. That gets a little messier when you have several elements of the place name and its jurisdictions that have changed:

Prachatitz (now Prachatice), Prachatitz (now Okres Prachatice) Böhmen (now Jihočeský kraj), Kaiserthum Oesterreich (now Česká republika)

Since that can be hard to read, some people use this format instead:

Prachatitz, Prachatitz, Böhmen, Kaiserthum Oesterreich (now Prachatice, Okres Prachatice, Jihočeský kraj, Česká republika)

Some people choose to Anglicize these place names, especially when distributing information to English speaking audiences unfamiliar with the geography and place terms. Thus...

Prachatitz (now Prachatice), Prachatice (now Prachatice district), Bohemia (now South Čechy), Austrian Empire (now Czech Republic)

Finally, there are those who wish to include everything in one location. This gets a bit redundant when multiple languages are used (in this case, English, German, Czech). So...

Prachatitz (now Prachatice), Prachatitz (now Okres Prachatice [Eng. Prachatice district]) Böhmen [Eng. Bohemia] (now Jihočeský kraj [Eng. South Čechy), Kaiserthum Oesterreich [Eng. Austrian Empire] (now Česká republika [Eng. Czech Republic])

All these examples aside, I recommend the first method. Use the language and place as recorded in the source document for the event. For anything before the Napoleonic era, this generally means using ecclesiastical jurisdictions, not political ones as I have given. Those are very likely to have changed as well. For example, Prachatitz is also a Catholic parish and church. It is now in the diocese of České Budějovice, but during the time of the Austrian Empire, it was part of a different diocese.

Some would argue that knowing the how the Catholic Church is organized from the parish to Rome is unimportant. I tend to agree. If you know the parish and diocese, then you can generally determine where records were housed, where they may have been centralized, and how they were organized.

Cynthia wrote:
"If a person was known by multiple name throughout their life, I know that you can have "alternate names", but how do you decide which name to set as the "main" name? I have been using the name I *think* that person would have perferred or thought of themself as."

Use a different name fact to record each unique instance of a person's name as it was written. For example:

Jon Smith - sources 1, 4, 8
Jonathon Smith - source 5
John Smith - sources 2, 3
Michael Smith - sources 7, 9
Mike Smith - source 6

Choosing which of these facts to make the preferred fact can sometimes be arbitrary. Many people might create a composite name here like Jonathon Michael Smith or Michael Jonathon Smith. Others might treat "Michael" as an alias, as silverfox describes. That works fine as long as the surname hasn't changed as well.

For public trees at, when you're hoping to connect with others researching the same people, you should use names that will give you the best chance of making matches with others: Jonathon "John" Michael "Mike" Smith.
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