Is Non-capitalisation a good rule?

Started by Terry Jackson (Switzer) on Tuesday, December 28, 2010


Showing 1-30 of 36 posts
12/28/2010 at 5:44 AM

I do question calling non-capitalisation of last names a 'rule'. I have followed this convention on the historic tree because most of these names are little more than descriptives of where they are from or who they are aligned with and so capitalisation wouldn't be correct however in my own tree I do capitalise as the 'rule' in genealogy is to capitalise surnames. I realise the importance to do so is less on geni as it used to be but as geni is offering the option, to a minority at the moment, to print ones tree then capitalisation of surnames SHOULD be adopted as the last name needs stand out from forenames and dates and place names(not that these are included in geni tree). Where the name is a descriptive i.e. de _ _ _ then fair enough it shouldn't be capitalised. I know that on computer messages capitals are generally seen as shouting however I think this is an exception (as is 'should' above as I would have used italics or bold had they been available.)

12/28/2010 at 8:15 AM

I would strongly disagree. The use of all-caps had a place and time, when everything was on paper. With the use of computerized last name fields and such, I think the practice has become obsolete. Further, in some instances, it can mask over subtle changes to family names (an Americanization of de to De for instance, etc.). We don't use all-caps in our names in real life, why should we use all-caps in the last name on our trees?

Private User
12/28/2010 at 11:54 AM

I agree with Ben. This genealogical practice is very archaic and unnecessary. Perpetuating it just creates more work for us in undoing it.

12/28/2010 at 12:28 PM


See the thread "setting name display"

ALL CAPS display is an option under individual settings.

Of course data entry should always be in mixed case, following standard grammatical rules.

I wonder if we need to explain better the database, the input screen, the display, the diagrams, and the (theoretical) reports? There are many views in Geni and perhaps people don't realize what they're for or what they could be impacting.

Private User
12/28/2010 at 11:06 PM

My impression is that many people never change their Tree View display from its default values. Since the latter have pernicious consequences, a means of encouraging users who are beyond needing training wheels to migrate to better settings seems desirable.

12/29/2010 at 8:38 AM

Good point, Phil.

So maybe our "naming practices" needs an FAQ section on "tree display" in addition to the section on "setting preferences."

Anyone care to find it in the existing FAQ or write it up if not existing?

Private User
12/29/2010 at 11:05 AM

I did add the point in the wiki that ALL CAPS is a individual setting.

12/29/2010 at 11:16 AM

Excellent, Jeff, thank you!

I take it you're comfortable using the Wiki? (I'm a beginner at it myself).

I'm wondering if you and perhaps others could take a pass at simplifying or more accurately, breaking out the pages. It's hard to follow as is.

We should start a separate thread to discuss and get input from the COGNOM members (my acronym for this Project).

12/29/2010 at 11:17 AM

Oh -- maybe add a hyperlink to "how to set your viewing preferences" page in the Wiki.

Private User
1/6/2011 at 5:48 AM

Definitely, ALL CAPS is a display option and should not be used hard-coded in the fields.

Write the names correct, like McDonald and let people decide themselves on how to display it.

Using ALL CAPS was just a method to recognize what is the last name when we did all out genealogy work on paper in the last century.

Private User
1/6/2011 at 6:26 AM

I agree with Bjorn.

1/6/2011 at 9:37 AM

We all agree.

<private> Baldwin
1/6/2011 at 11:22 AM

I used to have a customer named St Onge.....NOT STONGE...

I agree with Bjorn...Spell it as it is spelled....not lower case for all or bold print for all.....

Private User
1/6/2011 at 11:38 AM

I agree with Bjørn as well. Considering programmers at Geni added display options for all caps, why not enter in mixed caps? Now try to get the millions of people entering data to all do it that way... that's another story! =)

<private> Baldwin
1/6/2011 at 12:08 PM

Ben...I actually understood what you said and agree heartily....

Spell it as it's spelled....with whatever capitols or lower case is proper....

And Steven has a good point...the variations could go on forever....

How about a grid system for decades....and name matches by name and their location within the grid....that way even people with NO birth or death dates that were placed in that grid could only match with others within the grid range....and not over centuries....

Then, within the grid range whatever way you want to spell a name (with Caps or non) or de Gracio v De Gracio....if it were within the grid it would be a potential match...if not in the grid would not show as tree match potential.

