Genealogy - Formatting Names, Dates & Locations

Although it seems like data entry formatting should be standard and an easy cheat sheet available, there are many genealogy software programs that handle data entry differently. Each program may have their own standards for inputting data.Some have one field for the full name and others have separate fields for first, middle and last names.Along with prefix and suffix fields. So it’s important to know how your software program wants you to enter data. Use their standards for best output results.

The most important thing is to be consistent, so YOU know what your input and symbols mean. Below are some general guidelines that will hopefully help you to decide how you manage your data.

Do I use all CAPS for surnames?

My opinion is no, do not use all caps in order to maintain integrity of the spelling. However, this is your choice and many genealogists prefer using all caps. Here are some pros and cons to using all caps:


  • Provides easy scanning on pedigree charts and family group sheets.
  • Helps to distinguish the surname from the first and middle names.
  • This convention is widely used (but not necessary).


  • Does not preserve the case the way it is seen in sources.  For example, deScisciolo would show as DESCISCIOLO or d’Aquitaine would show as D’AQUITAINE. von Dohlen would show as VON DOHLEN.  You would have no way to know that part of the name is actually in lower case.
  • Preserving the case can avoid unnecessary ambiguity.
  • Using all CAPS is an expression of emphasis in most Internet communities. It indicates shouting or yelling and is considered poor “netiquette” by some. (This may not be true within the genealogy field since capitalizing the surname is so common).

How do I enter last name if it is split?

If there is no separate field for last name, check your software program instructions on how to enter split last names. In Family Tree Maker, you would use backslashes. For example for John Randall Van Meter enter it as John Randall \Van Meter\. Otherwise the last name would show as Meter instead of Van Meter.



How do I enter Nicknames?

How you enter nicknames depends on the software or database you are using. The common indicator for nicknames is using the quote symbol. So John Henry “Jack” Doe, would be how it would be displayed. Each software program may have you enter the data differently. For example, Family Tree Maker recommends you enter John Henry “Jack” Doe into the name field. However, would have you enter John Henry “Jack” in First and Middle Name Field and Doe in Surname Field. Most programs also have the option to add Alias and/or Also Known As (AKA) fields that can be used. I prefer to use it in the name field because it’s easily viewed. Again, the important thing is to be consistent.

Some genealogists use parentheses instead of quotes for the nicknames. Check your software program to determine what they recommend; however the important thing is to be consistent. If you use parentheses for both nicknames and married last names, it can become confusing, so set your own standards and be consistent.

How do I enter last name if Unknown?

When documenting names, always use the maiden name/birth name to document last name. For women, it is not uncommon for their maiden name to be forgotten with time. If unknown, then the answer to this depends on your software program. If the last name has a separate field, then leaving it blank is best. If there is only one field for the full name, then using Unknown is usually recommended; otherwise the middle name may be taken as the last name. If you don’t know a maiden name and wish to use their married name, then put it in parentheses, e.g. Susan Marie (Johnson). uses a separate field for last name, so if you don’t know the last name you can leave it blank. However, when searching for a person, having only the first name can be confusing, so entering the married name with parentheses may help and you’ll know it is a married name because it’s in parentheses.

Should I add a period to intials or not?

Should I use a period for initials or not? Rule of thumb…if it is an abbreviation, then yes, if not then no. For example, if you only know the initial of someone’s name then it’s an abbreviation. If the letter IS the middle name (such as Harry S Truman), then no, you do not add a period.

How should I format dates?

When recording dates, use the accepted European standard of DD MMM YYYY. Example: 24 Nov 1949 with no commas. Using the three-letter abbreviation for month is acceptable. Do not use a number format for month and use four digit year. For example, 12/4/01 could be interpreted as December 4th, 1801, 1901, or 2001 or as April 12th, 1801, 1901 or 2001.

If you find a need to record a date that may have multiple interpretations, enter it exactly as it was written and you can add your interpretation in brackets.
Example: 05/01/05 [5 Jan 1905].

How do I enter dates if the exact date is unknown?

The following abbreviations are accepted for use before a date in a date field if you are estimating based on other data but don’t know the exact date. For example, you know they were baptized on 25 Oct 1944 but don’t know their birthdate. You can put Bef 25 Oct 1944 under their birth date. If you find a record that indicates they are living at some point, but don’t know their death date, you can enter Aft before the date of that event in the death field. Noting your assumptions and sources is important.

  • Bef (Before),
  • Aft (After),
  • Abt (About)
  • Ca (Circa)
  • Bet (between) date 1 – date 2 (placing a space dash space between the two dates)

How do I enter Locations?

Locations should be written small to large. For example: city/town, county, state, country. Check the software you are using, but typically location is not for a street address. There may be a different field available for a street address. Use full spelling and avoid using abbreviations. You may know WA means Washington, but others may not.   The exception is United States of America can be abbreviated to USA as it is universally known.


5 Responses

  1. Looking for a recommendation: No Middle Name????
    Not a case of Unknown middle name, this individuals is in fact KNOWN to have no middle name.
    Should I simply leave a blank, thus leading others to search for a name, or enter NMI (or something else) to indicate the facts???

      1. When an event such as a birth, marriage, etc takes place outside of a town/city, should the place include the town/city of the location or just the county? e.g. A birth takes place at home instead of a hospital in town, should the place only include county and state?

        1. I will use as much information about the place as I know, starting with the smallest area. For example, “town/city, county, state, USA”. The more information you have will help in future research. If the event happened outside of the town, then I’d just use the county, however, you might want to add a note that the location is “at home just outside of said town”. In the early 19th century. Homesteads were in townships. So, for example if you were married, or born at the home farm, I would use the name of the township (and section # if known), not the town. If you don’t know what township they are in, you can easily google search “Townships in the state” you are working. Some states, like Louisiana, call them Parishes. I’ve done a post explaining Townships and Precincts maps at I hope this helps. Feedback welcome!

  2. For those who upload from software to Ancestry, there is a downside to putting anything in the Death fact. Ancestry interprets that to mean the person is dead. Another way of indicating that someone was alive on a given date is to record that in the “Living” fact…or record it in a Residence fact.

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