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UNKNOWN as a surname

So it appears that someone has decided to alter the way female spouses are created in the system. I have now twice had a new female spouse created with a surname of UNKNOWN when adding them to the system. The most recent example is PID LBVJ-BGM which is the mother of someone from Wiltshire in the early 19th century.

Accepted genealogical practice is NOT to use a surname of UNKNOWN. Accepted genealogical practice is to leave a surname blank until it is known. Please reverse this very irritating change away from accepted practice.
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  • Did you add ann through a historical record via the source linker? Or some other means (website, app, tree mode...)?
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  • David and Joe

    FYI, just today, I was adding ( ie. Creating ) a "Mother" from a BIRTH "Source", where only the 'Family Name' / 'Surname' is recorded; and, 'Yes', the record was created with the 'Family Name' / 'Surname' as recorded; BUT, instead of the 'First Name' being left "Blank", as I had not entered / input any, the "System" automatically entered / input the "First Name" "UNKNOWN", after I had selected "Create New Person".

    There has been a previous one, the day before, as well.

    I normally do quick confirmation research before I add ( ie. Create ) an individual / person from a "Source"; but, in these instances, I was so busy with the family that I decided I would just add ( ie. Create ) the record as is; and, get back to it and add all the research detail later.

    Using Chrome; and, Windows 10.

    Brett
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  • Creating the mother when attaching the christening source. So through the source linker.
    • David

      'Yes' through the "Source" Linker.

      From a BIRTH "Source" record; not a, CHRISTENING "Source".

      ie. "England and Wales Birth Registration Index, 1837-2008,"

      Where, as well as listing, Name; Registration Quarter; Registration Year; Registration District; County; Volume; Page; Line Number: the source ALSO lists, the "Mother's Maiden Name ( available after 1911 3rd Quarter )".

      But, it only lists the "Mother's Maiden Name"; and, no "First Names".

      Brett
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  • 2
    This happened to me, too, last week when I was adding a wife from a US Census record. Her last name was shown as the family name (her husband's last name). I left the field for her last name blank and noted her PID for use in linking a different source to her. When I started to attach that source and entered her PID, I noticed that her last name was suddenly "UNKNOWN". I know the field was blank when I created her. This is a terrible practice. I always delete first or last names such as "UNKNOWN", or "?". That's just useless and distracting.
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  • Having the system change it to Unknown, (if indeed the system is changing it to Unknown), is better than having (Mrs. Family Surname).
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  • 3
    But it is not better than just the first name. I try and eradicate the stupid practice of Mrs Family Surname as well.
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  • The source-linker system, if this is the only place this is happening (and that appears to be the case), should not be automatically entering material into any name field. This needs to be fixed.
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  • Possibly wandering slightly off-topic, but regarding the same subject. The screenshot below indicates ? was created in 2016, though the change log has a record back to 2012. Is 2016 the year when these "?" names began to be shown as such - instead of as "Unknown"?

    I agree with iLoveMyLife02's comments. Lately I haven't carried them across in a merge as it is just meaningless to assign an id to unknown persons. I don't mind merging a person with some identity with another actual person, but I feel having to merge a "?" is just a waste of time. Worse still, if there is nobody to merge the "?s" with (i.e where the wife / mother has been left blank) they remain stuck on the page, as we cannot delete them anymore.

    • Please do carry across the ?. Every single time I have seen them in the Norwegian parish records, there is a child to mother and father relationship on the LDS ordinance page that is associated with that question mark. I suspect the reason for it is the same in other countries, namely, extracted birth record from parish records that only contain the father's and child's names, not the mother's.

      Deleting the relationship messes up the ordinance page. (which if I recall correctly, you can't see.)
    • This comment was removed on 2018-04-23.
      see the change log
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  • Ron Tanner (FamilySearch.org Product Manager) April 23, 2018 16:08
    A ? was put in a name when there were no names (no first or last names) on a person that came from an older system. Family Tree requires some name and we in "?" instead of "unknown" because "?" is universally accepted as unknown in all languages.
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  • Perhaps if I were a member of the LDS Church and had access to the LDS version of Family Tree I would view things differently. From my viewpoint, if the mother is unknown I create a record for the father and just attach the children to him. There is no id for the non-existent mother in these cases, so there is an inconsistency here.

