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

Monday, May 14, 2018

Its All in the Birth Name

This is a common sight in the Family Tree. It used to be a lot more common, but it is still showing up regularly even after years of cleaning up entries. Ask yourself this question. Was this person actually given all those names at birth? Including a married name? Nice try by the parents for predicting who their daughter would marry. I also like the ones that have the birth name as Mrs. whatever.

Where did these names come from? They are relics of the past. They roughly indicate the number of times this person's name has been submitted to FamilySearch and its predecessors in the past. This long list of "Birth Name" entries graphically illustrates over 100 years of sloppy or incomplete research including typos, deliberate misspellings, and past genealogical standards.

Don't we need to preserve all these variations in the names of our ancestors? No and partially yes. The actual birth name or name found in the earliest record of the person should be what is recorded in the "Vital Information" section. Variations in the name should be recorded as Alternate names or Nicknames. If you click on the Add plus sign shown in the screenshot above, you will have a choice of adding these variations as "Other Information."

If you choose "Alternate Name" you get further choices:

An alternative name should be one that shows up in a specific source document, not just a misspelling or typographical error. Many people changed their names during their lifetime. The rule is that the Vital Information section should reflect the earliest known name. For example, if a person came from Europe and Anglicized their name, the name in the Vital Information section should be the original name from Europe (or other areas of the world) if it is known.

So what do you do with all the duplicate names? You delete them. When you click on the duplicate Birth Name you get the following:

There are options to Edit, Delete or Close.

In some cases, like the one shown above, you see a random name inserted. In this case, there is a birth name of Mrs. Robert Lockwood. There is an entry showing Mary Butler with a second husband named Robert Lockwood but there are no sources showing the children or the second spouse. If a strange or random name shows up, you need to carefully review the Merge History to see if there is a merger of an unrelated person.


  1. Today, it is usually impossible for most of us to tell if any of these alternate names are the result of incorrect combining of entries in the now defunct, before Family Tree was in introduced.

    I found a case where a Linus was combined with his brother, Jerome. Jerome's name appeared in the Vital Records section at the top of the page and Linus' name appeared as an alternate name. The merge took place before Family Tree was in place so I could not separate them but FamilySearch was able to do it.

    In another case, twin sisters, Irena & Ivena, were combined before the existence of Family Tree. Thankfully, that has also been resolved

    While the reason behind some of these alternate names is innocuous and obvious, as in the case of different married names, the reason behind others can no longer be determined unless one is alert enough to ask for a Support case to FamilySearch be escalated to a software engineer who can see if more than one individual was merged.

    Another clue to an incorrect combination before Family Tree, could be where a person is apparently incorrectly connected to different sets of parents or spouses. If this is the case, the change log would not show an incorrect merge.

    I suppose it might be less time consuming to redo some temple work lost by creating a new entry for someone, than for engineers to do the separation, but I don’t know.

    1. Thanks for your detailed comment. It was not possible to merge people in So I am a little bit puzzled by you reference to a merger before the Family Tree was fixed in June of 2017. You probably meant that the two individuals were combined on the previous program. That does create some issues. As I indicated, if you see a different or strange name you need to look further at the entries. You may also find that someone has already created another copy of the merged individual. Where there is on merger there will likely be more.

  2. Duplicate entries in were COMBINED. Now, in Family Tree they are MERGED. Same principle, different name.

    Another nomenclature change was the use of PID numbers (Personal ID #) in, now ID numbers in Family Tree.

    1. When records were combined on all of the information about the additional entries was preserved. This created what they called IOUS or Individuals of unusual size. These huge entries were eliminated in the present version of Family Tree. Merge and combine are not the same at all. Yes, the name changed but the numbers did remain the same.