Using Name Standardization in Genealogy Research

Using Name Standardization in Genealogy Research

This is the last installment of a three-part series. So far we have covered Dates and Locations and now we will tackle documenting personal names.

I saved this one for last because dates and locations are pretty straightforward but names can get complicated. There is no way I can cover every name issue you will run across so I encourage you to followup with the listed resource at the bottom of the page or seek out additional articles. First some general rules:

  • If you don't know a person's given name, leave it blank
  • Descriptors don't go in a given name field (infant, baby girl, child)
  • If all you have are initials for the given name there is a space between them. You record B. J. not B.J. UNLESS the person's name is just B J then no periods. You would only do this if the person was named B J at birth with those letters not standing in for anything
  • If there is a single initial it is followed by a period UNLESS the initial is the person's full given name
  • If I don't know a person's surname I enter [—?—] because that is a standard in published genealogy articles (the dashes are em dashes that you can make using the Windows shortcut ALT 0151)
  • You always record a woman using her maiden name. If you don't know her maiden then then you will record [—?—]
  • Record surnames in mixed case (Simmons) and not in all caps (SIMMONS). All caps were the standard years ago when books did not have indexes. It allowed you to scan a page just for surnames. In formal reports using the Register or Modified Register (NGSQ) numbering systems you will see some names in small caps. It helps the names stand out from the text. In a genealogy database program you will just enter mixed case
  • You do not generate AKAs unless you actually have a document that records that name 
  • Nicknames can be recorded like this, William "Bill" Perry Simmons to alert people that he was known as Bill

There are four common issues you will see with surnames; Patronymics, French-Canadian "dit" names, Asian names that are recorded in reverse, and Spanish names where two surnames are recorded (a form of patronymics).


Patronymics is a naming system where the surname changes with each generation by adding a prefix/suffix meaning "son of" or "daughter of." Many countries used this naming pattern though the exact pattern is different from country to country. You will enter the names correctly even though it will look like the children have different surnames. For example, a Danish father named Niels Hansen will have sons with the surname Nielsen (son of Niels) and his daughters will have the surname Nielsdatter (daughter of Niels). The FamilySearch Wiki has separate pages for each country that uses a patronymic naming system. If you would like more information, search for the word "patronymic" to get a list. 

Dit Names

French-Canadian dit names were used to differentiate people in the same community that had the same surname. It is basically an AKA that the person went by. You will enter the full surname plus the dit name in the surname field. For example, Rémy Thibault dit Charlevoix. You would enter Thibault dit Charlevoix in the surname field. Here is more information about Dit Names.

Some Asian Names

Some Asian countries put the surname first. I would use the given name field for the surname and the surname field for the given name so that any time you print, their name will appear as it would be said. In this case I feel it is a matter of respect. I wouldn't like my name printed everywhere as Simmons Michele. This means all of your children will have the same "given" name on the screen and different "surnames" but as long as you understand what is going on it will be fine. Chen Kenichi is a famous "Iron Chef." His surname is Chen. His father's name was Chen Kenmin.

Spanish Language Countries

In many Spanish counties people have two surnames, one from their father and one from their mother. When a woman marries, she will drop one of her surnames and add one of the husband's, usually with the word "de" between them. This really isn't so strange when you consider in the US we have a naming system where the wife drops her maiden name and takes on the husband's surname. For more information, see Traditional Hispanic Last Names and Spanish Naming Customs. I do not change the wife's name of record but rather put it as an AKA. Children will pick up a surname from their father and one from their mother to create a new double surname. I do record the children's surname correctly (they will all have the same double surname). Both surnames will go in the surname field. For example, María Ivanna Hernández Peña. Hernández Peña would go in the surname field.  Hernández is María's father's first surname and Peña is her mother's first surname. Some Spanish/Hispanic countries also practiced true patronymics (son of and daughter of).  For an example of this, read the first entry under the surnames heading in this essay on names in Mexico. 

I tried to cover the most common things you will encounter but there are many other things to consider with names, such as prefixes, suffixes, titles and peerage, farm names, clan names, tribal names, etc. There is just too much for one article but I hope you have enough information to enter most of the names you will come across.



Slawson, Mary H. Getting It Right, The Definitive Guide to Recording Family History Accurately. Ann Arbor, Mich.: Malloy Lithographing Incorporated, 2002.

Though I don't agree with everything in the book, Mary has done a good job addressing some of the unusual situations you will come across. The book does needs to be updated but it still presents solid information.


Michele Simmons Lewis, CG® is part of the Legacy Family Tree team at MyHeritage. She handles the enhancement suggestions that come in from our users as well as writing for Legacy News. You can usually find her hanging out on the Legacy User Group Facebook page answering questions and posting tips.

Help! I Can't Find My Ancestor's Death Date

Help! I Can't Find My Ancestor's Death Date

One of the most common genealogy questions I am asked involves how to find an ancestor's date of death. Typically, genealogy researchers first think of searching for a death certificate.

What if your ancestor pre-dates the beginning use of a formal death certificate?  Then what?  What other options as a researcher do you have to find your ancestor's date of death?

Fortunately, genealogy researchers do have options for determining a date of death or a death year. 

