Inputting unknown names

Hello, I am a new RM user and was wondering what is the recommended way to input unknown names? (ie: an ancestor is married and you only know the first name). I thought I read an older thread where this has been an issue with the database if “unknown” is listed. I used “?” in my ancestry tree and when I created my RM tree, all of the unknown names show up in the problem log. I just chose the “not a problem” button and moved on.
I’m guessing that there has to be a recommended way to handle - either “unknown”, “?”, or maybe left blank?

No–it’s basically what you prefer to do–I have for years used unknown, leaving the surname blank or ? but someone in another thread suggested for the women using their married name or variation of… so I started doing Unknown wife ( or mother/ dau etc) of John Smith-- works out really nice …

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Excellent. Thanks for your feedback. I have never thought of that last option, and I like it as well.

Many people use different approaches. I use a method that allows the unknown surnames to display first in the index and provides a hint of their relationship. I place the relationship in the surname and the first name in given name field. So for instance: [Wife of John Doe] in the surname, and Mary in the first name. When I do find the unknown surname, I replace the relationship description with the real surname. Since they sort first in the index, it is a quick reminder to resolve the surname.


As it has already been said, there is no standard way to handle unknown names. You can do what seems to work for you. Personally, I use a series of underlines ______ for the first name, surname or both. The names sort to the beginning of the index and the underlines are carried over without change to Ancestry. I don’t know what FamilySearch does with them as I seldom add anything to it. The underlines are easy to see in printed reports, too. It works for me.

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Try various ideas and at some point you will have your own preference.

I do suggest that if you use some text in the name field that you, as suggested above by OleSeminole, enclose it in square brackets. That should make it clear that the text is not a name, but meta data.

It will also make it easier to do a find & replace when you change your mind.

I use XAA as the Surname, XAA as the christian name. the next would be XAB, XAC, XAD etc. They will show up at the bottom of your list of people. you can also track the number of unnamed people.