Trouble with Current Last Names

+1 vote

There's been a lot of discussion about folks changing women's CLN to their husband's last name either without sources or without otherwise being involved in the profile.

I tend to leave CLN as LNAB because it makes it much easier to figure out who I'm dealing with when entering large amounts of data with very similar, repetitive names and intermarriage between similar families across generations. I do understand the point that people would like a married name to show up in search results.

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.

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. It could also include multiple spellings, i.e.

Other names: Sarah Hawkins, Sarah Hawkin, Sarah Hakin, Sarah Johnson, Sarah Derider.

There are, I am sure, issues with this, but I do not think the current method of documenting and displaying names and the hierarchy of names in a profile is working well.

Thanks - Gary

in Policy and Style by Sevy Kueber G2G6 (7.5k points)

Based on your comments at the earlier G2G you allude to, I infer that your main concern is that you don't think the term "Current Last Name" should apply to a deceased person.

Look at it this way:

The last name displayed on a person's gravestone and in their death records is that person's last name for now and the rest of eternity. It's never going to change.

Ellen - that's one example of what I think is a failing of the current system. A woman may have married (let's say for a 2nd or 3rd time)  at age 70 and changed her name and then passed away at 78. I don't think treating her name during ~10% of her life as the predominant name is very helpful. Depending on the records available, the name on her tombstone may be small footnote in her historical record. If she published articles throughout her life, her 'predominant' name may be that name vs. what's on her tombstone.

Or she may not even have a tombstone if she was cremated.

On most genealogy programs  a woman  would always have her last name at birth and no married name.

 Wiki tree differs in this and adds the last married name . It maybe that  it's just aesthetics but to me if you are going to have the married names they I agree with Gary  that you should include all such names.

  At the moment I feel that  using AKA for earlier married names lumps  them together with alternative spellings and aliases It somehow reduces their importance   (caveat: I have no idea how hard it would be to change and that obviously may be an important factor)

5 Answers

0 votes
I agree Gary; it's the rule serious genealogists follow.  I even identify the wives in my mind by their maiden names because it is more meaningful than just using the husband's name, e.g., Mary Jones wife of John Smith, especially since they likely have a daughter Mary Smith as well.


But most people on WikiTree are not serious genealogists; they come here mostly from  And the Wiki doesn't have all the standard features that any good genealogy program does.  So they do things differently here.  The name display is a minor annoyance to me compared to so many unsourced and incorrectly linked profiles.  And considering a lot of the wild guesses that are used for maiden names, maybe use of married names is not so out of place for this site.
by Living Anonymous G2G6 Mach 5 (52.3k points)
Thanks Mikey - I agree about sources, although one thing I like about Wikitree is that (aside from the annoying private profile for someone dead 100 years) most profiles can be improved, sources added, unsourced material questioned, etc. I'm a big fan of that one-tree, multiple collaborator model vs. the perpetuation of uncorrectable disinformation on Ancestry. There is another long thread on G2G about insufficient sources for changing the CLN.

My major point here is that arguments over what CLN could be avoided with a better data presentation/categorization model that treats all modifications to names from LNAB as equal, rather than elevating the 'last name at death' to a most prominent position.

Thanks - Gary

♫ Teach Your Children ♪

"And the Wiki doesn't have all the standard features that any good genealogy program does."  POPPYCOCK ! it is what we all make it. HAGD :)

+4 votes
I'm afraid I have to disagree with the idea that changing last names when women get married is not the default position, at least in the US.  IMO more married women would be upset than pleased with such a change.  Obviously if a woman wants to keep her maiden name, have a hyphenated name or anything else that should be respected, but the default should still be her husbands current last name unless superceded by either common use or explicit evidence.  Other positions are, again IMO, mere political correctness.
by Living Dardinger G2G6 Pilot (449k points)
Dave - it's not a political thing. I didn't say that I was concerned about women not changing their names when they married, although I've known a lot of women of all political persuasions that don't. My concern is that a woman (or others) may have many names throughout her life, and "current last name" doesn't capture that adequately.

Dave Gary is not taking the position that women do not or did not change their names but rather the position that serious and/or professional genealogists do not use that format. This is the only program I have seen since the 1980;s that has that option. I am not saying it is good or bad but those are the facts.
Ok, Let's stipulate that LNAB for a woman never changes (except when an error is found in the previously accepted LNAB. And I agree that we're talking here about CLN, which might change several times in a woman's life.  And I further accept that a serious genealogist would only be concerned with the LNAB. which might but usually isn't the same as the CLN.  So why are we having a discussion about the CLN?  Ostensively the claim is that it's being changed to a married name "without a reason".  But this seems hard for me to fathom.  If you don't know that a woman was married, where could a CLN come from?  It would obviously have to be a tree or record of some sort.  Now to have a complete bio of a profile you should have one or more sources for every date or place or connection in the profile.  But right now the desire of WikiTree is AFAIK that each profile have at least one source for each profile, not for each date, place or connection.  Thus CLN would not be an important item except insofar as it's a proxy for a marriage connection.  