Resources To Use When Searching For An Ancestor's Date of Death

Death Certificates

Death certificates are in reality a "new" record. Before beginning a search for a death certificate, check with the vital records office for the state or country where you are researching to determine when death certificates began being issued.  If your ancestor's death preceded these records, do not spend time looking for a record that did not exist. Move on to one of the other options below.



Thomas Maddox (1870-1928) gravestone
Photo courtesty of Lisa Lisson

Your ancestor's gravestone will usually have the birth and death dates. The full date or just the year may be listed. Keep in mind, while these dates are generally correct, errors in the engraving did occur. If the date does not match up with other information you have, continue your research for more evidence of the death date.

Will & Probate Records

Probate-sample-illinoisIllinois Probate Records (Source:

Your ancestor's will does not (usually) provide his/her actual date of death, but will provide valuable information in narrowing down a death date. For the date your ancestor signed the will, you know he/she was still living. For instance, if your ancestor signed his/her will on 11 Mar 1871, then he/she was alive on that date. 

Note the date the will was entered into probate.  For our example, we see the will was entered into the court for probate 18 May 1871. This ancestor's death occurred between 11 Mar 1871 and 18 May 1871. 

Mortality Schedules

Example of an  1870 U.S. Mortality Schedule (Source:

For U. S. researchers, the mortality schedules of the 1850-1880 census records provide information on individuals who died in the preceding 12 months of the census date. While a specific date will not be specified usually, an ancestor's appearance on a mortality schedule will narrow down a death date.


Obituaries can be found in local newspapers.  If your ancestor was a prominent citizen or politician, regional and state newspapers may also print an obituary or longer article. 

Do not neglect to check religious publications for an obituary as well.

Church Records

Church records offer a variety of genealogical information including information the death of congregants.  Check to see if your ancestor's church recorded a death or burial date.  Church histories, church rolls and newsletters may hold clues to an individual's death date. 

City Directories

See the recent Finding Genealogical Clues in City Directories post for using a city directory to narrow down an ancestor's death date.

Pension Records

1812-pension-david-hainesWar of 1812 Widow's Pension Application for widow of David Haines (Source:

Pension records are another potential source to find your ancestor's death date. If your ancestor received a pension for military service, a notation is usually made when he died. Additionally, if his widow applied for a widow's pension, she had to prove their marriage and also, that her spouse was indeed deceased.

Family Records

While last in the list, a family's own personal records should not be discounted. In fact, these should be some of the first records you seek out as a researcher. Family records include the Family Bible, funeral cards tucked into a favorite book or box of mementos, and funeral guest books. Check for obituaries and newspaper articles tucked away.  

Look at the family photo album and check the back of photographs for any notations of a death date (or birth and marriage dates!).

Tip: Reach out to more distant relatives and researchers of collateral ancestors. Information on your line in the family may well be in their closet!

If you are unsure where to find an ancestor's death date, explore one of the options mentioned above.  In addition to determining your ancestor's death date, learn about Four Steps to Analyzing your Ancestor's Gravesite.

Learn more about cemeteries and cemetery records from these webinar in the Legacy library.


Lisa Lisson is the writer, educator and genealogy researcher behind Are You My Cousin? and believes researching your genealogy does not have to be overwhelming. All you need is a solid plan, a genealogy toolbox and the knowledge to use those tools. Lisa can be found online at , Facebook and Pinterest



Using Location Standardization in Genealogy Research


This is the second in a series of three articles on data entry standards for genealogy in the United States. The first article covered Dates and now we are going to look at Locations. Please see the list of caveats at the top of the Dates article which also applies here. There is one specific to locations: Always record the location as it was at the time of the event. You can always add a note explaining that the location is"now Perry County"

The standard for US locations is four jurisdictional levels; town/city, county/parish/borough, state, country. The four jurisdictional fields are also the FamilySearch standard.  

Purvis, Lamar, Mississippi, United States

Legacy allows you to enter a "short location" for reports so that they don't sound so formal/wooden; for example,

Purvis, Lamar County, Mississippi

If you are using a different software program you can check your options to see if you have something similar. When you export your data you should be exporting it in the longer form so that the receiving person/website will be able to interpret the data correctly. 

What you shouldn't do, even in reports, is to over abbreviate. I would never put Purvis, Lamar Co, MS. You lose a lot of readability and you really won't be saving much space. If someone from another country reads your data they could easily get confused. 

If you are dealing with locations in other countries, each country has their own standard of the number of jurisdictional levels. For example, I use three jurisdictional levels for Germany but I use six for France. The most important thing is to be consistent from country to country.

One thing that throws people off are the independent cities in the US that aren't part of a county. For data entry purposes it is best to enter these with a comma place marker for the county.

Fairfax, , Virginia, United States

This will ensure that the data is interpreted correctly when you do a gedcom export/upload to a website.  Again, if your genealogy program has short locations you can make this look better for reports, Fairfax, Virginia

Another thing to look at are townships. Townships are different than towns (how different depends on the state) so I do put the word township as part of the town/city name.

Cedar Grove Township, Essex, New Jersey, United States

I wrote a much longer article on location data entry that was specific to Legacy. One thing I want to point out from that article is that some people like to put an address in the location field.

