Why are women's Current Last Names being changed to their husband last name when there is no source

+11 votes
And several times the names are being changed to the name of one of multiple husbands , but not the last one  , dispute listed sources. This happens most on Unknown LNAB. There seems to be a rash of them in my Carter profiles. Which I am working everyday. So is this an area that doe not require sources?
WikiTree profile: Elizabeth Reese
in Policy and Style by Anonymous Roach G2G6 Pilot (200k points)

4 Answers

+9 votes

Good question, I wondered the same thing when someone changed some of the current names on some of the profiles I have created and am working on.
EDIT. I'm updating this comment after having read all of the comments/answers below. My thoughts are as follows:
Naming conventions at marriage aside, if you go on a profile and add info, you should take the time to research a source and add it. This goes for any changes/additions, under the wiki code. After all, how do you know there are no subsequent marriages if you have not taken the time to source the change you are making? Divorce? Coming from somewhere other than the USA/UK where naming conventions may be different? (The sikh convention of married women becoming Kaur is an example of this.)

by Gillian Causier G2G6 Pilot (297k points)
edited by Gillian Causier
+17 votes

Hi Trudy,

Personally, one of my interests is in preventing duplicates.  So I often add married names.  I do always fill in the reason for the change line and include this note - added married name (if she didn't use, please remove. Thanks!)  I assume a woman took her husband's name when she married, with few exceptions, and those exceptions may be known by the manager(s).

I think the source is the marriage record. 

If I (or anyone) makes a mistake on this and adds the incorrect name as current, please feel free to change it.  Move that one into the other last names line and the final married name into the current last name line.  Please do include them though.  They are an essential part of our matching and searching functions.

We're all human, and we all make mistakes.  And we're all on the same team here, working toward the same goal.  We have slightly different perspectives and talents, but that's what makes a wiki work, right?

Edit: This is in reference to open profiles, generally ones for women born over 200 years ago (helps with those long lists of Ann Smith and Mary Jones).

by Cynthia B G2G6 Pilot (141k points)
edited by Cynthia B
Cynthia, I am sorry but I have to disagree with you on this one. All of the marriage records I have seen only list the woman's name without changing it to the husbands last name. That means that it does not show that she ever used her husbands last name and therefore could not be a source for that change. Without a source you are just putting your opinion in the profile. There are a great many cases and reasons that a woman would not use the last name of her husband and searching for them by that name should not produce any results if everyone is accurate with their data. By adding them to profiles and not having a source you are making more work for others.

I agree with Cynthia B.

I have never known, met, heard of, seen, been related to, or found a record of a woman that has been married before 1940 not using her husband's name in the USA.  Even [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mary_Shelley Mary Shelly] who was born in 1797 in England and was from a very feminist mother used her husband's name.

"United States Social Security Death Index," database, FamilySearch(https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:JLHD-QPP : accessed 26 April 2016), Annie T Piazza, 01 Jun 1994; citing U.S. Social Security Administration, Death Master File, database (Alexandria, Virginia: National Technical Information Service, ongoing).

That's a record for my grandmother who's LNAB is Tamburello.  It's just a social norm is the only reason I can give that it's a gimmie that this is the reason (in the USA at least).

I do see LNAB used for the mother in the cases of records concerning children where mother's maiden name is asked.

I've also noticed that it's usually the husband's family name that is carved in stone on his wife's gravestone when she dies as demonstrated tens of thousands of times on Find A Grave. :D


As I stated before I have no problem with the changes if you have a source but making the change just because it is considered the social norm is not a source and as I stated below after Dave's answer WikiTree is the only genealogy program I know of that even has a place for a woman's married name.

If you have any kind of source I say, and I do, change it to the married name, but with the absence of a source it should not be changed because you are only guessing.

Helmut found one and there's probably some more of these rare examples out there.  Notice the Wikipedia article states "Stone was known for using her maiden name after marriage, as the custom was for women to take their husband's surname".

Like Cynthia, I believe it's perfectly OK to assume that women took their husbands' last names if they lived in a legal and cultural setting in which women were expected or required to use their husbands' names.