Now as to what the value of a CLN is is in searching for information on someone.  I'm sure everyone here has spent time searching first using LNAB and then one or more other last names And sometimes even using a given name in a certain location.  Depending on what database you're working with, it might take a number of tries to feel you've tried every way you can to find what you want and it's not in that database.  And sometimes I presume you end up looking through the entire database or a portion of it just to be certain, I know I have and a few times with success.  So my bottom line is that searching using a married name is quite often the easiest way to look for a woman in a database.  It's also often the only last name we know and perhaps that even exists.  Saying you shouldn't change a CLN without a "good" source is just making the best the enemy of the good.
First Dave this will be my last comment on this topic. I never said we needed a "good" source, just a source. The current guidelines state in part that the CLN is the name the person used at the time of death or what they are using at this time so just because someone got married that does not prove that they took their husbands name, we want  a source, any source.  As for searching, I use for most of my research and more than once today when I just had the woman's birth names and dates I found that the first record suggested was her Find a Grave memorial that used her married name. The only time Ihave to put her married name in my search page is when I want to try and find her in census records after her marriage, but then it no longer shows records prior to marriage so having the CLN on the profile is not any help in my research. As a final note if you read my answer to this question this has been discussed since at least 2012 and I see no signs that this debate will change or that WikiTree will change their policy on this because in the discussion I linked to in my answer Chris stated in part "Don't forget that WikiTree isn't just for genealogy. It's for modern family history as well, and it's intended to be user-friendly for non-genealogists. That's one reason why we might sometimes deviate from "standard genealogical practice" in certain contexts. It needs to be considered in each decision."
Well, I wouldn't have even responded to the initial post if it hadn't been that several people were agreeing that you had to / should have to have a source to change the CLN and I didn't want there to only be one side of the issue presented.  This is a collaborative site but not a group hug site, I'd think.  I'll make one more try to present my point and then I'll stop too.  When someone changes a CLN it's because they've seen the one they enter attached to someone they think the profile in question is.  The two major places this CLN would come from would be a family tree or a census.  Since i have a subscription to I can go to the tree corresponding to where I have the data which corresponds to that profile and then do a search, which will normally show some trees or censuses or as you mention, a FindAGrave page and then if this new CLN appears, I can make a source from it.  If it doesn't appear anywhere, I'd then try to contact the WikiTreer who made the change and ask for the source, explaining that you want to know where it came from.  If that doesn't work out, then sure change it back.  But frankly I think that would be <1% of the time.
+9 votes
It's very difficult to work up any adrenaline over this "issue."  In my understanding, our convention is to populate the CLN field with the surname the person was using at the time of his/her death.  There is nothing about it that designates it a "predominant" surname if there were multiple surnames, and the use of the adjective "current" seems like a minor semantics matter that causes no confusion.  The hierarchy of surnames can be shown clearly in a profile, and it can be explained in the Bio if that is necessary or desirable.  And having the CLN field in no way impedes a search by any other surname.  So I don't see what isn't working, or what problem needs to be solved.  And the patronizing comments of Mikey Anonymous aside, use of this convention does not brand any profile manager as a non-serious researcher.
by Dennis Barton G2G6 Pilot (575k points)
Dennis - it seems like a lot of adrenaline is pumping over this 'issue', which I agree is nothing earth shattering, nor did I portray it as such. I simply think last names are not implemented as well as they could be. As an example - if you add a child to a father who has been married twice, Wikitree asks whether of one of the two spouses. It only uses CLN, not Name (LNAB) CLN. I have more than a few cases where men married two women with the same first name. So Wikitree asks (if the man's surname is Johnson, which in one case it is,) if the child being added is the child of Susan Johnson or Susan Johnson.

I disagree with your statements about minor semantics, and your statement dismissing my concerns about "predominant surname," although I respect that you have a different view of this than me.

I wouldn't be worried about this in the least if people did what they felt was appropriate on profiles they managed. But people seem to feel the need to come change the CLN on multiple profiles I manage to whatever they gather in 5 minutes of perusal is the best married name without otherwise engaging me or collaborating on the profile. If those folks would just leave the profiles I manage alone, we can all go about our business just fine. I brought this up in order to try to find some solution that would make them happy without messing up the profiles I manage.

Well, that's a different issue.  There is a page with guidelines as to when members should communicate with a profile manager before editing a profile:

and if there's a repeat offender you have discussed the matter with and haven't reached a resolution, there's also this:

Good luck with getting that resolved.
+4 votes

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by Anonymous Vickery G2G6 Pilot (264k points)
0 votes
Gary While I agree with you, this has been discussed since 2012, see

With that in mind I do not see much chance for your proposal to be implemented.
by Dale Byers G2G Astronaut (1.7m points)
Thanks Dale - I appreciate you letting me know that there's a longer history of discussion here. I would have hoped that Wikitree wouldn't have gotten sclerotic and closed to new ideas already. But the dismissive and non-collaborative reactions on this discussion board seem to bear that out.

I'll just stick with doing genealogy, and when random people change the CLN on my profiles, I'll just keep changing it back to what works for me.

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