    Supposing I am merging a large family and bring all these "?s" across during merges. If the mother is unknown, I can still merge them (one ? representing a mother's id for each child) but am still left with one ? in the end.

    Personally I do not find this satisfactory, as I do not feel it sound genealogical practice to create an id for a mother of whom I have no sources to suggest who she might have been.

    I assume Gordon is trying to explain that an unknown mother is created to carry out ordinances, so I will continue to carry these over in future so it does not mess things up. Without the "ordinance factor" I would naturally prefer to lose these otherwise meaningless ids, in the same way as I do not create an unknown mother - either as "Unknown", "?" or "Mrs Brown", etc. - when attaching children to a known father.

    Naturally I do have a lot of "Marys" and "Elizabeths" (as wives / mothers), for whom I have little or no other detail, but at least (in these cases) I do have A name, rather than nothing at all.

    By the way, in line with the comments made by Ron and Gordon, I assume if a relative of a person I have added to Family Tree takes a name to the temple, they do add an id for an unknown mother at this stage, if one has not been created up to this point.
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    • The only ordinances that are involved would be sealing ordinances and in those cases, they will not be available due to missing information.


      The ordinances are sealings to parents that have already been completed through the extraction program. Deleting these relationships that have ? as the mother is one of the common causes of the blue boxes on the ordinance page which many people have complained about here. Properly merging relationships prevents the blue boxes next to the sealing to parents date.
    • Sometimes though I have had people sealed incorrectly since new information had arisen since the ordinance. You would have to remove the incorrect relationship and probably put a note saying they were sealed to the wrong parents.
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  • As I have commented, I will now continue to carry these ? / unknown mother ids across during a merge. Obviously from the "secular genealogist" viewpoint this just seems unnecessary added work. Say I fhave added a John Brown, then find duplicates (probably from the IGI days) - involving ten children - all of which possibly have a father (same John Brown) with a different id. These will have to be the subject of multiple merges. As it that is not painful enough, I now have to merge all those ? ids that appear against John Brown's children - even though nobody knows who their mother was, although we assume during the merges that there is just the ONE mother involved here! (A missing burial could mean half the children were possibly born to another mother. This is not a far-fetched scenario - I have just been dealing with a relative from the 18th century who married three times, but for whom I can only find one marriage event!)

    As this is primarily an LDS project I always endeavour to co-operate as well as I can, but I think you can understand why I wanted to dump all those ? individuals, of whom there is no background information whatsoever!
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  • Good analysis (and helpful decision), Paul.

    I have found that 'keeping' the "?" 'mothers' eventually DOES result in finding a mother's name, even if it's only a first name. But then, as you say, all of the multiple "?" entries need to be merged. There should be an easier way, but . . .
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    • Gordon

      I believe (from your previous posts) that much of your research involves Norwegian ancestry, but am still surprised at your remarks. There must be thousands of unknown spouses (usually women, of course) for whom a name will never be found.

      Perhaps the details are better in other country's records, but in English parish baptism registers you are fortunate to find a mother's name (even a first name) prior to the 18th century. If the marriage event cannot be found and there are no other records (e.g. a will that names her) how else do you find the wife's name? Ah, the burial record you might suggest. I thought, just recently, this would be the simple solution to uncovering at least a first name for a particular woman - only to find her shown as "Goodwife ----" in the burial register: quite a common practice back then, presumably when the vicar / clerk hadn't bothered to confirm her name with relatives. (Incidentally "Goodman ----" is also often shown for males in older registers.)

      I have a number of female ancestors / relatives for whom I am sure no name will ever be discovered and feel it is unnecessary to create a "?" or "Unknown" when a name cannot be found. If I understand the position correctly these ids cannot be used in ordinances, so what use is there for having them? As I have agreed, I will carry them across in future merges (or not otherwise detach them) but I don't really see a serious problem in having orphaned records, when they probably should never have existed in the first place.
    • Please forgive any hubris on my part! Let me pare down my comment more exactly. I agree that best practice is to just leave name blank when it is not known and agree the current abnormal behavior of the Source Linker should be fixed. I was referring strictly to the ? records created when old extraction records were migrated from the IGI to New Family Search to Family Tree.

