5 Rules You Need to Follow When Recording Names During Family Research

A person writing in a notebook with a laptop nearby

The deeper you get into your family’s history, the more complex everything becomes. It’s important to remember that beneath all the stories and relationships that fascinate us, there is a massive labyrinth of names, surnames, places, and dates. The more clearly you record these important details, the more sense they will make.


As you continue your research over time, you may have to revisit your older research notes and the earliest versions of your family trees. Needless to say, it’d be very frustrating if you’re unable to understand what you initially recorded, especially when you recall the intensive research that went into it all.


Since names typically comprise more than 70% of family research—here’s how we suggest you record them.  An important note here – documentation in family tree software, whether on-line, such as Ancestry.com or in a stand-alone application such as FamilyTreeMaker differs from paper (or computer) note taking in that it will guide you to separate fields to document this important information.  The hints below generally relate to documentation that’s done outside one of these applications, although some of the ideas may also be useful for application-based documentation as well.


Use Capital Letters for Surnames

This isn’t a hard rule, but it’s a helpful one. Many professional genealogists emphasize using all capital letters for surnames for names provided in published books, pedigree charts, and family group sheets. This makes it easier to quickly scan these documents during research and find the essential information you need.

Always Use Maiden Names Where Possible

For women, it’s always a good idea to record their maiden names. The husband’s name can also be included, but the maiden name is necessary. The maiden name can be recorded in parenthesis, and in case it’s not known, it’s best to insert the first and middle name while keeping the parentheses empty.

Previous Names Should Always Be Recorded as Well

For women who’ve been married multiple times, it’s helpful to record their maiden names and all of their husbands’ names. As mentioned earlier, you should write their first and middle names, followed by the maiden name in the parenthesis. Then write the surnames of the husbands in order of the marriages.


This will help give anyone reading the recorded information a complete view of the woman’s relationships.

Include Nicknames and Alternate Names

If your ancestor had a unique nickname, you should consider recording it in your tree or chart. However, don’t record it in parentheses—keep those for maiden names only. Instead, you can write the nickname in quotes after the first name.


Also, if you know any alternate names for your ancestor, record those as well. These can be included in parentheses but after the surname. For example, you can write, Mariah Lynn CARTER (a.k.a Mariah Lynn Thomas). If you’re wondering how alternate names are different from nicknames, think of these as name changes due to adoption, for instance.

Record Alternate Spellings


An old church register with names


There may be minor or significant spelling changes between generations; make sure to record all of these changes as well. Many spelling changes were made at the time of immigration or due to illiteracy, where later generations adopted a more appropriate spelling.


So, when recording these alternate spellings, start with the earliest one you know, followed by the rest that came later.


These rules may seem very particular, but they can help make your research more professional and easy to comprehend. Reach out to us at DavisDNA And Family Research if you need our help understanding any of these rules. We can also help you build your family tree.


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