For situations in which women may or may not have used their husbands' last names (or where it's pretty clear that they didn't use the husband's name, but that name has been connected to them by published genealogies, websites, etc.), I generally put the husband's last name in the Other Last Names field to reduce the chance of new duplicate profiles being created with that name.

Ellen, We cite sources. Without sources we can't objectively resolve conflicting information. That is the basis for the original question, people making changes without sources. The first line in this comment is from the honor code.You can argue all day long about if we should be using any name except the LNAB but without a source for any change the changes are not genealogy but fiction.

If 95% (or even 80%) of women in a time and place took their husband's name, I think it's more reasonable than not to take the marriage record as evidence supporting a change in "current last name". Just make a note of it in the biography. As Cynthia says, it helps the search algorithms, and it's probably the truth.

We can estimate parents' birth dates and marriage dates from children's birth records: I estimate a father's age about 24 years before the birth of the oldest child, a mother about 22, and a marriage about a year and a half, for 19th century Newfoundland. It's not fiction, especially when the reasoning is discussed.
Surely the source is usually the death record. In most cases that should already be on the profile.
If there is a death record and it's already on the profile, then there's no issue here. In other cases, use good judgment.
+15 votes
Well, as far as I know, it's strongly recommended that every profile have at least one source, But that doesn't mean every profile has to have a source for every major item immediately.  I have relatively few sources entered for women taking a husband's name, but in most cases this can be sourced via censuses for women who alive and married between 1850 and 1940.  Sure the census could be wrong, but if so, that needs to be sourced anyway at some point.  But, AFAIK there isn't any standard boilerplate for sourcing taking a husband's surname.  What should it be? "Mary Roe became Mary Doe when she married John Doe?  Admittedly, when I get to the stage of actually putting in the transcribed censuses instead of just referencing them, the sources will be clear, but I'm not quite to that stage yet.  I'm still entering new profiles and adding the low hanging fruit (mostly censuses) as sources, but I certainly intend to add other sources when I get back around to already entered profiles.  I say give people a break on such a tough item to be certain of.
by Living Dardinger G2G6 Pilot (448k points)
Anne - I agree with Dale that I find it much, much more confusing to have a woman's name changed to her husbands name - particularly with large families that recycle the same 15 first names and intermarried repeatedly over multiple generations. I have never found that adding a married name makes anything easier. The only time I do it is when the maiden name is unknown.


"United States Social Security Death Index," database, FamilySearch(https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:JYX9-Z29 : accessed 7 May 2016), Gladine W Kueber, 29 Jun 2000; citing U.S. Social Security Administration, Death Master File, database (Alexandria, Virginia: National Technical Information Service, ongoing).

Gary, this is your grandmother's Social Security Index.  As you can see her current last name is Kueber.  

Also, here "United States Census, 1940," database with images, FamilySearch(https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:KWWG-GC3 : accessed 7 May 2016), Gladine Kueber in household of Louis Kueber, Harvey, Thornton Township, Cook, Illinois, United States; citing enumeration district (ED) 16-92, sheet 9A, family 174, NARA digital publication T627 (Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, 2012), roll 775. 

and here http://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GRid=130011609

Actually Vincent, my grandmother is currently dead. She has no current last name. But thanks for citing sources on my own grandmother as if I were unaware of them.

If you are researching names Piazza and Tamburello, there's probably not much chance of conflating the people. But if you've got 6 generations of Sarah Johnsons across multiple families, each with 12 children, it gets confusing when a Sarah Dumbrofell marries into the family and Wikitree starts calling her Sarah Johnson. Perhaps this doesn't come up for your research, but it does for mine, and one size does not fit all
Actually her name would be Sarah (Dumbrofell) Johnson, and that would make her more likely to be unique and easier to find.  Plus it's what asked for on the Wikitree.

Actually, Vincent, when you are matching people, it doesn't always show up that way - it only shows up that way when you pull up the profile - not in search, or gedcom matches.