      Extraction records, in particular the original projects, from my experience which I freely admit is limited to certain parts of the world, tend to be limited to reasonable time periods in which other records do exist to fill in the gaps. Usually, using those other records, the ? people can be identified. New projects are not put into Family Tree and so will never get that ?.

      I probably got a bit carried away in my clain because I tend to ignore prior to about 1750 because the records have such limited information that I don't know how anyone can be confident about anything being accurate. That does seem to be where all the fights in Family Tree arise.
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  • Maybe I have raised another issue here - do I merge all those ? wives / mothers I have assumed to be one and the same person? Or, unless I am pretty certain my "John Brown" did not marry more than once, do I keep the children separate on his person page, under multiple "?" ids?

    I am not trying to be awkward here - I really have come across a situation (on a number of occasions) where a person has married twice in a short period of time, yet I have not found a burial for the first wife. On these occasions a will or a different wife's name in the register has shown there to have been two mothers for the fathers' children, but older registers often do not record the wife's name at all and there are often no wills / other documentation to provide evidence of the possibility of different mothers of the children concerned.
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    • Paul - I'm in a similar situation to you (and others) in that I'm not LDS but have no desire to sabotage information that exists elsewhere that I can't see. I tend to try to take on trust the existence and / or relevance of such info but everyone should understand that if the system (FS FT) and the current data is sending me sufficiently round the bend with idiosyncratic and unintelligible demands, then I will have a breaking point at which, once the secular genealogy is correct, then I will take the nuclear option to "remove" data if it is available and the stress level exceeds my good nature.

      For instance, before the termination of the link to nFS, we had numerous cases where the system was adding an alternate name identical to the primary name. By the umpteenth time I deleted one of those, I was actually rather hoping that I was sabotaging something! (I have never read anything to indicate that I was).

      As far the merging of "?" examples when you're not sure if there was one or multiple spouses, I personally would take the view that, unless told otherwise, the lack of knowledge extended to the number involved and so I should be prepared to find multiple spouses.

      This may be a personal practice of interpretation - it's rather like in England & Wales, where I see a post-1837 birth listed as Q1 1895, for instance. I interpret that as a registration in the first quarter of 1895 and therefore I automatically think that the birth may indeed have been in 1894. Others may not, of course.
    • gasmodels -

      Thank you for your comments.

      Adrian -

      I can empathise with you here. I try to go along with the "rules" (reason statements particularly) but when things are blindingly obvious or plain stupid (like requiring confirmation that someone who lived 200 years ago is dead) I become, to say the least, rather unenthusiastic about providing explanations.

      On your point of an event being recorded in the March quarter (England & Wales birth indexes) I would generally show (as per your example) "about 1895" in the Date of Birth field. I used to enter plain "1895", then would later find a record of the actual birth date - say 12 November 1894. Likewise (if I do enter birth details when I only have a christening date) I would put, say, "about 1894" for a 1 January 1895 event. But we digress....!
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  • The whole matter is messy, at best. Whenever there is very little information, even relationship in nature, there is no good solution. The extraction program entries usually have enough information to work with to locate duplicates... There is an exception, though and that is one project I heard about while serving as a missionary in Salt Lake.

    Evidently, a cemetery's gravestones were used to create a document which was then used in an extraction program. The problem is that many of the gravestone contained only the first name of the person who was buried there.

    I don't know if that was the case here, but if it was, at least the cemetery should have been recorded as part of each person's record.

    Like I said, this kind of situation is messy at best.

    My living brother was married three times. I have only the first name of his second wife, which occurred during a "wild time" in his life. I don't have any marriage information and his current (third) wife is very possessive and does not want him to even discuss that wife's details.

    At some point, I should be able to access marriage records (for Washington State from their online archives) that cover's that period of time, but at the present time, I have no information. So she is recorded only with the first name and no other information.
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  • Sorry, not exactly on point but related. Here are three male records created today by three different people. Is something funny going on or is it just patron education? Would it be a good idea to make “Unknown” an invalid name entry?