Harlem City Cemetery, 310 South Bell Street, Harlem, Columbia, Georgia, United States

The reason some people like to do this is they like how it reads out in reports but if you create a gedcom to send to someone or to upload to a website you risk the receiving program/website not interpreting the data correctly. If you are uploading to FamilySearch this would be flagged as non standard.

Colonial Locations

The biggest issue you will have with locations are those locations before the United States was formed. Unfortunately, there is no real standard for this and there is quite a bit of variation with how you will see these locations recorded. It can get very complicated because not only were the place names and the jurisdictional lines in the "colonies" changing, England/Great Britain was having its own jurisdictional issues. Sometimes colonies were called colonies and sometimes they were called provinces. Depending on the date, the official name of the controlling "country" was England or Great Britain. Other countries also had control of areas certain areas. Here is a short list to give you an example. Don't think this information is set in stone because different resources will give you slightly different information. All of these areas were settled prior to these dates but these are their official formations and when they came under jurisdictional rule.

  • Delaware Colony (England 1664 - 30 Apr 1707, Great Britain 01 May 1707 - 04 Jul 1776)
  • Province of Pennsylvania (England 04 Mar 1681 - 30 Apr 1707, Great Britain 01 May 1707 - 04 Jul 1776)
  • Province of New Jersey (England 08 Sep 1664 - 30 Apr 1707, Great Britain 01 May 1707 - 04 Jul 1776)
  • Province of Georgia (Great Britain 21 Apr 1732 - 04 Jul 1776)
  • Connecticut Colony (England 03 Mar 1636 - 30 Apr 1707, Great Britain 01 May 1707 - 04 Jul 1776)
  • Province of Massachusetts Bay (England 14 May 1692 - 30 Apr 1707, Great Britain 01 May 1707 - 04 Jul 1776)
  • Province of Maryland (England 20 Jun 1632 - 30 Apr 1707, Great Britain 01 May 1707 - 04 Jul 1776)
  • Province of Carolina (England 30 Oct 1629 - 30 Apr 1707, Great Britain 01 May 1707 - 1712)
  • Province of South Carolina (Great Britain 1712 - 04 Jul 1776)
  • Province of New Hampshire (England 1629 - 30 Apr 1707,Great Britain 01 May 1707 - 04 Jul 1776)
  • Colony of Virginia (England 14 May 1607 - 30 Apr 1707, Great Britain 01 May 1707 - 04 Jul 1776)
  • Province of New York (England 1664 - 30 Apr 1707, Great Britain 01 May 1707 - 04 Jul 1776)
  • Province of North Carolina (Great Britain 1712 - 04 Jul 1776)
  • Colony of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations (England 1636 - 30 Apr 1707, Great Britain 01 May 1707 - 04 Jul 1776)
  • New Netherland (Dutch Republic 1614-1674) contained the areas that would become New York, New Jersey, Delaware, Connecticut and parts of Pennsylvania and Rhode Island. Prior to the establishment of English rule in those colonies they would have been referred to as New Netherland

Believe me, when you are dealing with these pre-US locations your head will be spinning. Another thing that will throw you off are Districts vs. Counties (South Carolina) and Parishes vs. Counties (Georgia). These jurisdictions are not the same as counties so I do use the word District and the word Parish in the location. 

  • Skidaway Island, Christ Church Parish, Province of Georgia, Great Britain
  • Edgefield, Ninety-Six District, Province of South Carolina, Great Britain 

 Again, you will definitely see some variation with pre-US locations because no clear standard has been established.

 Another interesting location dilemma is when you have someone who was born, or who died, at sea.  Normally I record it this way:

USS North Carolina, Pacific Ocean, At Sea

There is no way to get this one to fit into the 4 jurisdiction convention. 

There is one last location term I want to mention and that is the word "of." "Of" is a very powerful word and I use it all the time. It is a recognized standard but I think it is underutilized. Here is an example from my own genealogical research. I have no idea where my 4th great-grandparents James Simmons and Ellenor Lee were born. I do know that two of their known sons were born in South Carolina in 1794 and in 1797. That is the earliest record I have for James and Ellenor so I record their place of birth as: 

, , of South Carolina, United States (in reports this would be simply, "of South Carolina")



Slawson, Mary H. Getting It Right, The Definitive Guide to Recording Family History Accurately. Ann Arbor, Mich.: Malloy Lithographing Incorporated, 2002.

Though I don't agree with everything in the book, Mary has done a good job addressing some of the unusual situations you will come across. The book does needs to be updated but it still presents solid information.


Michele Simmons Lewis, CG® is part of the Legacy Family Tree team at MyHeritage. She handles the enhancement suggestions that come in from our users as well as writing for Legacy News. You can usually find her hanging out on the Legacy User Group Facebook page answering questions and posting tips.

Using Date Standardization in Genealogy Research

Using Date Standardization in Genealogy Research

This is the first article in a three part series on standardization (dates, locations, names) but before I get started I want to present a few caveats. 

