Sunday, May 20, 2007

abbreviations for missing names

RootsWeb Review: RootsWeb's Weekly E-zine 21 June 2006,
RootsWeb Review: RootsWeb's Weekly E-zine
21 June 2006, Vol. 9, No. 25

"(c) 1998-2006, Inc."

What can you do to make your files clear as to the abbreviation or
acronyms you use to indicate any unknown given names, maiden names, or
surnames? There are no perfect solutions or worldwide standards. Some
compilers, especially those who use genealogy software, put a question
mark to indicate that a name is not known, but this is not recommended
as some creative family historians use one question mark, while others
use two or three, and a ? for a name might mean one thing to you and
something else to another researcher

A recent unscientific search at WorldConnect
revealed the following are being used as names in family trees:

Unknown -- 4,503,884
LNU/Lnu -- 34,309
UNK/Unk -- 64,406
FNU -- 274
MNU/Mnu -- 6,942
?? -- 112,740
??? -- 190,233
___ (underscores of variable lengths) -- 7,450
- (one hyphen) -- 8.839
MRS/Mrs (as a given name or part of) -- 862,644
(our poor lost ladies with no names of their own)
[--?--] (the correct way to indicate an unknown name since genealogy
software will not render em dashes) -- 56,483

Obviously there is no standard for indicating that a name is not known
-- hence the confusion. The search even turned up an ancestor by
the name of Unk FNU -- with FNU probably used as an acronym for Family
Name Unknown. Not surprisingly there was no birth date or place for her
and one wonders why such information is even included.

Unknown maiden names should be indicated by using square brackets with a
single em dash (or two hyphens, if the software, typesetting or word-
processing programs will not accept or use em dashes), or use a question
mark amid the em dashes -- e.g. Catherine [--] or Catherine [--?--].

The same format can be used when the given name is unknown or in doubt.
The latter happens sometimes when you learn your female ancestor married
someone whose surname is known, but not his given name. Such references
can be recorded as [--?--] Smith. Some of the popular genealogy soft-
ware has to be forced to use this format.

In formal genealogical writing, the English tradition of putting a
woman's maiden name in parentheses -- Elizabeth (Smith) Jones -- is
commonly used by many genealogists. Therefore nicknames should not be
put in parentheses, but rather enclosed in quotation marks. Example:
Catherine "Cathy" [--?--] Jones. Again, your genealogy software program
may or may not handle nicknames in this format or might require some
tweaking. For those female ancestors with middle names that might be (or
mistaken for) surnames, such as Mary Morgan Kirby, it is important to
indicate that Kirby is her maiden name. If her nickname was Polly, and
she married a Smith her name should be recorded so that in a family
history publication it appears as: Mary "Polly" Morgan (Kirby) Smith.

Remember you do not have to fill in every field in your genealogy
software. If you do not know the given or maiden name of a woman,
either leave the field blank or use [--?--]. Her given name is never
MRS. and certainly not Mrs. King Henry VIII of England.

Using acronyms or various symbols when names are unknown is not a good
idea because you want to make it clear that the name is unknown (not
that you overlooked it or neglected to enter it in the software). You do
not want to muddy the waters and send others and generations of future
researchers on an endless and futile search for the wild LNU.

Don't put your cousins in the position of having to ask "Which Mrs.
Thomas Smith is she?" Or "What's MNU? and who is Unk FNU?

Personally I use - for a missing last name and - -- for both names missing
and more from the thread in news:soc.genealogy.methods:-
[--?--] is the standard way of displaying unknown surnames in the
_National Genealogical Society Quarterly_, currently edited by
Thomas W. Jones and Melinde Lutz Sanborn. It is also used in some
publications of the Board for Certification of Genealogists --
primarily those publications which illustrate NGSQ's unusual way of
numbering individuals as well as displaying unknowns. At least the
numbering system is rooted in methods that came to prominence at the
same time as the Register style that we are all familiar with.

Joan pays the humble, Register-style underscore and em dash a
backhanded compliment by hailing [--?--] as a standard practice.
There is no better known (or ironic) instance of the way in which
non- standard symbols confuse and mislead, no matter how
authoritative their proponents might be.

Austin W. Spencer

type setting and print and computing are poles apart so I will stay with my hyphens


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