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 Standards

Some personal thoughts on standards and consistency....  In life I like to do what I can to make the world a cleaner place, and it makes sense to extend this to genealogy... As I browse data online, I routinely find things that drive me nuts. Perhaps it comes out of my database management background, where I like everything neat and organized.

As the number of researchers and the amount of online data increases, it makes sense to try to apply some sort of standards, or else the possible variations and the resulting confusion will only multiply.

So if you post your data online, here or on other sites, below are a few suggestions or pointers for cleaning up your data. Also listed below are a few other websites I have found with other suggestions.

  • Names
    • Unknown spouses: I do a search for John Seymour (b.abt 1218) to see if he had any known wives. Half of the results I find are for "Mrs. John Seymour", because this name matches the one I searched for... To me, this just makes things more confusing, rather than getting only his records. Plus, this was NOT his wife's name.

      Don't put in placeholders or abbreviations like "Unknown", "LNU" or "MNU", as again, this was not the person's name.  Just leave it blank.

      Some of the entries often don't contain any additional data - just a blank record.  if a spouse name is not known, but you still have data to include, just use "?", rather than assigning him or her a married name. If no other data is known, then do not include a spouse record at all.

    • Maiden names: Along the same lines, record a wife's name as her maiden name, not her married name.
    • Unknown parents: I often notice a person's parent listed as "N.N. Smith" (intended to be "No Name Smith", but could be confused with someone's initials which could be N.N.), or "__ Smith", only to find no additional data after clicking into it. If there is additional data to record, use "__ Smith" or "? Smith", and if there is no other data, then do not include a parent record at all.
    • Patronymic names: For medieval names that include "de", "ap", "von", "le", etc., it is helpful to list the given name as "John de", and the surname as "Seymour", rather than the surname as "de Seymour"... at least in cases where the "de" is optional or dropped in some generations. (Modern cases may be different, as the surname may be more standardized with the prefix). As long as both forms are used, online searches need to be repeated for both variations of the name, or else miss half of the results.
    • Abbreviations: Similar to the patronymic names, if you have surnames like "St. Martin", choose whatever form you like, but stay consistent. Including variations such as "St. Martin", "St Martin", and "Saint Martin" at the same time may lead to names not being found.

  • Dates
    • Many genealogy programs can do cross-checks on the dates of related people, to point out errors. Online I often find people who were born before their parents were, or were born years after their parents died. As these point out obvious impossibilities, it makes sense to clean up the data where possible before posting online for everyone to see. If your program has this option, check it out.
    • If at all possible, record the birth and death dates, or make educated guesses based on parents, children, date of marriage, etc. if the actual dates are not known (and record that they are guesses). When cross-checked (mentioned above), the dates may expose errors. If left out, there's nothing to validate the data against.

  • Places
    • When possible, it is helpful to spell it all out, except perhaps in common abbreviations such as the 2-letter state abbreviations, and when it is clear what these mean. Sometimes I have seen place abbreviations and have had to do more digging to find out what they stood for, and this can lead to misinformation...
    • When possible, include the county names and city names. In NC and at least a few other states, there are several cases of a city name and a county name being the same, and the city is not in that county. So "Washington, NC" could be confused for either "Washington Co, NC" or "Washington, Beaufort Co, NC", again, leading to misinformation.
    • Where possible, include the state, county, city along with the locations of cemeteries, rather than only the cemetery name.  This will help others browsing your data, when they are not as familiar with the cemeteries.  This can also help you, if you are planning a trip -- then you can search for all of the cemeteries in a state or county.

  • General
    • In any genealogy database program, use the fields provided for ONLY the information they are intended for..  I often see parenthetical information added to the names fields, place fields, etc.  Name fields are only for names, places only for places.  Anything else should go to the notes.

  • Posting Online
    • Many times I have seen one researcher's data posted on the same website (such as at Rootsweb WorldConnect) multiple times - probably one set of data is an update of the other sets? If you do not need to have multiple copies, then please remove the older uploads. If you don't know how, ask.  Otherwise, the outdated data is still there for people to see and copy, and it increases the amount of data to search through.

  • Links

Above all, intentionally choose your standards, stick to them, and be consistent.

If you believe these ideas to be helpful, feel free to refer this page to the listservs you are on, or provide links from your website. Only by spreading the word will the ideas be able to make a difference.

Thanks for your efforts. If anyone has suggestions to update the above, or other ideas to add, please let me know.

Updated: 5-16-2018