  • This series is from a United States viewpoint. Other countries have their own standards that might be a little different
  • These are data entry standards for genealogy software programs and not for formal genealogy reports
  • The reason you want adhere to generally accepted standards is two-fold:  1) When you create a gedcom to send to another person, or upload to a genealogy website, you want that person/website to be able to interpret your data properly and 2) When you are collaborating with other researchers you want everyone's data in the same format 
  • I can't cover every situation you might encounter because the articles would be book length
  • These standards are not set in stone but are generally accepted. It is your data and your file and you can format it any way you want. The one piece of advice I would give you is to be consistent with your data entry

There is one caveat specific to dates

  • I personally prefer to write everything out and forgo any abbreviations; however, standard abbreviations are acceptable. For example, you can abbreviate the names of the months to their standard three letter designations (Oct, no period) or you can abbreviate date qualifiers such as Before to Bef (or Bef. with a period). 

You want to format your dates with a two digit day, the name of the month spelled out and a four digit year so that there is no ambiguity, 04 October 1852. If you wrote 10-04-52  would that be October 4th or April 10th? Is it 1752 or 1852?

Surprisingly, FamilySearch prefers a one digit day (4 October 1852). I don't agree with them on this because without the first digit you will always wonder if a digit was accidentally left off (04 vs. 14 vs. 24).

There are some accepted date qualifiers you can use. 

About 1850 - Use About when you are fairly certain you are within a year or two

Estimated 1850 - Use estimated when you are basing your guess on some parameters. For example, if I estimate someone's marriage date based on the age of their oldest known child or I am estimating it based on the groom being about 21 and the bride being about 18, it is still a guess but I have considered some external data.

Calculated 04 June 1766 - The classic example of when you would use this one is when you have a tombstone that says, "Died 14 June 1843, Aged 41 years, 2 months, 12 days." You are going to calculate their date of birth based on the date of death and the age at death.

Before 06 October 1965 - Let's say you are looking at an obituary that says, "Proceeded in death by her sister Margaret." We now know that Margaret died before the person in the obituary did.

After 13 February 1850 - If Mortimer Simmons was a grantor or a grantee on a deed dated 13 February 1850 but you have nothing on him after that you can say that he died after the date of the deed.

Between 14 December 1809 and 25 January 1810 - If you have a combination of dates, a before date based on one document and an after date based on another, you can now narrow your date range. For example, if you have the date Beauregard  Simmons's will was written and the date the will was proved then Beauregard died between those two dates.

From 1850 to 1862 and 1850-1862 - These two are usually used interchangeably but they are slightly different. From 1850 to 1862 mean the event started in 1850 and continued up until 1862 but it technically doesn't include it. 1850-1862 is inclusive. It assumes the fact was true for the entire year of 1862.

Circa - This classic term has fallen out of favor but I still use it for captions on photographs because I think it looks cool. It is equivalent to About. For facts you need to use About.

There are other terms you will see with dates but these are normally used only in narrative reports and not with data entry into a genealogy database program (possibly, likely, probably, etc.)

There are four types of dates that need special treatment.

Quarter dates used in UK General Registry Office Records - For example March Quarter 1899 (or March Q 1899 0r Q1 1899). The event could have happened anytime during that three month period. You could write it as Between 01 January 1899 and 31 March 1899 but I like to just type it in with the Q because it is easily understood and takes up less space. Since many Americans have UK ancestry chances are you will see this. There are four quarters:

March Q (Q1)
June Q (Q2)
September Q (Q3)
December Q (Q4)

Court session terms are commonly used in court records - For example, Spring Term 1866. This one is trickier because which dates the term actually covered is a bit up in the air. It is different from jurisdiction to jurisdiction and in different time periods. You could use the date that the court record was signed or filed which covers all the cases during that term but just know that this date will not be exact for your particular case. I personally go ahead and record it as Spring Term 1866 which gives the general feeling of when the case would have been heard and it is something that most people recognize as a court term. This might trigger a date error in your genealogy software program but you should be able to override it. You might also see October Term which is much easier to deal with. You can simply record October 1879

Double dates - The accepted format for a double date is 04 February 1740/1. Every genealogy program I know of will double date for you. Not sure what double dating is? Learn about the 1752 calendar change from this article at the Connecticut State Library. One caveat. Unless most/all of the dates in your file refer to locations in Great Britain and its colonies don't let your genealogy program automatically double date for you. Other countries switched calendars on very different dates and it will really mess things up.

Quaker dates - The Quakers didn't use the names of days or months that were named after pagan gods and their dates were also affected by the switch from the Julian to the Gregorian calendar (double dating). If you were to record the date as they did, such as 12 iv 1731 or 12 4mo. 1731 (both are 12 June 1731), it just wouldn't be understandable to most people. You will need to convert these dates. For more information about Quaker dates, Swarthmore College has a very good article on the Quaker Calendar.

There will always be exceptions to the rule but the goal is to stay as standard as you can so that your data entry is consistent and it is understood by other researchers, other computer programs, and genealogy websites.


Slawson, Mary H. Getting It Right, The Definitive Guide to Recording Family History Accurately. Ann Arbor, Mich.: Malloy Lithographing Incorporated, 2002.

Though I don't agree with everything in the book, Mary has done a good job addressing some of the unusual situations you will come across. The book does needs to be updated but it still presents solid information.


Michele Simmons Lewis, CG® is part of the Legacy Family Tree team at MyHeritage. She handles the enhancement suggestions that come in from our users as well as writing for Legacy News. You can usually find her hanging out on the Legacy User Group Facebook page answering questions and posting tips.


