Fill in the blanks. No, don’t!

11 Jun

You’re working on that family tree on You get as far back  as the fifth generation of ancestors. Then, it happens. That blank space–you know the one.  Where you add the mother’s name. The name you don’t know.  At least not the full name. You know what you should do, but you can’t seem to help yourself. It just sits there big and blank and empty and you just have to put something there. Before you know it,  your itchy fingers reach out to the keyboard and fill in that blank. With Jane UNKNOWN.  Immediately, cute little leaves start dancing at you with the proclamation that you have hints!!!

Oh joy. Hints. That thing we love so well on

You point and click.

Congratulations. You now have hints. For Jane Knowles. Jane Knowlton,  Jean Knowleton, J. Bowles, Jane Unitas, Jenn Unity,  and need I go on? Some are in Boise ID, some are in Ireland  and are 300 years ‘off’ from your ancestor’s lifetimes.

For the uninitiated with, its search engine  pulls combinations of names, dates, locations of the data you input along with  any possible combination  of ‘near’ matches.  It looks for numbers in  the date fields, letters names fields, and a minimum of the State  (or region) and the Country for the place. I know, DUH!  Imagine you are a search engine trying to match those items up and someone has entered this information:

name: John Doe ; Birth – somewhere around 1770,  Georgia;
death: at home; residence: Carolina;

spouse Mrs. Doe; spouse birth maybe 1770-1780 in Ala????;
death; don’t know;
residence ?????

The search engine can’t find computer logic in the fields; it’s going to bypass question marks and fragmented sentences in the date fields. If the lady’s maiden name is entered as MNU, the search engine will match up any and every name with any and every possible combination of M, N, and U in it.

This is one reason that the  hints you click on, and/or the ‘search records’ feature  can come up with 119 pages of results that  can be 95%  irrelevant to your search. Most of the “hits” wind up  being “misses”  and lots of time is wasted sorting through all that, or either one gets frustrated and gives up.   Another reason is, it’s just results happy and wants to make you suffer by wading through all that just  in case that ONE relevant clue might turn up.  At least that’s my opinion.   😉   It also opens up the possibility you will get no matches or hints at all.

It seems easy enough:
if you don’t know the information that goes in a field, then don’t put anything in that field .

Leave it blank.

Yet so many people seem  flummoxed by this simple concept.

A pet peeve of mine: messing around with women’s  names, especially the maiden name.

Unless you know, or find records that prove her last name prior to marriage to John Q. Smith  really was Smith, don’t put Mrs. (first name) Smith  (maiden name).

Here’s an example of actual women’s names I’ve seen on family trees.
Names are changed of course, for privacy. 🙂

Mother (spouse)                        Father

Jane Smith                             John Q Smith
Mrs. Smith
Jane LNU
Jane MNU
Jane Unknown
Unknown Smith
FNU  Smith
—-      —–
**** ****
Mrs. John Smith
Jane Maiden Name
Jane Not Known
Jane Don’t Know
Mrs. Unknown wife of Mr. Smith. (:O)

I kid you not. While these apparent bloopers might initially seem amusing, this is non informational filler which serves no purpose.

If is new to you, I hope you find this helpful. Hang in there, it gets easier with time and experience. We were all new at something one time or fifty others.

If you’re doing it for some other reason,  please stop. You’re only clogging the system and making research more difficult for everyone, including yourself.

And is it respectful to fool around with our ancestor’s lives and names like that?  I don’t think so.

By leaving the “unknown information” fields blank you are leaving your tree open for future hints from matches with other future trees. Remember that documents and records are constantly being uploaded and updated, and new people sign up every day to work with  You never know when that distant cousin might just have information you’re missing, and vice versa. It can mean the difference in brick wall breakthroughs.

Happy hunting.

B.L. Stroud


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