Help Needed Removing Unknown LNABs

+18 votes

Decided to go through our list of surnames that use Unknown or similar variants. We have people who are working on removing these from our database, and they have made progress in some of the variant substitutes for actual surnames. However, "Unknown" remains our biggest problem.

There are currently 276,976 profiles with "Unknown" as a surname. This has increased by 52,000 since we started the Unknowns Project. Some of these will probably never be replaced since they usually are the names of wives whose Last Name at Birth was lost when they married.

There are a total of 288,784 profiles that could use some research to try to find an accurate Last Name at Birth. If you would like to help, let me know and I will add you to the Unknowns Project.


in Requests for Project Volunteers by Shirley Dalton G2G6 Pilot (536k points)
In some families, the tradition was that the mother's maiden name was given to the first born as a middle name, presumably to preserve it. Ironically, those families tend to have good records.
Your stated question scared me....I think you are trying to replace Unknowns with "known names"   I have several in my family that have been well researched, we have guesses, but will probably always be Unknown.
Thank you for the reminder, Shirley.  I haven't worked on these lately, I'll see if I can't find some to correct.
@ Robin, yes we are trying to replace Unknowns with "known names." However, we do recognize that for many the "known name" will never be found. Since the numbers of unknowns and variants keep increasing, we do our best to try to add names where it is possible.
I know that capital UNKNOWN needs to be replaced with u/lc Unknown, but I hadn't realized that Unknown as an LNAB was considered a problem.  To a careful researcher, it is often a solution.

I'm working on a profile right now where the woman currently has an LNAB -- but it is turning out that her current LNAB is name of a husband, not the surname she was born with.  THAT, we don't know.  So there's a decent chance that within the next week I will convert a "known" LNAB into an Unknown!  Sorry 'bout that!
I would say, if you find a marriage, in the English world, but it doesn't give the bride's father and it doesn't say she was a spinster not a widow, then her maiden name is still Unknown and should be filled in that way.  Not, any name is better than none until we find a better one.
This is a different issue than creating LNABs for people who never had one, i.e. cultures using one name only like ancient Ostrogoths or modern Indonesia.  There it is inappropriate to say the LNAB is Unknown, because it's not a matter of there being one but we just don't know what it is.  In cases like that, we have to create an artificial one, either a tribal or regnal name or a patronymic.
@ Jack – if you have to change it to an Unknown, then so be it. I do realize that there is really no way to eliminate all of the unknown surnames in our database for the very reasons you name and RJ mentions. I have some in my own watchlist that I go back to every once in a while to see if I can locate a name, but still they remain unknown.

@ RJ – it's not a question of replacing Unknown or variant with "any name is better than none." It is simply a suggestion that we do the research in our own watchlist and in the WikiTree database as a whole to try and find  accurate names for these people. A wife who lost her surname due to marriage, is forever going to remain unlinked from the main family tree and her family will be unknown.
This is a really worthwhile exercise. We do need to be careful though that Unknown may start to become considered a problem. It isn't it is a necessary evil.when it's the spouse whose lnab has not been recorded or only noted as the mother in a childs baptism by first name. The spouse showing in a profile makes searching and matching much easier and needs to be encouraged. A lot of people seem reticent to add which is a shame. Any clue is a good one.
Absolutely agree with you. I realize we will always have Unknowns. It is, as you say, a necessary evil. There are, however, many unknown profiles that can benefit from a little research.
can I join in?
Let's not forget those with "Unkown",  Unk, Un or "..." .

Got a whole long list of those variants in a table on the Unknowns Space Page. Check it out.

@ Jack in regards to cultures without first names, I know that in the Native American project they are using the tribe name (eg. Cherokee) as a surname also.

16 Answers

+9 votes
I will help out.
by Dallace Moore G2G6 Pilot (157k points)

Thanks for such a prompt reply. Your offer of help is very welcome.

Visit our Unknowns Project Page and for information on how to help and names that need researching, you can go to The Unknowns Project Space Page. This gives a list in the Table at the bottom of the page of names. It also includes the process used to find and repair unknown names.

