Consensus on using Maiden Names

Started by Linda Mae Cyr on Monday, December 20, 2010


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12/20/2010 at 11:23 AM

What is the general consensus on using maiden names instead of husband's last name? I have found it to be less complicated when I use the maiden names only. I have found several ancestors who have married two women with the same first name and it goes confusing and messy when you have to straighten them all out. Several collaborators are doing this as well. What are the pros & cons? Thanks.

12/20/2010 at 11:28 AM

I have found it a disaster not to use BOTH maiden and married name when known. I am currently unwinding Anne Taylor of Virginia married to Miles Cary from Anne Taylor of Virginia married to Edward Eastham.

Set your preferences to the your preferential display of maiden names and all pedigree reporting issues are solved. But let *me* see my ancestresses married to the right men, please.

I refer of course only to the Anglo American tree (approx 1600-current time).

12/20/2010 at 11:35 AM

It's a disaster either way. Women with more than one husband end up looking like Mary Smith Jones Taylor Samuels (Williams), and we already have the problem of women being listed as their father-in-laws' daughters instead of daughter-in-laws. Listing the married name makes that worse. There is no good solution except for bad mergers to stop merging.

12/20/2010 at 11:37 AM

Agree with Erica. We need both pieces of information.

What really needs to happen is a tutorial on names and merging for the naive.

12/20/2010 at 11:39 AM

Erin, I hear you about the multiple marriages: it's not well covered.

However every single American ancestress of mine has gone by her MARRIED name in the documentation I can find.

Using your method, I would be born out of thin air. Won't work.

12/20/2010 at 12:01 PM

Social Security death notices are by the woman's married name. Most of the documentation for my American female ancestors is by their married name, e.g., Census. Researchers need both names and matching algorithms need both names.

12/20/2010 at 12:03 PM

Erica thanks for the tip. I do agree with Erica on the multiple marriages for the women being difficult. It's also odd when the connection between your parents disappears totally because they are divorced, it's as if they were never married. Thanks for the input.

12/20/2010 at 12:11 PM

A long time ago in the geni Forum I proposed a "Name Timeline" feature, that would track name and title changes for both men and women (when known)- regardless of the reason for the name change.

But for now all we have are two Last name (family name) fields. I use the Maiden Name field for name at birth, and the last name field for the last known legal name. When I'm not sure, then I use the Last Name field to simply list all known married names in the order of the marriages, like this:
Mary Emery

In any case, I feel strongly that EVERY piece of know name information should be recorded in every appropriate field. Not recording the husband's name would be dangerous business unless EVERYONE did it that way (which they don't). That would also be throwing away information that might otherwise be crucial to making a positive identification. I'm constantly fighting a battle on, for example, the following profiles for three completely different people:

Mary Webster Emery (Shatswell)
Mary Webster (Emery)
Mary Emery (Webster)

I must have untangled those at least a hundred times. I've found each of them, at one time or another, listed interchangeably as Mary Webster or Mary Emery. To make it worse, those three are not the only Mary Websters or Mary Emerys who lived during that same time period, and most of them were married to, or were a daughter of a John Webster or Emery. You could never be sure which is which very easily because some Geni users only use the last name in one or both fields, while others only use the maiden name field. ARGHHH!!

I'm going to keep using every damned field that Geni gives me whenever I can.

12/20/2010 at 12:49 PM

And current actual Geni example for building my own tree. I just ran across a Taylor married to a Lawson. Well, I'm a Lawson - and the lady was unknown to me and my family tree. So now because someone was thoughtful enough to be COMPLETE in their information, *I* have a better genealogical and historical clue to my own background.

Thank you, people who believe that more data is better.

12/20/2010 at 12:52 PM

The real problem is when people put maiden name in the wrong place (i.e., not the maiden name field). If they could just learn that ....

12/20/2010 at 1:10 PM


12/20/2010 at 1:10 PM


12/20/2010 at 2:24 PM

I really dislike the maiden name thingy... Prefer to list the given name at birth, nice for looking up birth records, which more often than not list parents name... a confirming factor. Then in the display name add the husbands name, or husbands names, which is already obvious when one looks at the tree itself.

12/20/2010 at 2:24 PM

and putting in a maiden name for a man is really out there! But it is being done all the time here.

12/20/2010 at 2:33 PM


My point is that in tracing my ancestors, unfortunately there is often *only* the married name. (The wife's parents are unknown.)

So when entering a database, put all the known information -- the convention for American women was usually for a woman to take her husband's last name -- including maiden name in the maiden name field.

Then you can adjust your *own* viewing preferences to display maiden name only if you want, as in a traditional pedigree report.

12/20/2010 at 2:40 PM

Oh, and Sally -- use display names as little as possible. They get really really messed up in merges and I think they are *responsible* for a lot of the merge errors I see.

12/20/2010 at 2:43 PM

When a woman's birth/maiden name is unknown, I put "<unknown>" in that field in case it gets merged with another profile that has the married last name in both fields.

Private User
12/20/2010 at 2:57 PM

I've stopped using Display names because that's also a HUGE problem when merging.

