Document ID: 102813Print this document
Basic Indexing Guidelines: Names
Symptoms (Problems)

What are the Basic Indexing Guidelines?

Answer (Resolution)

Basic Indexing Guidelines are instructions for all projects. Exceptions to the basic rules are noted in the field help, project instructions, or project updates. Be sure to review the project instructions before indexing a batch, and to refer to the field help as you index.

Names are the most essential part of an index. A name is needed to create a record. Click any of the links below for more information on indexing names:

Index the Most Complete Name

Punctuation in Names

Abbreviated Names

Given Name or Surname

Maiden Names

Titles and Terms

Alias Names or Variation in the Record--Using "Or" to Separate Names

Surname Not Given

Indexing Mrs John White


Adoptive or Foster Parents

Names with Prefixes such as Van or Mc

No Middle Name

Indexing Unfamiliar Names

Other Indexing Guidelines


Index the Most Complete Name

  • Sometimes a name is recorded more than once on the same historical document.

  • Please scan the entire certificate, and type only the most complete version of the name.

  • The chances of a researcher finding the name of an ancestor in the index increases with more information.

  • For example, the name of the groom on a marriage certificate might appear in two or three different places.

    • In one place, the name might be written as C. H. Johnson.

    • In another place the name might be Chas. H. Johnson.

    • In yet a third place, the name might be written as Charles Henry Johnson.

    • The correct entry would be for you to type the name as:

      • Groom's Given Name: Charles Henry

      • Groom's Surname: Johnson

Punctuation in Names

Some punctuation is indexed, and some is not.

  • If punctuation, such as a hyphen (-) or an apostrophe (’), is normally part of a name, type the punctuation. Otherwise, do not.

  • Do not type a period after an initial or abbreviated name.

  • Do not type commas, parentheses, or semicolons after initials or abbreviations.

  • If a name is in parentheses or quotation marks, type only the name.

  • For example, if an individual’s name is listed as “William H. O'Rourke,” you would type:

    • Given Name: William H

    • Surname: O’Rourke

      • Do not type a period after the abbreviation for the middle name, but type the apostrophe (’) as part of the surname.

Abbreviated Names

  • Sometimes names are abbreviated.

  • Type the abbreviation as recorded on the document.

  • Do not guess what the abbreviation stands for.

  • Do not include punctuation used to indicate that the name is abbreviated, such as an apostrophe or a period.

  • Examples:

    • If an individual’s name is listed as “Ma. Teresa Gomez Reyes,” you would type:

      • Given Name: Ma Teresa

      • Surname: Gomez Reyes

    • If a name is listed as "Dan'l Jones," index as:

      • Given Name: Danl

      • Surname: Jones

Given Name or Surname return to top

  • Some records contain names that are not easily identified as given names or surnames.

  • Deciding how to index them can be especially difficult if you are not familiar with the naming conventions of the culture that the individual was from.

  • If you cannot determine which part of the name is the given name and which part is the surname, or if only a single name is listed, do not separate the names into the Given Name and Surname fields.

  • Instead, keep each name in the same order as was written on the record, and type the information in the Given Name field.

Maiden Names

  • Maiden names are surnames and are to be indexed before the married name in the Surname field.

  • If a Surname field calls for a maiden name and only the married name was recorded, index the married name in the Maiden Name field.

  • If both the maiden name and married name (including any surnames from previous marriages) were recorded for the woman, index all surnames in the Surname field.

  • If you cannot determine if the name is a given name or a surname, type the name in the Given Name field.

  • Do not assume the maiden name is the same as the father's surname. If the maiden name is not recorded on the image, do not index it.

Titles and Terms

Titles and Terms fields provide a place for information that helps to identify an individual, that would be used with the name when addressing the person, or that would be used in place of the name.

  • Vda indicates a widow. It is the same as any other title or term and would only be indexed if there was a Titles and Terms field.

  • Military ranks are indexed in the Titles and Terms field, if there is no Military Rank field.

  • In general, do not index occupations in the Titles and Terms field unless they are used as a preface to the name, such as Dr. Brown.

  • Do not type a title or term in the Given Name or Surname field. Type the title or term in the Titles and Terms field for that record.

  • If no field for titles and terms is included in your batch, do not include them in the index.

  • Type what you see, eliminating punctuation, except hyphens and apostrophes.

  • If Mrs. is used before a male name (Mrs. Jason Jones), index Mrs in the Title or Terms field, Jason in the Given Names field, and Jones in the Surname field.

  • If a child is designated as stillborn, type Stillborn in the Titles and Terms field.

  • Use an authorities or lookup list.

  • If there are two titles or terms listed on the document, such as Mr Jr, enter both with no punctuation and a space between.

Below are examples of titles and terms that would be included in the Titles and Terms field:

  • Titles: Jr., Sr., Mrs., Señor, Señora, Don, Doña, Captain, Dr., and so on

  • Terms: not named, stillborn, twin, infant, and so on

Note: In most projects, “unknown” is marked as a blank field.