It would be helpful to treat this more like a discussion where you acknowledge that this is a group of people that make up Wikitree and do the work to put in the data - who have different needs. Being dismissive and patronizing isn't what Wikitree asks for in the honor code you signed:


  1. We know misunderstandings are inevitable. We try to minimize them by being courteous to everyone, even those who don't act accordingly.


It is not the construct of documenting additional last names for searching purposes that I object to. But the concept of "Current Last Name" for someone no longer living doesn't make much sense to me. I.e., it isn't uncommon to come across a woman who was married twice or three times during her lifetime. If documenting all 4 of her last names aids in searching, then let's document LNAB and 3 additional last names. What I find objectionable is the hierarchy of "Current Last Name" vs. other last names. If a woman's 1st, 2nd or third husband was late in life, it is, to me,  more confusing than helpful to display her final last name as her most important last name.

For this reason, I do not find it helpful that people 'show up' to add/change CLN on profiles I manage when they do not intend on otherwise collaborating on those profiles. (Would that folks showed up as often to add a new source / record!)

My proposal would be to display LNAB by default and do away with the CLN field, putting all adopted last names into the "Other Last Names" field. Don't try to capture all of these last names in the 'title' with the "aka" but rather have it display something like this for Sarah, LNAB Smith::

Sarah Newt Smith

Other Names: Sarah Hawkins, Sarah Johnson, Sarah Derider

Nicknames: Polly, Newt.

Presuming we can document all of those names.


Thanks - Gary

Gary, The original question was not saying that we should not change the last name to the current last name. The "problem" is with those who do so without any source for the change. WikiTree is the only genealogy program I have found so far that has the CLN field so for that reason it is not "standard" but Trudy, who originally posted the question, and I have no problem with it's use, only the changes being made without any documentation to back up the changes.

I'd like to agree with Garry's thoughts. I do find it most confusing to have the last marriage somehow taking priority. I wonder would it be better to discuss that in another post?
Dale - understood. This question thread has become very complicated, as I was primarily responding to the  - why are people going through profiles they aren't involved in and changing multiple CLN - portion of the original question.  I said I agreed with you because someone changed CLN on my 5G grandmother in Luxembourg even though there are no sources as to how she represented her married name (just a marriage record.) My reasoning, though, is that Wikitree handles multiple last names poorly (whether it's 3 married names, 4 spellings of a last name, legal name changes other than marriage, etc.)  Did not mean to lump you in to my larger point, so apologies if it came across that way.


I have moved my general point about CLN to a new thread -


+1 vote

We cite sources. Without sources we can't objectively resolve conflicting information.

When working on any profile I first try and find any and all sources that apply using the LNAB. After that if they were married I then try my records search using the husbands LNAB. If and only if there is a record showing that the woman used her husbands LNAB then I will change the current Last name to that shown in the source and attach that source to the profile .Without any such source then it is not good genealogy to make a change to the woman's last name because you can not make a case to show that the name was ever used. Mistakes do happen, and I make my fair share, but it is not a mistake to make a change without sources.

by Dale Byers G2G Astronaut (1.7m points)
edited by Dale Byers

Before you comment on this the question is about changing names without a source for that change, I do not believe that any of us objects to sourced changes.