Someone named Joan Plantagenet, Princess of England without a display name can easily get merged with a Joan de Beaumont, Princess of England who's display name is "Joan, Princess of England."

Then, you have to go in and remove husbands and children because someone finished a stack or two because they weren't sure what to do after the mishap.

12/20/2010 at 3:00 PM

See? We're figuring it out.

The tree is a whole lot better than it was six months ago.

12/20/2010 at 4:16 PM

humn... ok... guess I better go back and change some of them. I did not know you could make a setting to show maiden names only.... learning all the time.

Private User
12/20/2010 at 6:51 PM

"Nowadays" men take on their wives names, their husband's names, and women take on their husband's names or their wives' names, or add a hyphen, move their birth surname to their middle name, etc. It really gets confusing, so I believe in adding "just" the birth names to the name fields. All the other spaces (About Me, Documents, and Nickname fields) can be used for "alternative" information.

12/20/2010 at 7:30 PM

Indeed! And Geni needs to add more fields to the database to reflect these realities -- including the naming conventions from other languages and other historical periods.

But adding fields to databases unfortunately takes a while. And what happens, in a database, is if you force wrong data into a "right" name is called, technically, "ferkaktah."

It means just what like what it sounds like.

Maiden name has a specific meaning in English that does not translate.

12/20/2010 at 7:31 PM


And the problem with your method is then I can't do genealogy with documentation. I thought we needed geni to be a documentation program?

12/20/2010 at 7:34 PM

I also think the debate will be solved permanently as traditional pedigree reports are developed. Then the side by side family lines from the old style genealogy programs will be easily available, and everyone's needs will be met.

12/20/2010 at 11:27 PM

Hmm - I've often wondered why there are not just fields for 'Father's surname' and "Mother's surname' as well as 'Husband's surname'
In working with the South African trees and trying to avoid mis-merges, having both surnames available can be crucial, because of the tendency of 2 families who come out on the boat together to intermarry and then name their children after each other.
So a brother and a sister from one family often marry a brother and a sister from another family. When the sisters both have a common name, like Catherine, for instance - the two women in effect swap surnames on marriage, and easily appear to be the same woman, because different people use and presume different conventions about the entry of the names.
Until it's perfectly clear that we're all using the same conventions, I'm punting for: the more data (ie Husband's surname and birth surname) - the less chance of mis-merges on this kind of programme.

12/20/2010 at 11:33 PM

I think that's fair enough. I think of naming conventions as place, time and language dependent: I use whatever conventions are outlined on the Geni Community Wiki (anyone can contribute, free ID to edit):

12/20/2010 at 11:34 PM

And BTW -- I think we're all clear that we're just working within the limits of the current database? Hopefully in the future we'll have more latitude, as geni can enhance their application.

Private User
12/21/2010 at 12:08 AM

I am with Erica and Sharon on this one
Maiden name + Marries plus everything and anytthing I can use
Same arguments as Sharon has (people marrying within the same group – multiple same surname marriages)

More arguments for keeping maiden name (I call it 'the name person was born with') :
I had one of my old (and old fashioned) relatives getting terribly upset that his wife had her maiden name displayed, rather than her married surname.

Geni is not just documenting who gave birth to whom, it is also about family history and it needs to take cultural issues on board.

12/21/2010 at 12:42 AM

Yes, it's a really touchy subject.
In real life, I use my birth surname - not my husband's surname, and my daughter changed her surname to include both her father's and her mother's surname. Good luck to the genealogists trying to log around that!
It is fascinating to realise how much the civil, legal and social implications of this tradition differ across every society, and through history.
The international negotiations we are having to have at the moment will, I suspect, make history ;-)

<private> Baldwin
12/21/2010 at 5:30 AM

Guess I'll pop in with my 2 cents.

I use maiden names because of 2 main reasons...I go to Town Histories as a solid source..where the only way to find someone is by maiden...Also, as in a recent search of gravestones...the unknown woman buried in a family plot was using name of mother (not father) as middle name.....

Also, at least close to main trunk of tree it only makes things confusing if everyone has the same last name....and since names had a life of their own (I mean,used for generations...such as William, Hannah, Elizabeth, Thomas etc etc etc.....there IS a difference between William who married Hannah Jones and William who married Hannah McWhirter....
and I am very tired of finding people linked to the wrong people because they all have the same names..

I DO agree that it is difficult if a woman was married multiple times...but actual BIRTH records would be impossible to find if there was no way to track what her name originally was....

Mixing up men's names is also less likely if there is some way to tell that the 6 Wiliams are from different generations even tho they all seemed to marry Elizabeths.....because all the Elizabeth's had different maiden names...

I don't know if I am explaining it so that it makes any sense...but go into your tree matches and try to make sense of what is there....

Don't even get me started of John (The Middle) or John > or titles, I try to clean up what I John John II, the second, Sir Knight , Sir...
(this all in one name)....

And when Dad dies does Jr become Senior if he has a son by the same name???

Guess I've said enough...wish I could say it are confusing enough without making women equally as confusing....

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