Are You Using LibGuides for Genealogy Research?

Have you heard of LibGuides ? Unless you are a librarian or spend time poking around library websites, you may not be familiar with this research guide website. Officially, “LibGuides are a content management and information sharing system designed specifically for libraries.”[1]  What’s important for you to know is that LibGuides are research guides that provide information about  a repository or a topic  that aids the reader in finding resources, books, websites, and more. LibGuides are a tool to help you do better genealogy research.


Now you may be thinking, “but this isn’t a genealogy resource!” While this resource does not specifically target family historians,  it does include research guides covering topics important to researching your genealogy including history, African American studies, maps, periodicals, and yes, even genealogy. These guides are important for academic researchers as well as family historians.  Luana Darby, AG ,  LibGuide author and Legacy webinar speaker, points out that “LibGuides are essential for the family historian and genealogist. These organized subject guides, filled with information, links, and often videos, are key to becoming acquainted with the resources of a repository and accessing unique and vital collections.” Some of Luana’s favorite LibGuides for family historians  include the University of Maryland’s Maryland Genealogy and the State Library of North Carolina’s Beginning Genealogy Resources.


There are two ways to search for LibGuides. The first is to go to the LibGuides  website and search by topic, library, or even librarian (author). Libraries with LibGuides run the gamut from those serving  grade schools to public and academic institutions. Academic institutions use LibGuides to accompany courses as well as serve as finding aids for their library and archival collections. Browse the list of libraries on the LibGuides website  to get a sense of what might be helpful to your research. You can also check a library’s website for their collection of LibGuides which may be referred to as “guides” or “research guides.”


If you choose to search by keyword on the LibGuides website think about keywords that might describe the resources you need to fill in the gaps of your ancestor's life, such as the name of your ancestor’s occupation, their religion or a war they served in. Don’t forget to search on the name of an historical event your ancestor lived through or they name of the place they lived. You can also just search on words describing resources for family history such as newspapers. With 580,000 guides from over 4,700 institutions in 58 countries, you’re bound to find a LibGuide that can help you with the resources you need.


[1] “LibGuides @ Pitt - A Faculty Resource: What is a LibGuide?,” University of Pittsburgh ( accessed 20 April 2018).


Gena Philibert-Ortega is an author, instructor, and researcher. She blogs at Gena's Genealogy and Food.Family.Ephemera. You can find her presentations on the Legacy Family Tree Webinars website.

FamilySearch Family Tree Hints

FamilySearch has a fairly new feature where they will email you document hints. I got an interesting one today. 

FamilySearch Hint
(click image to enlarge)


This hint really intrigued me because as far as I knew, I have no connections to Mexico at all.  I clicked the Review My Relative's Hints button and I got this:

James Jeremiah Slade
(click image to enlarge)


Slade is definitely one of my surnames but I didn't recognize James Jeremiah so I clicked the View Relationship button:

Relationship Chart
(click image to enlarge)

 [Please note you must be logged in to FamilySearch to see the linked documents below.]

I couldn't get the entire chart in a single screenshot. Mary Richardson Grantham is my 2nd great-grandmother. She and James Jeremiah Slade were 4th cousins. That makes Jeremiah and I 4th cousins, 4 times removed. 

I then opened up James Jeremiah's page.  There is a Mexican marriage record attached as a source that is tagged to James's name and gender. You can see the record here when you are logged in to FamilySearch. It the marriage of James J. Slade to Consuelo Farías in El Sagrario, Teziutlán, Puebla, Mexico on 28 March 1900. James is listed as being 30 years old and his parents are James J. Slade and Lila B. Slade. 

So this marriage record belongs to James Jeremiah's SON. It was attached to James's page because he is named on the document as the groom's father. James Sr. married Leila Birchett Bonner (see here when you are logged in to FamilySearch), The names match their son's marriage record so this appears to be correct information. But why was their son James Jr. in Mexico?  The Slades were a Georgia family. Time to take a closer look at James Jr. 

I opened James Jr.'s page in the Family Tree. He has 13 attached sources which makes me happy. There is one document source that explains it all.  James Jr. went to Mexico the first time in 1896 and stayed until 1914. He was there for business purposes (lumber business) and he apparently met and married his wife during that time. In 1917 he went back to Mexico. The researcher has several other very interesting documents attached including James Jr's. death certificate (Mexico) which confirms his middle name as Jeremiah, his place of birth in Georgia, and again confirms his parents. 

Am I going to add all of this data to my file? James Jr. is my 4th cousin, 5 times removed so I don't see an immediate need. Even so, I really enjoyed learning more about James Sr. and James Jr. and reading these interesting documents. I was also able to confirm that the document match that FamilySearch emailed me was a legitimate match even though I didn't immediately see the relevance. 

Michele Simmons Lewis, CG
® is part of the Legacy Family Tree team at MyHeritage. She handles the enhancement suggestions that come in from our users as well as writing for Legacy News. You can usually find her hanging out on the Legacy User Group Facebook page answering questions and posting tips.


Finding Genealogical Clues in City Directories

Finding Genealogical Clues in City Directories

City directories are  an often underutilized resource in genealogy research.  Initially, researchers may think city directories refer to telephone directories, but telephone directories are  relatively "modern" directories. 