My point here ,  thank you Dale is this. Nothing but the husbands name on the woman's profile. No source at all to prove the marriage. Or the profile has sources and a bio and the wrong husband's name is applied. Cynthia. I have learned much from you. Because you always explain the change , document the change and most often provide a least one link.  So people this is about the health of the Tree not a problem with  another manager so please don't send a link. Or tell me to talk to the people doing this. It is a valid issue. Back to Cynthia's reply. People are human and make mistakes. Reality is reality and to put aside the politically correct let's all play nice stuff this is being done intentionally. Yes we are all on the same team. The people who are marking changes without sourcing , communication are not playing well with others. I understand that some people have take on a commitment to be on a project and have massive amounts of work. I applaud many of those people. But I want to know what the policy is about this change with no source. If it's Ok to do this, then why not change a middle name with out sources or a title without sources or fudge it here and there. And yes we have different abilities and talents , and it does make a wiki work. WHEN everyone one is playing as a team. I asked one person why they did the change with out sourcing or explanation and was told how many years she was on wikitree and on a project. My point is ... if all profiles truly belong to the community , equally no matter how many contributions we make , why are this changes occurring without sources. I have a great deal of respect for the amount of work alot of people do on projects and leaders and such. But the truth is profile managers are the roots of the Tree. Many , many committed to maintenance of their profiles and repeatedly told with issues like this " wikitree belongs to all" and we are bulldozed over because someone else feels what they do for the tree is more important. So Anyway do we source these changes , do we bother to write explanations on our profiles so someone who makes these changes can ignore them. What is policy ? Please.
I just want to add, I am not at all territorial about the profiles I manage. I like help , when it's sourced. People have added to my direct line and I am grateful. I have recently been blessed to have closely related new people come on and add to my family , source and communicate , complete merges and make my maintenance of my profiles much more pleasant. I have worked with family I didn't know I had from the beginning that are great to work with. I would just like to know what's going on with my profiles.
Hi, Trudy. In situations like these, the text portion of the profile ("biography") is critically important. That's where we can communicate with one another and with posterity.
Yes Ellen the bio is important. I feel the whole profile is important. I guess no one has actually read what I have said.
Dale I don't get the down votes here. I like your answer.
Most of the people voting on this answer are the ones with opposing views . No matter I will always oppose changes without sources.       Dale
Apparently almost all of us who responded here misunderstood the intended thrust of Trudy's question. I thought her concern was about people who put a women's husband's name in the Current Last Name field without having a source proving that she actually used her husband's name.

I now get the impression that she is mainly concerned about profiles that name husbands without sources for those husbands. This is only one of many problems we have here with unsourced or poorly sourced profiles. Many of these were created a long time ago, and some of us spend more time than we care to admit looking for sources for other people's unsourced profiles, trying to figure out whether they are duplicates, etc. If I find that a mystery profile has information in the biography that isn't in the data fields (such as a baptism date or a spouse's name), I often will add that info to the data fields to make it easier to work with the profile in the future. (It's much easier to sort through 100 unsourced Sarah Clark profiles if at least some of them have birth dates, birthplaces, and married names.)
Sorry Ellen, I would rather have proven facts than make the data fit the story I want, without accurate sources any changes are no better than fiction.
Please consider adjusting your attitude, Dale. I don't think that contributors who attempt to make minor improvements to "random" unsourced profiles with sparse information that someone else created back in 2011 deserve to be castigated for not devoting ourselves to fully researching every profile we touch.
Ellen , with all due respect. So what you are saying is some people don't have to source? Some people can add a maybe date? A middle name? A married name? What is a minor change.

Ellen, The Question was and still is,  Why are women's Current Last Names being changed to their husband last name when there is no source?  The honor code states in part,

We care about accuracy. We're always aiming to improve upon our worldwide family tree and fix mistakes.

We cite sources. Without sources we can't objectively resolve conflicting information.

My "attitude" is that without sources we are no better than any other tree out there with no sources, so sources should be required for any change such as a name. If I as a profile manager wish to change the LNAB for a profile I manage I have to give a reason, even if it is a simple typing error, so why should you be able to change the Current last name without having a good reason. Yes it could make searching easier, but I have found too many times when searching for sources that it can also make creating errors easier as well.

I chose to follow the honor code when it says we want accurate sourced profiles and unless you have personal knowledge of the person that the profile is about then changing names without a source can not be good genealogy.

I will never make a change to any profile I manage without a source, I am not writing fiction here.

with due respect, the person who changed the CLN on my profiles did so within hours of me creating them, they weren't "old", or "abandoned back in 2011", I was working on a large family group and hadn't even finished adding sources for them.

Gillian, if you have a concern about some edits on profiles that you created, I suggest that you address your concern with the person who made those edits -- or else post a specific "question" here with a link to one of the affected profiles.

In an attempt to understand your comments, I've looked at the change histories of a bunch of profiles that you created (t various times) before April 26 (when you posted here), and I've not found any that were subsequently edited by someone else. Thus, it doesn't look like this has been a chronic problem for you...

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