+10 votes
I am interested in the Unknown Project.
by N Gauthier G2G6 Pilot (298k points)
edited by N Gauthier
+7 votes
I've been doing that when I come across an unknown LNAB but I didn't know there was a project for it. I will gladly help.
by Sherry Wells G2G6 Mach 1 (18.7k points)
+8 votes
I would be happy to help with any English profiles.
by Hilary Gadsby G2G6 Pilot (321k points)
+6 votes
I can help out.

by Susan McNamee G2G6 Mach 7 (79.3k points)
+5 votes
Is there a way to distinguish profiles that have been worked on and those that have not? More specifically, is there some sort of template to put on profiles whose LNABs will never be known??

I would like to assist by going through my watchlist and editing my Unknown's.

Thanks in advance for your direction!
by Christine Daniels G2G6 Pilot (172k points)
Thanks for wanting to go through your watchlist and editing your Unknowns. If everyone did that, could cut down a bit on the unknown names in our database. There is actually no way we have at the present of indicating that a profile has been reviewed or corrected. That might be something will need to consider.
I have been doing unknown orphaned profiles since last year, been focusing on the hidden unknowns In the orphans though, you know the ones which have been listed by middle initial instead of their last name at Birth, I have a basic profile that I have been using and marking what sources I have checked in either the biography itself, a research progress section or in their source listings. My latest profile that I have done was Lydia A. who turned out to be Lydia Ann TERRY [Per her obituary and marriage record]. - I still have to add her spouses information and her children's list, but she has been identified.
Thanks very much for the work you are doing. We have not included individuals with an initial as a last name in our Unknowns Project. There are many people who choose to use only an initial, so it would be difficult to work on them. So keep up the good work, it is appreciated.
Christine and Shirley,

I think a Research Notes section on the profile is the way to go. This is essentially what Jeanne mentioned, i.e. a research progress section.

Thanks for the work you're doing!

Thanks, Chris, for the suggestion. A Research Notes section would certainly give the information that the profile had been checked. But it does take a little time to add such as section and include, one assumes, all the places that have been looked at. Wish there was a quicker way.
+6 votes
Oh Goody!  A new project.  I'm all in.
by Jo Gill G2G6 Pilot (169k points)

Delighted you want to join our project! You seem to keep pretty busy on WikiTree. We will definitely be glad of your help. 

Since the Unknowns Project is a sub-project of the Profile Improvement Project, I will award you that badge. Please check out our Unknowns Project Page and the Unknowns Project Space page for our task list.. This will tell you how you can help with the project.

I checked out the project page.  I still haven't found LNAB for his mother, but found a Civil War KIA, South Carolina, Jewish cemetery, and a twin.  Sticker mania.
+7 votes

Shirley, this sounds like an interesting area to work on.

I ran a WikiTree+ report using the search criteria 'unknown orphan sussex', just to get a list of those from the English county that I help with. It returned 197 matches, so I've plenty to concentrate on.
Using marriage, census and the birth registrations of their children, I've managed to clear 10 of these, by adopting the profiles and amending the LNAB to what it should be. 
I currently have 9 unknowns on my watchlist, and like many people, I revisit them every now and again, just to see if I can clear them.

Will try and clear a few more from Sussex, those with a birth date after about 1830 are the easiest.

by Carol Keeling G2G6 Mach 8 (83.2k points)

Carol, Thanks so much for what you are doing. We can use a lot of help in England, since so many of us, including me, are in the US. Take a look at the Unknowns Project Page for more info and the Unknowns Space Page for Task List and table of variant names to research.

+4 votes

I would like to join. Just today I came across an unknown and found her marriage and parents so adopted her and fixed it, she was orphaned but married. They actually were using her married name. 

by Terry Fillow G2G6 Mach 8 (82.9k points)

I see you work with both Data Doctors and Sourcerers. That means that you do indeed have the ability to do research and locate sources. We will be happy to have you join the Unknowns Project. Please take a look at our Unknowns project page and the Unknowns Space page for our task list and how to help out. Since the Unknowns Project is a sub- project of the Profile Improvement Project, I will award you that badge.

+6 votes

Hey Shirley!

So I have been thinking about this project and the question I posed re: differentiating between researched and un-researched Unknowns. Yes, this has taken my brain 8 days, LOL. I also read the Project pages for the Unknowns so I hope I have a bit of a grasp of what you are working on, and, BTW, kudos to you! What a project!

