20 October 2020

How to Use Proper Genealogy Style

If you always format names, dates, and places properly, you may be a Family Tree Fashionista. And that's a good thing!

Let's take a look at the Big Three. How do you record Names, Dates, and Places in your family tree?


Entering names in your family tree is such a hot-button issue. People have strong feelings about their chosen style.

Maiden Names. I'd estimate my 25,718-person family tree is 95% Italian. Since Italian women keep their father's last name for life, it would be crazy to list them by their married name. That simply is not their name.

As someone who has legally had 3 last names in my life:

  • You don't want to call me by my ex-husband's last name.
  • I'll always answer to my husband's last name.
  • I definitely identify as my father's last name. I even have it as a vanity license plate.

Since a woman's maiden name is on her birth, marriage, and death certificates, you've got to list her by her maiden name. That's who you're documenting. Let the marriage facts you enter tell you her married name. Let the family tree layout tell you who she married.

There shouldn't be any debate about how to record names in your family tree.
There shouldn't be any debate about how to record names in your family tree.

Case. I have lots of Italian names beginning with a lower case d', di, de, or del. Putting those last names in all capital letters would be destructive. How would you know if the name DELGROSSO is spelled delGrosso, DelGrosso, or Delgrosso? You wouldn't.

Name at Birth. I'm careful to preserve each person's name at birth. I was adding the 1819 marriage documents for a couple to my family tree. The bride was Antonia Piacquadio. That's the name on her birth/baptism record, and on her marriage papers.

The groom's case is a little different. On the marriage papers, he's Luigi d'Agostino. Then I saw his 1798 birth record. His full name at birth was Luigi Maria Vincenzo Michelangelo d'Agostino! I will preserve Luigi's full name because that's what makes him unique.


Genealogy research isn't isolated to one country or one language. Your date format needs to be universal.

Years ago, I interacted with people from around the world as part of my job. I realized how important it is to use a date format that can't be misunderstood. If you're an American, you'd write my son's birth date as 5/6/1989. To you and me, that means May 6th.

But in Europe, 5/6/1989 is the 5th of June. My kid would get his birthday gift really late, wouldn't he?

To avoid this confusion, enter dates in your family tree in this format: 6 May 1989. It's the date, the 1st 3 letters of the month (Jan, Feb, Mar, Apr, May, Jun, Jul, Aug, Sep, Oct, Nov, Dec), and the 4-digit year. In many languages, the 3-letter month abbreviations are similar. It's a safe bet that someone who speaks another language would understand 6 May 1989.

If you use Family Tree Maker, go to the Tools menu and click Options. Then click the Names/Dates/Places tab. You can tell the software how to display your dates, no matter how you type them. Consistency is important for the very reason that my other son's birth date is 12/10/1992. Is that December 10th or the 12th of October?


The proper style for place names (the exact words vary by country) is City, County, State, Country. In Italy it's Comune, Province, Region, Country.

To me, American place names can look confusing when you list all it together like that. Monsey, Rockland, New York, USA. I adopted a slight variation that is now supported by Family Tree Maker when I let it resolve place names.

I add the word County. I feel that Monsey, Rockland County, New York, USA is clearer.

An Italian example would be my grandfather's town: Baselice, Benevento, Campania, Italy. Seeing the complete place name makes it clear to anyone exactly where you're talking about.

Consistency of place names, down to the street address, offers benefits to your family tree research.
Consistency of place names, down to the street address, offers benefits to your family tree research.

A woman online said she wanted to remove the USA from the end of all her American place names. I don't know why, but I recall I didn't use USA early on. It seemed so obvious. All my people were from New York. Everyone knows where New York is.

But as my tree grew, it became clear that I should use the proper naming convention. When you enter place names properly, Family Tree Maker does a nice job of rolling them all up in a list. You can select a country, then a state, province, or region, and continue down to a specific address to see everyone who was there.

Proper style ensures that your family tree will live on and be helpful even when you're gone. Make sure you're working on it for future generations. Make it speak the same "language" generations from now.


  1. Companies who DNA testing should use maiden names also.

    1. Wouldn't the companies testing DNA be using the name you enter in the envelope and form? I used my usual name, Digna Irizarry.

    2. Oh, so that comment meant places like Ancestry DNA should list women's maiden names. Good point, but they can only list what the tester provides as a user name.