Genealogy from the perspective of a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormon, LDS)

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Where do the Alternate Names come from in Family Tree?

If you are relatively new to Family Tree and your family has been members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints for some time, you have probably noticed a list of "Alternate names" associated with individuals already in the system. Here is a screenshot showing such a list:

In this example, there are 10 variations on the name of the person. Here is a list of the names:
Alternate Name
Birth Name Henry Sutton
Birth Name Henry Lyon
Birth Name Henry
Birth Name Henry Howarth
Birth Name Henry Howarth Sutton
Birth Name Henry Sutton
Birth Name Henry Jr Sutton
Birth Name Mr. Sutton
Birth Name Henry (Senior) Sutton
Birth Name Henry Suttond

Where did all these variations come from and should they be preserved? Both these questions raise issues that date back up to 150 years. In essence, what you are seeing are all the variations in the name of the individual recorded by researchers over the years. Some of these may actually be legitimate variations in the name as found in various documents. Unfortunately, none of these listed names has any source documentation attached. In addition, they are likely all wrong or merely duplications of the primary name shown above in the Vital Information section. This particular individual has an attached source showing his birth name as it was recorded at the time of birth. Some of the "birth names" listed are obviously wrong and as such, should be simply deleted with a comment about the fact that the correct name is now sourced. There is no need to preserve the mistakes of the past.

In some cases, there may actually be a dispute as to the way the name was recorded from different records. All of these variations should be preserved with proper documentation and references to the original sources. There is always the possibility that more than one individual is being referenced in the records and so this possibility should be preserved. In the case of a mere duplication or repetition, there is no reason to list the name more than once in the Vital Information section. I suggest that mere duplicates also be deleted. This is in the nature of a housekeeping task to "clean up" the records. In the list above, unless there is some documentation showing actual alternate names, all of these supposed variations should be deleted with the proper notation unless some existing record shows a variation in the name as given at birth.

So there is no misunderstanding. The issue here is names recorded as "birth names" not just alternate names such as a name change or later variations in the name. This list should only exist if there are records showing variations in the same individual's name in different source records.


  1. This is an issue I deal with. I can document the same persons with a number of variations of their names. My grandfather, born in Illinois in 1883, 34 years after his father came from Germany. The family did not start speaking English until about 1920. My grandfather's birth name was Johann Wilhelm Landmeier, his brother's Johann Bernhard Landmeier. After a fashion they became William J and Barni J respectively. This is only a sample. My Dilemma!

    1. As I mentioned, true name variations should be preserved as alternate names with the documentation and sources.

  2. I just noticed that a new policy has been posted on the Temple page in Family Tree. It says "Reserved temple ordinances and printed temple cards are valid for only 2 years from the date they were reserved." I was just wondering if you knew:

    (1) There are, no doubt, many ordinances in the system that were reserved more than two years ago. Are all those ordinances now suddenly available for anyone to reserve? Or, does this only apply to ordinances reserved from this point on?

    (2) Is there some easy way to find all the available ordinances on your tree without going through name-by-name?


    1. Wow. That's big news, and good to know, and I agree with the policy change and think it's a great idea, although I'm sure there will be those who disagree. I'll make sure the people at my local Family History Center know that, so they can make plans for their reserved names.

      It'll be interesting to see how this change works out in practical terms.

    2. I have been unable to verify this announcement as yet. I will respond when I find the source.