How to handle profiles with "unknown last names".

+8 votes
I have numerous ancestors with "unknown last names" but I haven't created WikiTree profiles for them.   I just noticed that there are almost  300,000 profiles with the surname  "Unknown".   Is that how we're handling these poor lost ancestors  (mainly women)?    I have census level information on them but thought perhaps it was premature to create a profile.
in Policy and Style by Peggy McReynolds G2G6 Pilot (477k points)

3 Answers

+8 votes
Best answer

It is unfortunate but true, that many times we have no name for one of our ancestors. This happens frequently when a woman marries and her own name is superseded by her husband's surname. In that case we do use "Unknown" to replace her surname. For information on naming conventions on WikiTree look at Name Fields.

by Shirley Dalton G2G6 Pilot (540k points)
selected by Ellen Smith
Hi Shirley,

So great to run into you again.... (Last summer you helped me on a messy profile I was working on.)

Anyway,  the link in your message didn't work for me so I went to the WikiTree help index  (what a novel concept,  wonder why I didn't use it first!)  and the  "Last Name At Birth"  topic actually says to use  "Unknown"  if you don't know the Last Name At Birth.

I'm going to use this approach frugally;  only for profiles that I have a lot of information on AND I think there's not much chance of future research providing me with the birth surname.


Hi Peggy, nice to hear from you again. Sorry the link didn't work. I've edited my reply so hopefully this time it will work. It is advisable to use "Unknown" sparingly. But sometimes we have to.
+7 votes

When you need an unknown profile, consider choosing one of the orphaned profiles in the Recycle Unknowns Category rather than creating a new profile.

I've done that a couple of times and it's worked well.

by Debi Hoag G2G6 Pilot (412k points)
I certainly do it!
+3 votes
Hi Peggy,  I try not to create new Unknown profiles until I have run out of possible sources for a last name at birth.  What I mean is, often I have census data for a family that tells me Joe Smith married Jane.  Before I create an Unknown profile for Jane, I put in Joe's biography that he was married to Jane in the 1910 census.  Then I look at more possibilities to try and find her last name at birth.  Sometimes there is a marriage record and other times her parents are in the same house in another census.  Often, FinAGrave will tell me her maiden name.  So I try to wait until I have researched a bit to find Jane's maiden name.  I feel better if I can give her a surname other than Unknown.
by Kitty Smith G2G6 Pilot (661k points)
I totally agree.   Until I've exhausted my research options, I don't want to create a "Unknown" profile. However,  I do have a few  "Unknown" last names that are incredible brick walls and I have some information that's worth documenting.  

Thanks for responding!

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