    Unknown Unknown LBV1-JNP created today 4/23/2018
    Unknown Unknown LBVB-5LN created today 4/23/2018
    unknown unknown LBVB-BDR created today 4/23/2018
    • Funny coincidence these were all today but I think it is just a coincidence.

      The first example appears to have strictly been created to put the three girls together in one family with their mother. No one has any sources at all.

      The second was also created from scratch, not with the source linker. The one child in the family has a marriage record with a father's name but the father's name has not been attached to anyone.

      The third example is really strange and might be a work in progress or else why would someone create a person with name: unknown unknown, sex: male, death date: unknown, death place: unknown with no sources, no family at all, and no other information at all. Would be interesting to check back in a week and see what this turns into. No sign it is accidentally added from a GEDCOM file. Wonder if it could be an accidental artifact from another type of sync or import?

      In any event, all of these look harmless and none look like any type of Family Tree bug or problem.
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  • Putting a period "." or dash "-" in the field where there will be an "UNKNOWN" inserted by the system will keep the system from adding "UNKNOWN" to the record.
    Janet Neilson
    • Janet

      Yes; but, we shouldn't have to.

      Programming the "System" to automatically input / enter the "Word" of "UNKNOWN" ( ie. Which actually becomes a "Searchable" Name ) in any "Empty" Name field [ ie. (1) "First Names"; and, (2) "Last Name" ] needs to be "Stopped"; and, "Fixed", IMMEDIATELY - well, sooner rather than later.

      Brett
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  • Ron Tanner (FamilySearch.org Product Manager) May 04, 2018 14:21
    Help me understand when we are putting UNKNOWN in the name. Because we should not be doing this.
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    • Source linker is the problem. If either of the surname or firstname fields is blank when an entry is created using source linker then an entry of either the pattern UNKNOWN Smith or the pattern John UNKNOWN is created. Try it on any English birth index entry with the mother's maiden name in the index and not linked to any mother and you'll see what I mean.
    • Ron

      Yes, as 'David' said ... "Source linker is the problem".

      Take a look at my comment towards the top of this post under "joe martel", 12 Days ago.

      That's just one example.

      The situation appears to be happening when creating an individual / person from a "Source" when any Name field [ ie. (1) "First Names"; and, (2) "Last Name" ] in that "Source", of the individual / person you are creating, is "Blank" / "Empty.

      As I aid the "System" is automatically programmed to input / enter the "Word" of "UNKNOWN" ( ie. Which actually becomes a "Searchable" Name ) in any "Empty" Name field [ ie. (1) "First Names"; and, (2) "Last Name" ].

      Brett
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  • Here are a few for you, Ron:

    https://www.familysearch.org/tree/fin...

    In a brief review of a few of them, they seem to be concurrent with recent source additions, likely with the source linker. They seem to be quite recently done.
    • Robert

      In relation to your comment; and, not specifically to do with this post; but, as an interesting aside ...

      Along with your link of using the "Find" facility to search for the "Last Names" of "UNKNOWN" and no other details, I tried the "Find" facility to search for the following:-

      (a) "First Names" of "UNKNOWN" and no other details

      https://www.familysearch.org/tree/fin...

      Result: ERROR MESSAGE = Sorry, the find feature is currently unavailable. Please try again later.

      Obviously, too much of a strain on "System" Resources.

      But, the ERROR MESSAGE is wrong and misleading.

      Tried the above with a " " ( ie. Space / Space Bar ); and, a "." ( ie. Period / Full Stop ); and, a "-" ( ie. Dash ), got the same result for all.

      (b) Both "First Names" of "UNKNOWN" and "Last Names" of "UNKNOWN"; but, with no other details.

      https://www.familysearch.org/tree/fin...

      (c) "First Names" of "UNKNOWN" and "Last Names" of "x"; but, with no other details.

      https://www.familysearch.org/tree/fin...

      (d) "First Names" of "x" and "Last Names" of "UNKNOWN"; but, with no other details.

      https://www.familysearch.org/tree/fin...

      A slightly different "Numeric" at the end of the URL when using the "Lower Case" and / or "Mixed Case" of "UNKNOWN" and "X"; but, essentially the same results - most likely some slight difference.

      Just interesting.

      Brett
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