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Tuesday's Tip - Recording Unknown Names

  Tuesday's Tip - Recording Unknown Names 

Tuesday's Tips provide brief how-to's to help you learn to use the Legacy Family Tree software with new tricks and techniques.

Tuesday's Tip - Recording Unknown Names

Tip Level: Advanced 

Here is a really nifty trick. Have you ever wanted to record an unknown surname?

I recommended [—?—] because that is how unknown surnames are normally handled in the National Genealogical Society Quarterly (NGSQ) but someone remarked that Legacy was hitting on that as a Potential Problem.

Here is a copy and paste from the Help File:

"If you are entering something into either the given names field or the surname to indicate that the name is currently unknown, such as [—?—], NN, or ??? or something similar, these entries will normally cause a potential problems alert. If you would like to avoid the alerts on these name entries, you can do so by creating a file called UnknownName.txt in the [My Documents]\Legacy Family Tree\_AppData folder. The file should contain two strings consisting of one or more terms separated by space between each one. The first line is for unknown names that might be found in the Given Names field and the second line pertains to the Surname field. For example:

Child ???
[—?—] NN ???

You can create this file using a text editor."

I have an UnknownName.txt file. In my file the first line is blank because I have no given names that I want Legacy to skip (I always leave the given name field blank if I don't know what it is). My second link only contains
because that is the only thing I use for unknown surnames. The Help File shows 3 variations that you are telling Legacy to skip but that is for illustrative purposes only. No matter what you choose you need to be consistent so your UnknownName.txt file should only contain one entry on the second line.


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Michele Simmons Lewis is part of the technical support team at Millennia, the makers of the Legacy Family Tree software program. With over 20 years of research experience, Michele’s passion is helping new genealogists get started on the right foot through her writings, classes and lectures. She is the former staff genealogist and weekly columnist for the McDuffie Mirror and now authors Ancestoring, a blog geared toward the beginner/intermediate researcher.


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I've had an UnknownName.txt file in place for some time. Unfortunately, when I use the [--?--] for a woman's unknown maiden name before I locate a marriage or other record to fully identify her, However, even with the UnknownName.txt file in place I still received three Standardized Tip message dialog boxes, one after the other, when saving the individual's record. I finally turned off the standardized tip messages to end the display of the three boxes.

There are two things you need to check. Make sure that the [—?—] is on the SECOND line in the text file. The first line is for given names.

Also, [—?—] has to match exactly between what you are entering in Legacy and how you have it formatted in the Text file. For example, in your post above you used

bracket dash dash question mark dash dash bracket

I used
bracket em dash question mark em dash bracket (an em dash is ALT-0151)

It doesn't matter which way you do it, only that the two match.

Thanks Michele. However, I do use standard dashes, not em or en dashes, and square brackets. I use the 'unknown name sequence' on both lines of the UnknownName.txt file since there are instances when I discover an earlier marriage occurred, yet have only the surname, not the given name of a woman's earlier husband.

Should there be any reason why Legacy does not apparently 'accept' my version of the UnknownName.txt file and instead display three Standardized Tip message?

Using [--?--] or another made-up name is bad practice.
Don't take it from me, take it from a genealogy expert:

I use [—?—] for unknown surnames because that is what is accepted by peer-reviewed journals like the NGSQ.

Send us an email to so that we can check to make sure your file is formatted correctly and that the file is in the right location.

I've used the format you have recommended
[—?—] bracket em dash question mark em dash bracket (an em dash is ALT-0151)

and placed the UnknownName.txt file in the [My Documents]\Legacy Family Tree\_AppData folder.

I still get the 3 Standardisation warnings and the "name" is still flagged as a potential problem.

Can you suggest what I might be doing incorrectly?

I tried out your method but I can't get it to work either.
I continue to get the message 'Surname only one character'.

I always use a single question mark for an unknown name, whether first name or surname.
I put two lines into the file containing a single ? on each.

I use a question mark because it is obvious. I don't like to leave a name field blank because of the number of first names that can be misinterpreted as surnames and visa-versa.

Make sure that you have left the first line in the text file blank.

Make sure that the name of the file is


and that it is in the

\Documents\Legacy Family Tree\_AppData folder

Why doesn't Legacy include this file in the AppData folder on the next update? Then everyone would benefit if they would like to use the [—?—]. I definitely prefer that because as stated it is used by peer-reviewed genealogy journals. I got so many potential problem flags that I removed them all but I'm not happy about that.

That is on our official suggestion list for the developers to consider adding.

"Make sure that the name of the file is
and that it is in the
\Documents\Legacy Family Tree\_AppData folder"
I've done the above for the surname on the second line
I used -- for unknown surnames
But I still get a flag.

After I closed Legacy and reopened it, the unknown surname -- did not bring up a flag.
Ed Lay

I am glad it is now working, Ed :)

How can I receive Tuesday Tips every Tuesday?

I don't think these get sent out separately but are just included when the Newsletter/Blog goes out. Most of these are taken from the "Tip of the Day" posts on our Facebook page. Our Legacy Users Group Facebook page has almost 12,000 members. It is monitored by some of the staff and some of our beta testers. It is a GREAT place to ask questions and to see Legacy tips and tricks. If you are on Facebook, you can request to join here

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