02 April 2024

3 Spring Cleaning Tasks for Your Family Tree

Two months ago I presented 5 cleanup projects, but there are always more ways to scrub your family tree.

Most days I forge ahead with my project to connect everyone from my ancestral hometowns. When working on that, I can add 100–200 people to my tree in a day. With my family tree approaching 79,000 people, it's important to keep up with my cleanup tasks.

Here are 3 areas every family tree needs some cleanup: Names, Dates, and Places.

These are the 3 most basic things you need to get right in your family tree.
These are the 3 most basic things you need to get right in your family tree.

Note: If you build your family tree online rather than desktop software, download a GEDCOM to your computer. Then open that GEDCOM in Family Tree Analyzer so you can see everything in one place.

1. Use Real Names

As I've said many times, your family tree is your legacy. Even if you aren't sharing it online, I'll bet you're sharing it with your family. And you must want it to live on after you've gone.

I've seen online trees use nicknames (e.g., Uncle Curly) and women's married names instead of given names. You're doing the research. You know their real names. Use them!

My whole family called my grandmother's brother Uncle Army. As a kid, I never questioned why. Then I found his given name on his birth certificate. Amelio, pronounced ah-may-lee-oh. I can remember hearing my grandmother call him ah-may—short for his full name. It was ah-may that my generation and my mom's generation heard as Army.

Am I going to record his name in my tree as Uncle Army or Army Sarracino? Hell no. Any relative seeing Amelio Sarracino's spot in the family tree can see he's Uncle Army. Likewise, I'm not going to record his wife (my Aunt Sophie) as Sophie Sarracino. I've recorded her by her birth name—the beautiful name I had to do a lot of research to discover—Serafina Eufemia.

For more tips on recording names and preserving those nicknames, see "4 Rules for the Names in Your Family Tree."

2. Use the Universal Date Format

In the 1990s I found out my business colleagues in Europe don't write dates the way we do in the USA. Today is April 2, 2024 in the USA, or 4/2/2024. But in Europe (and so much of the world) 4/2/2024 is February 4—actually it's 4 February. I adopted their style because I worked for an international company.

I never use the date style I grew up with (4/2/2024) anymore. I use the much more universal DD Mon YYYY. That's 2 digits for the day, 3 letters for the month (the first 3 letters), and 4 digits for the year: 02 Apr 2024. There's no misunderstanding that date. It's the standard for genealogists.

If your family tree has dates that aren't in the preferred DD Mon YYYY format, you're not doing anyone any favors. My son's birthday is 5/6. Will you send him a card on May 6 or June 5?

Check your dates and use the preferred format to avoid any misunderstandings.

And don't forget to use estimated dates when you don't know someone's birth date. See "When to Use Estimates in Your Family Tree."

3. Make Addresses Consistent and Accurate

When I'm entering a marriage in my family tree, I like to use the exact name and address of the church where the couple wed. I noticed I had used 2 different address variations for the church in San Marco dei Cavoti, Italy. I corrected any instances of the wrong address, and now they all match exactly.

If your addresses aren't consistent, you can't get a correct view of everyone in your tree who was there. As you scan your alphabetical list of addresses, you may find typos or slight differences.

In Family Tree Maker, you can check to see if an address is pinned properly on the map. I spotted one street address, Via la Costa, linked to one fact. When I zoomed in on the map within FTM, I saw that the street is actually Via Costa. To be fair, it was Via la Costa in 1812, but it isn't now. I want to use the current address whenever I can. If I'm visiting the town, I want to be able to go to any ancestor's address I choose. I updated Via la Costa to Via Costa to match today's map.

Take a look at your alphabetical list of addresses. Check for outliers, typos, or two seemingly identical entries listed separately. With up-to-date addresses, you can "Visit Your Ancestral Hometown at Your Desk."

Congratulations! You've made a tremendous step forward.


  1. Thank you for these great reminders. It would be a great help to those of us still using FTM to include those steps.

    1. These tips aren't for FTM users only. I think it's all too easy to overlook consistency and proper style when building a tree online. That's why I suggested anyone with an online-only tree download a GEDCOM and use Family Tree Analyzer to look for problems to fix.