Early directories were created shortly after the Revolutionary War and were created for craftsmen and salesmen to be able to contact potential customers. 

Six (6) Reasons To Use City Directories In Your Genealogy Research

1. City Directories, which were created yearly, provide a way to track an ancestor year by year. When an ancestor appeared in an area and/or when an ancestor left can be tracked by their appearance/disappearance in the directory.

2. Directories are a great alternate resource for areas suffering significant county record loss.

3. An ancestor's wife's name are often included next to the husband's name. (This varies area to area over time.) In the 1917 Rochester, New York directory, a wife's first name was placed in parenthesis next to her husband's name.  

1917 Rochester, New York City Directory (Source:


4. Clues to an ancestor's death date can be narrowed down by the appearance of his widow. In this 1917 Rochester, New York example, Mary Little is identified as the widow of William Little. William Little died prior to 1917. Research into earlier directories can help narrow down William's death by tracking when he disappears and his widow Mary appears. 

1917 Rochester, New York City Directory (Source:

5. An ancestor's street address can be found.  Mrs. Lucy B. Armstrong of Columbus, OH in 1874 resided at 256 E. Rich. 

Columbus, Ohio City Directory, 1874 (Source:

6. An ancestor's occupation can be found listed. In the example below, the Salem [MA] Directory published in 1850 by Henry Whipple, occupations for individuals are listed. 

The 1850 Salem [MA] Directory (Source: Google Books)

Tip: If you ancestor lived in an area too small to have its own directory, check the nearest town that did have a directory. Smaller towns were sometimes included in a neighboring town's directory.

Don't Stop At The City Directories

City directories are only one type of directory that genealogy researchers can use. A variety of directories have been created over time and are useful in our research. 

Examples include:

  1. State Business Directories
  2. Mercantile and Professional Directories
  3. Church Directories
  4. Telephone Directories
  5. School Directories - These do not typically include students, but rather teachers, janitors and school board members and anyone associated with the running of a school or a school system. The 1883 Directory of Public Schools of the City of Harrisburg, PA is one such example.
  6. Alumni Directories
  7. Society Directories - The Numismatic Directory for 1884 lists names and addresses of coin collectors!

Where To Find City and Other Directories

Directories of all types can be found in a variety of places. The 7 places below are a good place to start.

  1. The Big Genealogy Databases: MyHeritage, FindMyPast,
  3. Local and University Libraries
  4. InternetArchive
  5. Google Books
  6. United States Online Historical Directories
  7. The New York Public Library Digital Collections

Take time to explore the directories for the location and the time period of your ancestors!


Lisa Sig Photo 200 x 200Lisa Lisson is the writer, educator and genealogy researcher behind Are You My Cousin? and believes researching your genealogy does not have to be overwhelming. All you need is a solid plan, a genealogy toolbox and the knowledge to use those tools. Specializing in southern US research and finding those elusive females, Lisa is passionate about helping others find resources and tools to confidently research their genealogy. Lisa can be found online at , Facebook and Pinterest

Source Quality Not Quantity

Source Quality Not Quantity

No one explains this concept better than Elizabeth Shown Mills:

Citing a source is not an end to itself. Our goal is to rely only upon the best possible source. In the research stage, we record every source consulted, regardless of our immediate opinion of its value. When we recognize that a source is deficient or that a better source might exist, the better source should be sought and used. When we convert our raw notes into an interpretive account, we want our information and conclusions to be supported by the evidence of the highest quality possible. Toward that end, source citations have two purposes:

  • to record the specific location of each piece of data; and
  • to record details that affect the use or evaluation of that data.[1]

I am going to give you a few simple examples to further explain this concept and then I am going to show you how to record all of this in Legacy.

Let's say you consult an online state death index and you find your ancestor's date and place of death. You record the online index in Legacy as your source. You then order a copy of the death certificate. You receive it in the mail and now you record a new source. When you print a report do you want both sources to print? The answer is no. You will use the state issued death certificate as your source for the person's date/place of death because when you weigh the evidence the certificate trumps the index. 

Let's say you have the following sources for a person's date/place of birth; death certificate, obituary, and their tombstone. The informant for the death certificate, the obituary, and the tombstone is probably the same person so I wouldn't even look at these as three distinct sources (assuming all three agree). You would record all of these sources in Legacy but would you want all three to print in a report?  No.

Let's say you are using the 1880, 1900, 1910, 1920 and 1930 census to show a couple was married. Do you want all of these census citations to print for their marriage. No, one is sufficient. Even better would be to find their marriage certificate and then use that.

In Legacy there is a way mark your sources so that even though you have recorded everything that you have consulted you can restrict what actually prints. I am using Asa Clark Brown [1] in the Sample File that comes with Legacy as an example. Open Asa's Assigned Sources screen. There are five sources for Asa's Birth. Asa's Bible is the best source. The other sources listed support the evidence contained in the Bible but the Bible is what I will use as my source citation.

Assigned Sources screen
(click image to enlarge)

Click Edit Detail (NOT Edit Source) for the first citation that you want to restrict and then UNcheck the box to include the citation on the report. Do this for all of the citations that you don't want to appear.