Private User
1/28/2011 at 3:47 PM

While I fully agree that data entry of names should use (normal) mixed capitalization, I think convincing those who think otherwise would be greatly aided by actually having the display-time options to which others have alluded.

Currently we have the option to display Maiden Name instead of Last Name, and to capitalize it. Period. End of capitalization options.

Therefore, anyone who is used to capitalizing birth surname - whether in PAF/FTM/etc. or in 20th century indented type-written lists - cannot do so in Geni, unless they enter Last Name capitalized.

In addition to implementing the missing display-time options, normalized data entry could be encouraged if the algorithm that picks primary manager during a merge never gave it to the manager of the profile with non-standard capitalization.

For that purpose, non-standard could be defined as one or more fields (or text strings therein) written in all-CAPS or all lower-case.

4/1/2011 at 8:45 AM

I agree with Ben that the use of all capitals for surnames is obsolete, but should still be a choice.

My pet peeve is people who do everything in lower case and forego punctuation! A side effect of our text happy society, but it would be nice to see names (and all fields) auto-corrected and standarized. (I pretty much boycott abbreviations also, but I'll address that in the proper discussion.)

That shouldn't bother the people who don't care and for those of us who do the options should keep us happy!

<private> Baldwin
4/1/2011 at 9:46 AM


Let them provide birth certificates showing all CAPS or all lower case and then we can talk...

4/1/2011 at 11:59 AM

Hi Pamela:

The point I would make against "choice" is that going all caps loses information. Much of the lost information is recoverable and often it is minor information that is lost (i.e., when did "de Witt" become "Dewitt", etc.?), but there will be specific instances when this becomes a critical point (particularly with respect to the potential for mismerges). So, to me, all caps is a bad choice to make.

I definitely agree with you about being annoyed over the lower case names, and pretty much for the same reason as my disdain for all caps. At times I imagine that the lower case transcribers are just making some sort of rhetorical remark against the all caps people. In either case, it's not really helpful - information is still lost.

4/1/2011 at 3:02 PM

Ben ~ I totally see your point about the choices and I prefer the "correct" mixed case, but I doubt if you could get everyone to agree to it. I think giving the various viewpoints a choice is just an acceptable compromise for now. Maybe if the ALL CAPS fans could compromise and put the exact transcription in the "About Me" box?

And not trying to be mean, but I think the ones who use all lower case are just being lazy. The devil is in the details as you have so correctly pointed out!

Fay ~ Great point! (And hard to argue against.)

It also appears that an established rule has been decided:

Established Rules

1.Use proper case. Do not enter surnames in all uppercase.

How are the rules being established/decided? I must have missed that somewhere. Perhaps a poll function could be added to take a vote on things, so to speak?

4/1/2011 at 3:08 PM

i havent followed the whole conversation, so forgive e if i missed something. are the programmers at Geni not able to make it so that the fields arent case sensitive. its kinda silly that EDWARDS would be different than Edwards or edwards. just seems like something easy to fix, but it's been a while since i was programming websites, so maybe things have changed.

personally, i think it should be entered and kept as it is spelled. i have a family named Macdonald. Not MacDonald. lower case D. you wouldnt think it would make a difference, but different places handle M' names differently. In the town directories that this family appeared in, handles Mc' names differently than Mc names. The Macdonald family listings appeared at the beginning of the M section, before all the MacDonalds or anything else at all. I only noticed it on accident. I usually check alphabetically through the Mac sections, but also at the start of the sections, since some put them before the rest.

so capitalization can indeed make a big difference.

4/2/2011 at 5:45 AM

The debate apparently continues between the folks who want to record data the way that genealogists have "traditionally" done it, and [in my opinion] the much better way that technology allows if implemented well. So Allyssa brings up a very good point: there is no reason that Geni cannot be set up to elegantly handle both.

But there IS a limit to what you can "fix" with technology. The limit in this case is that it cannot automatically determine with high certainty which specific letters should be capitalized and which are lower case to agree with the way the actual family spelled their own names. Software can follow a few simple rules [like capitalize the first letter that appears after a space character, or the entire surname], but it cannot know for sure that it is doing what the actual people who had that name intended. To accomplish that, the software needs US to type it into the database correctly. If we instead capitalize [or type in all lower case] entire names, then the information about how the person in the profile capitalized their own name is irretrievably lost.

