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

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Birth Names on FamilySearch Family Tree

Some of the common artifacts left over from 150 years of accumulated family history submissions to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (and all their various subdivisions and associated organizations) that show up in the Family Tree are some strange entries labeled as "Birth Name." Here is a screenshot of an example from one of the people in my own ancestral lines:

Many users of the Family Tree are baffled by these names and assume that because they are a legacy of FamilySearch, therefore there is some reason they are there and they should be preserved. Others view them as a burden that forces them to research the real birth name of the individual and spend a huge amount of unproductive time. Yet another reaction to this list is that the list is ignored completely. Where did these "Birth Name" entries come from and why do they appear in the Family Tree?

Over the years, as people submitted names to the Church (Genealogical Society of Utah, etc.) there were, of course, variations in the way that people were identified. After many years of submissions, much of that accumulated work was included in the program. There were a myriad of duplicates. Unfortunately, many of the entries, even though they were duplicates, had slightly different to significantly different names for the person submitted. What you see above is a summary of the differences in the way the name of this person were submitted. Some people have only one or two variations, some have dozens.

Because the information in the program was all essentially moved over into the Family Tree, these names showed up. Because they were submitted as the "primary" name of the ancestor, they are designated as "Birth Names" even though most of them are obviously wrong.

The main entry for each individual should reflect that person's name as it is shown on the earliest document or record recorded for that individual. If there is a record of the birth, then this is the name given at birth. This name should be entered as the main name of the individual in the "Vital Information" section. For example, supposing that the only record of a person is a burial record. Since that is the only record, the name shown on the burial record becomes the primary name recorded in the Vital Information section. If a different, earlier name is discovered, it should take the place of the later recorded name.

If the person went by several names during their life time, the earliest recorded name is the name recorded in the Vital Information section. All of the other names are added as Alternative Names in the Other Information section.

The Alternate Name  option gives you several choices for categorizing the name in a pull-down menu.

The options are:

  • Also Known As
  • Birth Name
  • Married Name
  • Nickname 
  • Other
It is possible that a person may have had more than one name recorded in birth records but this is fairly uncommon. The source of any name variations should be recorded. 

What do we do about the list of alternate birth names, especially those that are obvious errors? They fall into one or more of three categories. They are either:
  1. Duplicative of the name in Vital Information section
  2. Inaccurate 
  3. Inappropriate
  4. Or all three
Let's look at the list of names for Jeane Cheverill shown above:

  • Birth Name: Jane (this name is likely a spelling variation or a nickname and should be designated as such)
  • Birth Name: Jane () (This is the same as the first entry except for the typographical error of adding parenthesis)
  • Birth Name: Jane Morgan (This is obviously wrong. She was not given her married name at birth)
  • Birth Name: Jane Mrs. Morgan (Same issue with the married name)
  • Birth Name: Jane Richard (Just plain wrong)
  • Birth Name: June (Perhaps a spelling variation, but maybe just a typo)
  • Birth Name: Mrs Morgan (Married name again)
  • Birth Name: Mrs. Jane Morgan (Married name again)
  • Birth Name: Unknown (Morgan) (Married name and wrong)

I suggest that all of the wrong or married or whatever names need to be deleted so that there is no unnecessary confusion over the birth name. It would be nice if there was even one source for this person's identity that would help us decide if any of the other variations need to be preserved. Be sure and add a detailed reason for deleting the names if that is appropriate. 


  1. Some of these names could be a clue that more than one person was combined in or possibly Ancestral File. I think that should be investigated before deleting the obviously wrong ones.

    1. Yes, exactly. Why should I spend my time worrying about combined records? Seriously.

    2. “Why should [you] spend [your] time worrying about combined records?”

      I have two different answers for you.

      First one for your other blog. You don’t have to worry about incorrectly combined records from New Family Search at all at this point. Just be aware if some really strange information shows up in a record, that that could be where it came from and just fix it. For example, if your ancestor Mary Jones was born in 1815, her Family Tree record shows she was born in 1670, and there is nothing in the change log regarding an incorrect merge, then there was probably a bad merge. Just fix the record. If there is an incorrect merge showing in the change log in Family Tree, then undo the merge or restore any people needed and correct the records that way.

      Here is the answer for this blog. Incorrectly combined records from New Family Search are a major concern. Sometimes wildly incorrect alternate names in Family Tree are the last remaining clue that an incorrect merge occurred. Take your example of Jeane Cheverill and Jane Richard. Those two last names are so different that it is highly likely that a bad merge took place in New Family Search. This means that without checking, you don’t know what information in the Family Tree record, including birth information, death information, marriage information, spouses, and children are Jeane’s and which are Jane’s. These are all fairly easily to correct by going back to the records, correcting the information for your ancestor, and letting the descendants of Jane recreate a record for Jane, or work of an existing duplicate for her, and correct her record. What is not so easy to correct, however, is the ordinance page. Currently, looking at that page, there is no way to tell which ordinances are Jeane’s and which are Jane’s. For all you know, Jeane has never had any ordinances done at all even though they look complete, because all the ordinances showing are Jane’s.

      We’ve been told on the Family Search feedback boards that at some point in the future, Family Search will give us the ability to look up our ancestors in the ordinance database and verify that the ordinances showing in Family Tree really belong to our ancestors and that we will be able to request corrections in Family Tree. At this point, where there has been an obvious bad merge in Family Tree, I am putting a note to that effect, warning that the ordinances showing may not be valid. Also, I am very glad that I have never gotten around to copying any ordinance information from New Family Search or Family Tree into my personal home computer genealogy program (except for ordinance work my family has personally done) so all the dates there are from the IGI, that is pre-NFS, and I know those dates are correct.

    3. Very helpful explanation. Although absent some way to verify which ordinances belong to which combined individual, there does not seem to be a way to tell if something needs to be done.

  2. In todays "Weekly FamilySearch changes for things you are watching", I found 4 ancestors/cousins whose alternate name was updated by FamilySearch. In all 4 cases, the alternate name was of type birth name, and identical to the primary name shown on top of the person screen.

    For 3, the alternate but identical birth name was added on June 12, without any other change, meaning that the persons were not merged or modified in any other way. only the birth name was added as an alternate. One other person had 2 alternate names added, on June 10 and 18, both of type birth name, and also identical to the primary name.

    Since they look redundant, I'm inclined to remove them, but if there's some sort of automated process that adds them, this feels like not making much sense, because then I would be fighting a computer program. Any idea what to do? Can they be results of data moving over that doesn't show as a merge, because it isn't a merge, technically?

    1. You might be seeing the FamilySearch update that occurs when temple work is completed for an individual. Do any of these 4 ancestors show ordinances complete on that day?

    2. Birth names were added at the time the information was copied from They do not seem to continue to appear.

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