Mother/spouse unknown

Is there a standard for entry of a spouse who is unknown, but must have existed? I have a person with 13 children, but only 7 of them were born to a known wife. The mother of the first 6 has not been identified. Of course it could be more than one woman, but in any case is unknown. In the Colonial timeframe records were not always maintained. Mother could have been born as late as 1740, but first child was born in 1756. Next child was born after a marriage in 1765 and mother is known.

Some researchers think that an unidentified name should simply be left blank. I prefer to be more obvious about my lack of knowledge.
In your example, let’s suppose the man is Jonathan Chapman. I would enter his first wife as [Unknown] [Chapman].
I picked up the use of square [brackets] years ago while reading other forums. I find that the [brackets] call attention to the need for additional research, and I’ve never heard any concerns from the readers of my reports.

1 Like

Thanks. Will consider using that method. Lets see if RM has a suggestion that would allow standardization.


Typically, I don’t add a spouse if I don’t know their name. If I have a first name, no last name, I will enter only the given name. Then add an alternate name Mrs. Jonathan Chapman. If I had a situation where there was more than one spouse and one was known and the other unknown I would probably add Mrs. Jonathan Chapman as their name instead of not entering anyone.

When I don’t have any evidence for the spouse’s surname, I use the brackets to identify the relationship so I can quickly spot the person in the index and the relationship. So, for Mary, the wife of John Smith, I enter the surname as [Wife of John Smith} and her given name as Mary. By doing that, all of the unknown people sort first in the index so when I have time I research these people to find their surnames. Here is an example:

How to deal with these names is a matter of preference but I found by including a relationship, it helped to establish a reference in my database for future research. When I do find the surname, I update the Surname to remove the brackets and relationship.


I understand your question very well. I’m not sure if there is an “official” standard for this, so I have always used the surname of the husband in parenthesis… Such as (CROWN) would be a wife of an ancestor named ****** CROWN with unknown maiden name. Entered as Sarah (CROWN) Others do whatever is good for them.

First, I have a working assumption that most people have a male and a female biological parent. Therefore I always add both when I need to enter them. For example a marriage cert may just name the father of the bride or a death registered by an uncle. Occasionally I may have only a forename or only a surname for someone. For any missing name I use five underscores _____. For all marriages, I add a Marriage fact for the couple and an Alternate Name fact for the wife giving her married surname and at the same date as the actual or putative marriage, offset by a day so that it is always listed after the marriage.

I also always add in birth dates. If I don’t know dates of family events I enter placeholders. A given date is clear. If it is calculated from (say) an age on a census form then I’ll say ABT 1847. If it is for the unknown ages of parents on a birth cert, then I’ll assume the child was born five years after its parents’ marriage, and they married at age 25. I enter the dates as PRHPS 1766. When I get more information about names, ages, places, I can repair any omissions.

Finally, I invented a Relationship fact, based on the marriage one, which I use for the approximate date of conception of an illegitimate child with no named father on the birth registration. It is obviously also useful for any couple who are not formally married, and would be whatever date they decide on or a rough guess if it’s a historical partnership.

Not perfect, but it’s no longer surprising to me when I find real dates that differ very little from my guesses!

1 Like

Here’s another thought for those unknown individuals.

I don’t like using UNKNOWN, and don’t like using just a first name which ends up at the top of the Individual INDEX List with the name and a comma.

I will enter the first name of the individual and use the surname of the spouse/partner, and in the Nickname box I use an abbreviation for example:

w/o (wife of), h/o (husband of) d/o (daughter of), s/o (son of), and so forth with that person’s name who that individual is connected to.

For example: Mary “w/o John” Smith. John “h/o Matilda” Jones.

This way the “Unknowns” will index with the family surname, which makes it easy to find that unknown instead of scrolling through twenty individuals named Mary, at the top of the Index List.

1 Like

Nice idea-I’m going to try this. Thanks!

Thank you for all the ideas. I no longer have those unknowns all bunched up trying to figure if any of the Mary entries are what I am looking for. I really like crwinflorida’s w/o, h/o, s/o, d/o suggestions. A lot shorter than spelling it out, so may use that in the future, but I used the square brackets [ ] already. Looks like this issue and suggestions may have actually helped some others as well.

I like the idea of your new fact. Is your date of conception calculated automatically from the dob? I’m not sure if RM8 can do calculations like Excel.

I merely made a copy of the Marriage fact. I didn’t think of trying to make it calculate as I just needed to subtract nine months from the birth date. This woman had two illegitimate sons by different fathers–coincidentally both named MacKenzie–before she married Donald Campbell. Both children were born in a November so ‘relationship’ must have been about February. The sentence comes out as ‘Margaret (Peggy) Bain and Kenneth Mackenzie had a relationship about Feb 1847.’ I might need to vary that for use as a modern partnership or a lasting un-marriage.
Screenshot 2022-04-13 192531

Thanks Jonathon,

There are calculators on the web showing likely dates of conception but I guess dob minus 9 months is near enough for our use.

Thanks again, I’ll create a new FACT.



1 Like

Use the date calculator in RM. The icon will appear when the cursor is in the data field on the Edit Person screen. Select “Calculate Start Date”. Enter in the date of birth and under Age: 9 m. Click Select to enter the results in the date field.

1 Like

I agree with not wanting UNKNOWNs. The way I work it, for any historical marriage I enter the wife with her own maiden surname, even if I don’t know it so she becomes ‘____, Mary’ (or even ‘_____, _____’) and add an Alternate married surname dated at the marriage. Then she appears in the index under both surnames so I can find her either way. There’s one in my sample above.

Thanks much for all the examples and interpretations of how you do it. It is very helpful to see how other people do it. John

1 Like

Jonathan, that’s good thought as well. I’ll be sharing that with my user group.