Should we review the current first instance rule for LNAB?

+5 votes
This question must be considered because slavishly following the current rule will introduce errors.

Early C of E records were written in Latin and South African records were written in Afrikaans. You may know of other language usage that corrupts name spelling.

Examples of this are the Latin spellings of Edwardus for Edward. The son of Edwardus called Edwardi which is also means Edward. Other examples are Elizabeth recorded as Elizabethe, Henry as Henricus, James as Jacobus, Charles as Carolus, and Gerard as Geradoni. How can you possibly impose a ruling whereby my English ancestors have Latin names?

We should not have a rule that corrupts name spellings in this manner. It is a completely arbitrary rule and should be offered as guidance when no other familial spelling is recorded. Accepting spellings by religious scribes in Latin or Afrikaans is extremely damaging to the veracity of our records.

I respect the WikiTree quest for record accuracy but it is being negated by LNAB rules as they presently stand.

I have recently used the record of Susanna Marghareta Bernhardi as a test case where the Afrikaans spelling by a religious scribe has corrupted it to Susanna Margaretha Bernhardie. In all civil records the surname is Bernhardi and this is also the spelling used by Dr. J Hodge when compiling his "Personalia of the Germans of the Cape, 1652-1806".

Regrettably a COGH genealogist has misused the LNAB rule to favour the spelling used by the religious scribe. Thus my original Bernhardi record has become a Bernhardie record. I am not happy that this record has been corrupted but the genealogist concerned has refused to engage in any further discussion concerning it's accuracy because he is slavishly following the current LNAB rules.
in The Tree House by John Shipton G2G6 Mach 1 (13.1k points)
retagged by Steven Harris
[Moderator]: Added tags to get more visibility for the post.
Maybe add tags South Africa and Cape of Good Hope (not sure what is best likely to draw attention to those best placed to reply)

5 Answers

+17 votes
Best answer

There appears to be a misunderstanding in the application of the Last Name at Birth. There is no rule that I am aware of that says to use the "first instance" for the name.

The guidelines on the LNAB field state that:

It is usually the formal name as it appears in official documents at the time of birth. However, it may not be exactly what appears in a birth record if:

  • There was a spelling mistake or error in the document, or if the family name was more commonly spelled in a different way at the time of the birth (see the spelling conventions section above).
  • The person was adopted as an infant and they never used their birth name.

The spelling conventions section references above states that:

It's common with earlier ancestors that the spelling of a name was not standardized.

Nevertheless, if there are any contemporary written documents, the spelling from those documents should be used. In particular, the spelling that appears in a birth record should be used for the Last Name at Birth unless there are other documents from at or near the time of birth that inform us about a more common or correct spelling.

The spelling used by descendants is not relevant unless there are no contemporary written documents.

So if the name was recorded one way due to a specific language, it is not required to use it that way if you can (through sourcing other records) identify the official spelling they would have used in their own language.

by Steven Harris G2G6 Pilot (513k points)
selected by Helen Ford

In addition to the links Michael provided, there is a section at the top of the Name Fields help page which deals specifically with additional guidelines for profiles which meet the criteria of some projects. Please also review the Special Naming Conventions section if projects are involved. Only a portion of the projects are on that page; to see them all, the Help page refers you to the Name Field Guidelines page.

+10 votes
I agree, it  can lead to absurdities if this is interpreted too strictly as sometimes it sometimes seems to be..

Hieronymus, fil' Guiliemi George in the register  was  in plain English Jerome son of William George (and signed documents in that way)   Neither of the  latin first names look anything like the vernacular, the father's name, takes the genitive case and so has the 'i' at the end.

 In this case, other information to verify the original name  is a good thing (someone might just  have been called Hieronymus ) and that is certainly the case for names like Anna and Maria. (Ann and Mary?)  I doubt though that there were many men called  Galfridus or  Gaulterus ( Geofrey and Walter) or  Edwardus , Henricus  or Ricardus.  Not latin but the same applies to  Xtian and Xopher .(Christian and Christopher)
by Helen Ford G2G6 Pilot (345k points)
+5 votes
Consider the German family name Schmidt, Schmid, Schmied, Schmitt, Schmit, Smid, Smidt, Schmitz, Schmidl, Schmidli and Schmidtke, all derived from the profession of smith. If a descendant of every one of these variations decides their spelling is the correct one for their family and therefore applies it retroactively to their ancestors we could theoretically end up with 11 duplicates of the same person and a good number of his descendants. That gets even more complicated when the family lived in a bi- or multilingual environment where records were sometimes kept in either of the languages in question or in Latin. There are related families from the former Bohemia, for example Ohnheiser and Nechodomu (meaning "Without a house"), or Wölfl and Vlček ("little wolf"), where the recognition of duplicates would be even harder.

