Too many names for one person

I am beginning to revise my work and the first ancestor has a name problem. She has at least ten variations on the records and, though she could read and write, I have no record signed by her. None are used more than once in combination. There are many Trees on this family and they have chosen one of the names, the one settled on after about two generations of descendants. Before that, the whole family seemed to have a name problem.

Would you arbitrarily chose one name, explaining in the source that you do not have enough evidence yet to support this? Then would you put all the others in the AKA field? And do the same for her parents, siblings and children?

Thank you.

Submitted byEEon Sun, 11/04/2012 - 20:55


When you say that she has at least ten name variations "on the records," how exactly do you define the word "records"? Are you referring to the "Trees" that you mention? Or, are you referring to actual legal documents, etc.?  Do you have copies of original documents or are you working from published abstracts? Most of the problems we have with an excessive number of variant spellings for a given individual stems from use of derivative materials in which names have been misread or otherwise garbled by others. All those variants are usually whittled down to a credible identity when we read the actual documents for ourselves.

Arbitrarily choosing a name is not something EE would recommend. That would be much too akin to guesswork, and we all know how reliable guesswork is. Every decision we make should have a valid basis. For example, if on the one hand you have a deed record in which this woman participated as a buyer or seller and, on the other hand, you have a census record in which an enumerator wrote her name the way it sounded to him, then the document more apt to be reliable would be the legal document transferring title to land.

Situations such as this, of course, is why EE focuses on the need to carefully appraise (a) the quality of our sources, (b) the bias or other problems that often exist in the information we take from sources, and (c) the strength of the evidence we draw from that information. With each find we make, our appraisal of quality will determine how we handle this find--whether that "handling" means the mechanical data entry or the conclusions we reach.

Submitted by3bellson Mon, 11/05/2012 - 06:51

I will give a list of what I have found. Her birthdates are as varied as her names. Unless I find other evidence as I search her children's death information and birth information, how would you handle this? Which name/date would you choose for the primary record-commenting, of course, on all the variations. How would you come to this conclusion?

Thanks for the response!

Marriage record    Transcribed by and by another researcher independantly. No Image
Marriage Catherine Damman, 26 Oct 1864, Age 19 [would put birth year around 1845]

1851 Census  Cathrine Demon, Age 7 [would put birth year around 1844 or 45 depending on if census was taken in 1852]

1861 Census  Catherine Demons, Age 14 [would put birth year around 1847]

1871 Census  Cathrine Ransom, Age 26 [Marriage record proves maiden name] [would put birth year est at 1845]

1881 Census  Catharine Ransom, Age 34 [would put birth year around 1847]

1891 Census  Catharine Ransom, Age 46 [would put birth year est at 1845]

1901 Census  Catherine Ransom, Birthdate June 2, 1845 [the 5 is very faint]

1911 Census  Catherine Ransom, Birthdate June 1844, age 67

Death Certificate  Catharine Ransom, Age 85 years, 11 months, 14 days, [Clerk writing this information taken from her son, put her birthdate the same as her death date] "Death date June 7 1931"
Calculated her birthdate from this I came up with approximately May 30, 1846.

Obituary from same researcher who transcribed marriage record, undated, unknown newspaper (no source).
Name: Catherine Ransome [Ransom spelling often varied as Ransome]
Father: Northeel Demmons
Her birthdate, 24 June 1843 "Had she lived until the 34th of this month she would have been 89 years of age"

Submitted by3bellson Mon, 11/05/2012 - 06:53

I forgot to mention that there were images for the census records and for the death certificate.

Submitted byEEon Mon, 11/05/2012 - 12:46


The basic problem with identity here is that thus far you've had to rely upon the low-hanging fruit that is available online. All of it is essential but, as you originally noted, none of it yields you a record that you can say she personally created. EE would, as a foundation, acquire a photocopy of the original marriage document(s) to see if she or a parent signed one of those. That could resolve your dilemma over how her maiden name is best spelled.

Censuses are notorious for phonetic spelling. As EE previously noted, they are not a good source for determining how a person or family actually spelled their name. Of the remaining records, the death certificate created by her son—for which you do have an image of the "original" rather than someone's transcription (a version in which names are frequently miscopied)—offers the more reliable evidence of how she self-identified. But, again, determining how she personally identified herself requires the kind of documents that we generally find through thorough research in all available records for the time and places in which she lived. Presumably, you checking regularly at FamilySearch and the national archives of England and Canada for new releases of digitized legal records created at both local and national levels.