Citation Detail screen
(click image to enlarge)

Now when you run a report only the one citation appears. This gives you the best of both worlds. You can record all of your sources so you can properly analyze them and weigh them against each other but you can also restrict what prints in your reports so that you don't clutter them up with unneeded citations. You want to record all of the sources you consulted for your research notes but your reader doesn't necessarily need to see them. There will be times when you will need to record more than one source in a single footnote which is perfectly okay. You might need multiple sources to prove a single piece of evidence especially when you are dealing with indirect evidence. You just don't want to be redundant by including sources that aren't needed.

Source Citation
(click image to enlarge)

So what is all this about weighing evidence against each other? Again, Elizabeth Shown Mills explains it best in her Evidence Analysis Process Map (pdf). Legacy has a built-in tool to help you with this.  Go back to Asa's Assigned Sources and this time open the Detail screen for the Brown Bible. You will see a button to Analyze Source Quality.

Analyze Source Quality option
(click image to enlarge)

You can see this looks very similar to the Evidence Analysis Process Map. I have marked the Bible as:

Original Source - Geoff has the actual Bible in his possession
Secondary Information - Remember, this is the source for Asa's BIRTH. Even though Asa recorded the information himself he wasn't in a position at the time of his birth to be a reliable witness. He recorded the date of birth that his mother told him
Direct Evidence - It directly answers the question, "When was Asa born?"

Source Quality screen
(click image to enlarge)

This same source is used in many places and the evidence analysis will vary a bit depending on what you are using this source for. For example, let's say Asa and his wife's marriage date is recorded in the Bible. Now it will be Primary Information because Asa was at his own marriage and he is reporting the date with first hand knowledge. 

You can go even deeper than this because you have to take some other things into consideration. What was the publication date of the Bible? Are the entries all in the same hand? Are some of the entries before or after the primary owner was born or had died? You need to look at EVERY source you use critically. 

So where do you put this kind of information?  Here is another shot of the Source Detail screen. You can see I have added a comment for the provenance and my analysis. This is all made up information. I am only using this as an illustration.

Adding Comments
(click image to enlarge)

Notice that the box to Add these Comments to the Source Citation on Reports is checked but I have some additional control of how this will print. After you have closed out these screens go to Options > Customize > Sources > Option 7.2.  Remember, you want your sources to be complete but also as concise as possible for readability. I only want this extra information to print once.

Option 7.2
(click image to enlarge)

You will be recording all of the sources that you consult but sometimes you need to restrict what is exported to make the report more concise and readable. Having your reader wade through 15 redundant sources will never be better than reading one pertinent source. 

[1] Elizabeth Shown Mills, Evidence Explained, Citing History Sources from Artifacts to Cyberspace, 3rd. ed. (Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Company, 2015), 42-43.


Michele Simmons Lewis, CG® is part of the Legacy Family Tree team at MyHeritage. She handles the enhancement suggestions that come in from our users as well as writing for Legacy News. You can usually find her hanging out on the Legacy User Group Facebook page answering questions and posting tips.

Beginning the Search for Your English Ancestors


You've done it!  You have traced your ancestors back to the immigrating ancestor and discovered (or confirmed) your ancestor immigrated from England. 

Now you are ready to begin your genealogy research in the English records.

Do you know what records for your English ancestors exist? What records should you look in first? Where are those records housed?

Let's explore where to start your English genealogy research.

Begin the Search for Your English Ancestors

As with any new-to-you records, take time prior to the start of your research to familiarize yourself with record collections. Know the answers to questions such as 

  • What time periods and locations do the records include?
  • What type of information does the record include?

Knowing answers to these questions ahead of time prevents you from wasting valuable research time searching for information that was not recorded or was lost over time.

English Census Records

Most genealogy researchers are familiar with census records making these a great place to start your research.

English census records began in 1841 and were taken every 10 years.  Census records actually began in 1801, but prior to the 1841 census, the census records did not include the names of the individuals. The 1911 census is the latest census accessible to the public.

Keep in mind as you explore the English census, an individual's age may be rounded down to the nearest "5". This practice of rounding an individual's age will be a new concept for US researchers as they begin the hunt for their English ancestors.  For example, in the 1841 census, a female aged 24 years will be listed as 20 years of age. Children less than 15 years of age are enumerated with their correct age. You'll find English Census records available on all the major subscription sites (see resource list at the bottom).

Civil Registrations

Remember the year 1837!

Civil registrations of births, marriages and deaths (BMD) began in 1837 resulting in a national index. If you find your ancestor in the civil registration index, you can then order a copy of the actual certificate.

England and Wales Birth Registration Index (Source:


The England and Wales Birth, Death, and Marriage Registration Indices can be found on

Parish Registers

If you are researching ancestors prior to 1837, turn to the parish records. Going back to their beginning in 1538, these can be a gold mine for the genealogy researcher.

Parish records were created and kept locally by the vicar recording baptisms, marriages and burials. Typically, parish records were kept chronological order. The tricky part of researching parish registers is knowing which parish your ancestor lived in and which county that parish was located in. Many parish registers have been indexed, transcribed or digitized. 

Beginning in 1598, copies of the parish register known as the bishop's transcripts were sent annually to the parish bishop. These make good substitutes for damaged or missing parish registers. If you fail to find your ancestor in the traditional parish records, check the bishop's transcripts.