Alias Names or Variation in the Record--Using "Or" to Separate Names

  • An alias is an assumed or additional name.

  • AKA means “also known as” and indicates another name by which the person was known.

  • Sometimes, the clerk might have used quotes or parentheses to indicate an alias or other name.

  • To index a name that has one or more aliases or uses an AKA, type the word Or between each name.

    • For example, if an individual’s name is listed as Joseph Broski AKA Joseph Browzowski AKA Jozef Brzozowski, you would type:

      • Given Name: Joseph Or Jozef

      • Surname: Broski Or Browzowski Or Brzozowski

  • When the clerk appeared to have used quotes or parentheses to indicate an alias or other name, use the word "or" between the names, and type only the names.

    • For example, if the clerk wrote a name as John "Buck" Harrison, you would type:

      • Given Name: John Or Buck

      • Surname: Harrison

  • The word "or" can also be used when two different names or spellings of names are given on a document and you cannot determine which name is correct.

    • For example, if the given name was written as Mary in one place on the document and as Marion in another place, both names, separated by "or," would be typed in the given names field.

  • If you see variations of the data in a record, type all versions in the appropriate fields, separating them with the word "or."

    • For example:

      • Frederico Or Francis

      • Millett Or Millet

      • Elisabeth Or Elizabeth

Surname Not Given return to top

In many records, a surname is not given immediately after a given name, although the name might be given with another family member’s name. The situation determines whether you assume a surname.

  • If you are indexing a record, such as a census, that lists a family together in a group, and the wife and children do not have the surname listed, you can assume the surname is the same as the father and list the father's surname as the wife's surname and the child's surname.

  • If the record lists a husband and wife as "John and Mary Smith," you can assume the husband's surname is Smith and list both the husband's and wife's surname as Smith.

  • However, if the record lists a husband and wife as "John Smith and Mary" or "John Smith and Mary, his wife," do not assume Mary's surname. Mark the wife's surname as blank.

  • If the record lists a child as "Sarah, daughter of John Smith," do not assume Sarah's surname. Mark the child's surname as blank.

    • Exception: If a child is listed without a surname as in "Sarah, daughter of John Smith," and if no data entry field is available in which to index the parent's name, you should index the parent's surname in the child's surname field.

  • Some christening records are on forms that indicate that the surname is for both parents. In such cases, the surname would be indexed for both.

  • Do not record l-n-u or "last name unknown" when recorded on a document. Tab through or blank the surname field.

  • After indexing is complete, projects go through a process where the information is prepared for ease in searching. As part of that process, in countries and in time frames where naming conventions would make sense, the surname of one member of a family should be included in the surname field for another member of the family.

Indexing Mrs. John White

  • When a woman's name is recorded with her husband's name instead of her own (such as Mrs. John White), look throughout the record to see if her given name is included elsewhere. If so, index the most complete name that is recorded (such as Amanda White).

  • If a more complete name of the woman is not found on the record, index the man's given name and surname to allow the researcher to better find the record.

  • Do not index titles or terms such as "Mrs." in either the Given Name or Surname field.

  • If the project has a Titles or Terms field, index Mrs in that field.


  • When multiple spouses are present for a single principal, the rule is to index only the present or current spouse.

  • Indexing only the current spouse is necessary to give good search results on FamilySearch.

Adoptive or Foster Parents

  • If a child is listed on the record with 2 sets of parents, 1 set of birth parents and 1 set of adoptive or foster parents, do not add a record to index both sets of parents.

  • Index only the current set of adoptive parents.

  • Researchers can see the document and add other parents to their personal records if desired.

Names with Prefixes

  • For surnames that have prefixes, such as "Mc" or "Van," it is sometimes difficult to tell, depending on how the names are written on the original record, whether to include a space between the prefix and the surname.

  • Check the record carefully, and index the name as it was recorded. If you cannot tell, indexing either with a space or without a space after the prefix is acceptable.

No Middle Name

  • If the record indicates that the person had no middle name or initial, type the given name and the surname in the appropriate fields. Do not include terms that are used in the record to indicate that no middle initial was recorded.

  • Below are examples of terms or symbols that indicate the individual had no middle name:

    • (none)

    • (n)

    • NMI (no middle initial)

    • NMN (no middle name)

    • - - -

    • A blank space in the middle initial field of the original record

Indexing Unfamiliar Names return to top

Please click the links below for detailed information on indexing unfamiliar names, such as:

Other Basic Indexing Guidelines and Helps

  • 112975 Basic Indexing Guidelines: All Documents

  • 102817 Basic Indexing Guidelines

  • 102812 Basic Indexing Guidelines: Place-Names

  • 102814 Basic Indexing Guidelines: Dates

  • 111803 Basic Indexing Guidelines: Ages

  • 108440 Basic Indexing Guidelines: Other

  • Glossary of Terms

Answer not found above? (Click on the underlined links below)

Did this document help you to solve your problem?