Again, too, EE has to say that how you choose to enter these names in your particular software will be a decision controlled by the parameters of that software. The only caution EE would offer here is to underscore the distinction that exists between using "aka" (meaning "also known as") versus "var." (meaning "variously rendered as"). At this point, you can't say that she was also known by one of the other variants (as with "Demons," rather than "Damman"); all you can say at this point is that the name has been variously rendered that way by other individuals.

Submitted by3bellson Mon, 11/05/2012 - 13:20

In reply to by EE

Thank you. I hadn't heard before about the use of "var" instead of AKA. Unfortunately my software doesn't have that option. I am beginning to see limitations in my software, but know that you don't discuss that here. Is there a web site that would direct me to a software program that would better follow your more logical ways of documenting and printing out reports?

I have just checked Family Search. Will have to do a search to find the national archives of England and Canada, though I know she married in the US and immigrated to Canada. It is said she was born in Canada but so far I have found no record to substantiate that. Her marriage announcemen in the newspaper is brief, partly disfigured, and not much help. Even her maiden name is partly obscured. The marriage was in New York before they kept records. I recently took my first trip for Family History to that area but the that was all I found in the several places I visited. Others have tried to find her family under different names but so far no one has succeeded. Will keep trying.

Meanwhile, if anyone can direct me to a site that evaluates software according to EE's plan, please let me know.

Thank you.




Submitted by3bellson Mon, 11/05/2012 - 13:22

One disadvantage of electronic docs is that I can't highlight. I can see that I need to spend at least a half hour or so a day of precious time to just read the electonic file. And take notes.

One more thought. Until I can find a better software program, it might be best to add ""var" or "Various  Spellings" to the "event" fields where they won't be mistaken as AKA.

If you're using Legacy, I tend to put these in as "Alt. Name" or "Alt. Spelling" (though I may have added that last Event myself).  Until recently (meaning, until I started getting serious and following EE), I would add an Event for each spelling.  I am now changing my process to have one event that lists the several variations, with a short reasoning of why I am using the particular spelling for her name & not the others.  Except for censuses... they are notorious for various spellings, so I tend to include it in the Notes; for example, for a Lizzie, I might put in Notes:   "Nizzie" was 12 and lived with her parents.  (because the enumerator wrote Nizzie instead of Lizzie)  or:  Her name was misspelled: "Nizzie".

I you don't use Legacy, "please disregard" ;)



Submitted by3bellson Tue, 11/06/2012 - 13:43

Thanks, Paula. Yes, I'm using legacy. And am just getting serious also, though I still had/have a lot to learn about legacy and genealogy. A lot of what EE says (that I've been able so far to read) is what my instincts told me and I've been putting in my own notes, not yet in legacy.

Someone on the Legacy List said they use events for every item because they show up better than "notes in a print out. I haven't gotten to print outs so don't know from first hand. I think you did add "Alt name" and that's what I planned. If I can see the whole line up of names at one time, in events (or in a text file of my own which I've been doing) I can see which is used more often. For what that is worth. I like the idea of adding to the event "Alt name" why you think the name is likely incorrect. But it helps to know the variations because they can be used in searches. I just found a record that I thought would be found in a "fuzzy" search, but wasn't. Found it by searching under a record name that was most likely not the way the family spelled it.

Since you know legacy, is there any way to use the footnotes (page end) as EE uses them? Or is the only way to redo it all in a word processor?

Thanks for taking the time to respond!


Oh no!--I have yet to redo anything in a word processor, but I haven't officially published either.  I think you should check the LUG archives and search on "source citations" to read some of the discussions we've had there.  I do use endnotes and for the most part have been able to produce citations worthy of EE. ;)

Oh, and as an ex-programmer, I would suggest you take a look at the output (reports) before you get too far along in entering things a certain way.  Test it to make sure you like it.  Easier than changing it all afterwards (voice of experience).



Submitted by3bellson Wed, 11/07/2012 - 11:02

Paula, thanks for the reply. I'm not thinking of publishing, just putting together a small "book" bond at a printers, one for each ancestoral line at a time, to send to a few relatives who are interested but not researching. My main purpose will be to make it interesting and hopefully rouse up a few more researchers. But I do want it footnoted with sources - separated so they can skip them if wanted, but on the same page to make it easier if they are interested. Images of sources will be added to the end, which is why I am planning on transcribing or extracting a lot.

You are right about testing. I also have Family Tree Maker and have used it's report feature, but legacy is my main program so I should begin now to test it out. I could do it with just the few family pages I'm working on revising now. I am trying to read EE but have to take just a small chunk at a time to absorb it. It's so full of logical ideas and I've barely started.