Passenger Lists

Passenger lists are another resource to find your English ancestors. Genealogy researchers are both thrilled and frustrated by the variety of information found in these records. Earlier passenger lists may provide only minimal information on passengers, while later passenger lists can contain quite a bit of information on individual passengers. From example, the 1920's passenger lists out of the UK asked for the last known UK address!

1923 UK Passenger-List
1923 UK Passenger  List for the Aquitania (Source:, courtesy of The National Archives, London, England)


Resources For English Records

Watch this Legacy QuickTip video - English Resources in Legacy Family Tree

In this Legacy QuickTip:
- Recording Quarter dates for vital records in the United Kingdom
- Adding English timelines to the Chronology View
- English gazetteer links in Research Guidance

Resources for English records include:

Not sure where your American ancestor immigrated from? Find strategies for researching your immigrant ancestors in Where Did My Immigrant Ancestors Come From? 


Lisa Sig Photo 200 x 200Lisa Lisson is the writer, educator and genealogy researcher behind Are You My Cousin? and believes researching your genealogy does not have to be overwhelming. All you need is a solid plan, a genealogy toolbox and the knowledge to use those tools. Specializing in southern US research and finding those elusive females, Lisa is passionate about helping others find resources and tools to confidently research their genealogy. Lisa can be found online at , Facebook and Pinterest

Working with DNA Using MyHeritage and Legacy

Working with DNA Using MyHeritage and Legacy

MyHeritage and Legacy will help you with two parts of your DNA puzzle. MyHeritage is the testing company and Legacy is your master genealogy database where you keep track of all of your information. Legacy 10 will have a direct sync to MyHeritage which will make working with DNA matches even easier. 

Our FREE Hands-On with MyHeritage DNA webinar will walk you through using the DNA tools on the MyHeritage website. I highly recommend that you watch this video so that you don't miss any of the features that are available to you. I learned several things even though I have had my DNA on MyHeritage for quite some time.

You can DNA test directly with MyHeritage or you can upload your raw DNA file from another company. You can upload your raw DNA for FREE and their matching service is also FREE. MyHeritage will analyze your DNA and give you a match list of everyone who shares DNA with you. To take advantage of all of MyHeritage's matching tools you need to upload what you know about your family tree and attach your DNA to it. You can have a FREE Basic site that allows you to have up to 250 people in your tree and up to 500 MB of storage space.

For DNA matching you need to have, at the very least, your absolute direct line (pedigree minus siblings). Again, there are some people that don't have this information and that is okay. MyHeritage's DNA matching will help you fill in the blanks when you start communicating with your matches. My absolute direct line is only 173 people so you can see that this is doable with the free account. After you work with your matches and start growing your tree, you can easily move up to a paid subscription. MyHeritage offers tiered pricing so that you only pay for what you need.

Legacy will help you record all of the information you glean from MyHeritage so that you can work with your matches. You can use the FREE Standard version of Legacy which is fully functional. We are confident that once you use Legacy for a bit you will want to upgrade to the full Deluxe version which has all of the nifty bells and whistles. Working with Legacy in conjunction with MyHeritage it is a two way street. You can upload your family tree to MyHeritage via a gedcom export and you will also be taking information from MyHeritage and inputting it into Legacy.  Again, once we have the direct sync up and running this process will become easier and faster.

There are two important things you can do in Legacy to help keep track of your matches. You can add your DNA matches along with all of their contact information to Legacy and you can record how those people connect to you, if known. It is very important to me to be able to record as much as I can in a single program. This saves me time and it keeps me from missing important clues because my information is scattered between software programs. Here are two articles that will show you how to do both of these tasks.

Keeping Track of DNA Contacts in Legacy

Recording DNA Matches

You can also use Legacy's To-Do List to keep track of your efforts. It functions as a research log to keep track of what you need to do, what you are in the process of doing, and what you have done. It will keep you from duplicating your efforts. I can barely remember what I had for breakfast let alone all of the things I have done while working on a brick wall. Be on the lookout for a future article on this topic. 

I hope you noticed all of the FREEs in the above article. I don't think you will find any genealogy company that offers so many things for free as a service to the genealogical community. 

On a personal note,  I have my mother's autosomal DNA everywhere. I have it on every testing site and every 3rd party site.  Since my maternal side is 100% German (all lines have been in Central Europe since the 1600s) she has very few matches. For example, her highest match on GEDmatch is 30.4 cM. She only has 18 matches that are over 20 cM. On 23andMe her top match is 28 cM. On FTDNA her highest match is 47 cM which is a bit better. MyHeritage has more international testers so she has more useful matches there. Her top matches are 124.6 cM, 71. 1 cM, 54 cM, and 51.8 cM and all of these testers are in Germany and The Netherlands. My mother has 73 matches on MyHeritage that are greater than 20 cM. My Heritage's DNA has been very helpful to me with my mother's lines.


Michele Simmons Lewis, CG® is part of the Legacy Family Tree team at MyHeritage. She handles the enhancement suggestions that come in from our users as well as writing for Legacy News. You can usually find her hanging out on the Legacy User Group Facebook page answering questions and posting tips.