Clearly, we need a standard to go by, and a primary source, preferably a birth or baptismal record, lends itself for this purpose. We have the "preferred Name" field and "Current Last Name" field to record the common usage.

As to using names in their declensed forms would only occur to native speakers of languages that don't do that. For the many languages that do use declension of names it would only be natural to use the nominative of a name found in the genitive form - unless it has become a patronymic and then developed into a family name such as Bernhardi - [son] of Bernhard.
by Helmut Jungschaffer G2G6 Pilot (544k points)
I assume this is not a modern profile but an early ancestor ? For early ancestors not just the Latin versions perhaps can 'feel' incorrect for us, but the other problem is that unlike nowadays where we have spelling rules they all wrote phonetically, so to stick with the Smid last name, a persons name in one record was written as Smit and in the next as Smid and in another one Smidt or perhaps Schmidt, and maybe even Smied, Smiet, etc.  

So as Helmut explains as well, all these different spellings caused (and still would cause) a whole lot of duplicates if we would not have any guidelines or standards.

And this is why for most early profiles (so the many duplicates with all the different spellings and sometimes backwards projected / modern last names) projects were started and when they were started project members together decided what would be the most easy and work best for the profiles they are working on/ would fall under that specific project. These guidelines for most projects are the same, so LNAB are based on the baptism/birth or if there isn't one, the earliest records (if a name from a baptism or birth record clearly is an error, several records can be compared after which a decision can be made what would be the best LNAB for a person).

So this really is not to upset anyone or to make things harder, or to have everyone 'slavishly' following the current rule, it's just more accurate and making things more easy and clear for everyone to have a guideline/standard on how a LNAB is determined for profiles, it prevents thousands of new duplicates, and all other spellings can be added to the current and other last name fields
+4 votes

Can I get some further clarification about this? I'm trying to get a better understanding of the issue. 

For example; a friend was baptized Lambertus Gerardus Marian van Dalen, he was born in 1953 in Holland, the family was Catholic so the baptism record is in Latin. The family who only spoke Dutch emigrated to Canada in 1954. If I remember correctly the name given on his school records, driver's license and marriage record is Lambert Gerald Maria van Dalen. At school he was only ever known as Bert van Dalen and certainly didn't want most school friends to know that part of his name was Maria. 

According to the current rules; if I created a profile for him, what name should I use? And if the guidelines were changed, what would I use. 

by M Ross G2G6 Pilot (194k points)
You would use the name Lambert Gerald Maria van Dalen unless you have evidence that a birth certificate (and, in my opinion, an immigration record, given the very young age at which this occurred [presuming that he was baptized as an infant before immigration]) exists with the spelling Lambertus Gerardus Marian van Dalen. The name "Bert" should be placed in the 'preferred name' or 'nickname' field. In the biography section you should indicate that Bert was baptized as his baptismal name. There is no change in the LNAB.


Baptisms in the Netherlands (you say Holland) after 1811 are not legally giving the name at birth. Birth records are, but those are not public yet after 1920.

Lambert Gerald Maria van Dalen sounds like a fully legal name.

Lambert Gerald Maria: first name

van Dalen: LNAB (please take care of the correct capitalization).

Then usually there is a 'roepnaam', which you use in the nickname field. That would be the short name you use daily. In the case that is Bert.

Bert: Nickname.

See more at

+4 votes
There's a field for other last names. Adding all variations will ensure the profile can be found. So adding Bernardi to one of those fields and Bernhardie to the other won't cause a problem.

I have missed profiles because people assume that the way the name is spelled today is the correct version and they have ignored variations in the records. Being aware of various spellings and local accents helps to find more records. Some search engines do a really bad job of finding variations.
by Leandra Ford G2G6 Pilot (119k points)

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