Genealogy is supposed to be about preserving historical information. NO type of information, including correct capitalization of names, should be just thrown away in the name of tradition or anything else.

4/2/2011 at 9:46 AM

I agree David! I've been a volunteer firefighter and worked as an EMT/paramedic for years, so I understand tradition very well, but fighting fires the same way we did 50 or 100 years ago would get people killed. The subject of capitalization isn't quite that urgent, but I think you can keep important traditions while still keeping up with progress and drop the ones that are no longer useful or relevant..

My other comparison would be to vehicles. There are still people who drive vehicles with manual transmissions and there are some valid reasons for doing so. But I have always figured that God made us smart enough to invent the automatic transmission so why should I do all the extra work of shifting in my daily driver vehicle?

In this case, we are harnessing an incredible amount of computing power that grows exponentially by the day. We should use that technolgy to the fullest extent possible to preserve our past.

I currently know of nowhere else you would capitalize a person's entire last name -- business letters or even your own signature for instance. And while I understand the tradition of doing so on hand-scribed pedigrees, I think that can be preserved in scanned documents or photographs (which might also give us the actual case of letters in names), and put away as a tool that has served it's usefulness.

4/2/2011 at 3:52 PM

Time I responded to some of these responses. I concede that in these days capitalisation is not as necessary as it was formerly however despite this being a paperless age many people DO print off from their computers and Geni offer a printed tree service and certainly in this instance it should be possible to have surnames capitalised as is traditional (for a reason). As stated in my original message at the start of this thread, I can live with not capitalising surnames but it just isn't true that Geni offer the option to do so. You can if you also choose to only show maiden name but that is not the same.

Alyssa made a very important point and that is that whether a name is in lower case, upper case or title case it should make no differenc in the search engine. John Smith should turn up as JOHN SMITH, John SMITH, or john smith and in the 'go to' band at the bottom of tree view they should all appear together.

<private> Baldwin
4/3/2011 at 4:40 AM

Sad to say...there are a LOT of people out there who do not know HOW to write cursive.....can only write using BLOCK letters....who are lazy or do not know how to use the Caps key. (either to turn on or off )..need glasses or just want to reinvent the wheel...

In a world where many young folk cannot even write a proper word (thanks in part to texting etc) the use of ANY language seems to be getting diluted.....

They are missing so much and should be a few more years they won't be able to read their own trees and the info contained in will be a foreign language to them...

And I, for one, do not think that Geni or any other computer based historical system should have to accomodate (sp) itself to them by letting them degrade the language....whether it be for names or data in profile.

4/3/2011 at 9:52 AM

Good points again Fay! Hopefully now that almost every phone has a full keyboard and larger screens people will cut down on the shorthand. It takes a little longer to actually use full sentences, correct grammar, correct spelling, etc. but I keep doing it in the hopes that it will encourage people to answer me in the same fashion.

And I agree that no website or system should lower their standards -- we should be moving forward and improving, not sliding backwards!

<private> Baldwin
4/4/2011 at 2:13 AM

Thanks Pam...

Phone? Can't read the screen..I work totally on computer...have tri-focals, bi-focals, and naked eye BUT my Mom was a stickler for proper use of the language (her rules can be used for any language, I believe) and I personally know too many young people (even ones graduating from high school and college) that can NOT write cursive or write a paragraph that makes sense since they dont know, were never taught, or are just so used to abbreviations that they have lost the ability to communicate or have reduced the number of people they CAN communicate with.

Private User
4/11/2011 at 6:39 AM

@Fay, at the risk of sounding like I'm defending "young folk", cursive is about as archaic and obsolete as all-caps surnames.

<private> Baldwin
4/11/2011 at 8:26 AM

Then I guess I am 'archaic'. No apologies, however....let me know next time you want to read an original document ...I can translate.

4/11/2011 at 9:25 AM

Private User, I have to say you are wrong in this. I work at a school and I am currently teaching pupils Cursive handwriting, but not only that, there is an increasing tendency to teach cursive from day one when children first learn to read and write and to not teach printing at all.

Showing 1-30 of 36 posts

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