I propose a new set of templates to manage what is clearly an overwhelming task of sifting through Unknown LNAB's. Here is what I am thinking:

  1. {{Unsourced | LNAB}} - using the Unsourced template with LNAB after the pipe (as we do when trying to focus a profile to a specific country/state) to identify profiles with the least amount of research, no sources, etc.
  2. {{Unknowns | MNL }} - Maiden Name Lost; if, after researching the profile, it is reasonable to conclude we will never know the LNAB of a married woman
  3. {{Unknowns | NCS }} - No Cultural Surname for those profiles which cannot have a LNAB attached
I considered also other potential templates for Orphans and/or Adoptees; I'm sure the list is long for potential other templates but I think these would probably cover most and get a good start at it. Of course, a Research Notes section should be included for the benefit of other and future researchers.
What do you think? I'm sure also we could manage an Unknowns Challenge!? It wouldn't have to be as large-scale as the SAT or CAT, but maybe little ones to start carving up the list.
As always, I look forward to your (and everyone else's!) input!!
by Christine Daniels G2G6 Pilot (172k points)
Those are some good suggestions. Let me give it a little thought and consult with other members of the Unknowns Project. Might be able to use such categories and eliminate duplicate work, especially for women with Maiden name lost. Thanks for the input.

Subcategories for the Unknown Template is a great idea.  Per WikiTree's guidelines, template names should be clear and specific enough so that anyone who just sees the name could guess at its meaning.  I.e., no acronyms, the subcategories should be explained in a plain language.  

There are examples on the help page I linked.  

+5 votes
I have been participating in a bunch of challenges so I am used to keeping track of what I have been working on. When working on Unknowns, I have to leave messages on the profiles for the profile managers to change the LNAB.

Does Wikitree have any way for me to check which profiles I have left messages on to see whether the PM has ever changed the surname from Unknown to something found ?

Does the unknown project keep track of which profiles have been corrected ?

by N Gauthier G2G6 Pilot (298k points)
We really don't have any way to track the information you're asking about. As far as leaving messages, you might make a to do list on which you can keep the WikiTree IDs of those profiles you have posted messages on.

And there is no way for the Unknowns Project to track profiles that have been corrected. If we were the only ones working on it, that might be possible. But many, many people who are not members of the Unknowns Project make corrections every day. For which I am very grateful.
Shirley & N. Gauthier

If you go to your contributions page and search using the word "posted" you will be able to cycle through every profile you have posted a message
Thanks, Roger. Great suggestion. My brain must have been asleep. I'm a Greeter and see that "Posted" word in my contributions all the time. Should have thought of using it.
+5 votes
I've been working on Finnish unknowns on and off, actually merging 4 "Living Unknown"'s today, so I would like to be a part of this important project.
by Juha Soini G2G6 Pilot (120k points)

We are delighted you want to be part of the Unknowns Project. I am awarding you the Profile Improvement Project badge since Unknowns is a sub-project of PIP. Take a look at the Unknowns Space Page for a Task List and how to make corrections. The Unknowns Project Page has more information on what you can do to help. 

Thank you for all you do for WikiTree. You are definitely an asset to the group.

+4 votes
I'd love to help with the Unknowns project, Shirley!
by Amelia Utting G2G6 Pilot (209k points)

We are delighted you want to be part of the Unknowns Project.Take a look at the Unknowns Space Page for a Task List and how to make corrections. The Unknowns Project Page has more information on what you can do to help. 

+4 votes
I'd like to help.
by Cassandra Miles G2G6 Mach 1 (15.0k points)
Cassandra,, we'd love to have you join us. Please see the pages in the comment above.I'm on my Kindle now so when I get back to my computer I will be able to add the project badge to your profile. Thanks for wanting to help improve Wikitree.
+6 votes

Add me in please Shirley. I do try to do those as I run across them but didn't realise there were so many frown

by Wendy Sullivan G2G6 Pilot (160k points)
Glad to have you Wendy.
+5 votes
I will help on these concentrating on Australia and especially orphaned profiles from anywhere
by Roger Davey G2G6 Mach 3 (36.9k points)
Delighted to have you join us. We can certainly use someone in your area of the world.

Related questions

+10 votes
1 answer
+11 votes
8 answers
+6 votes
2 answers
212 views asked Aug 12, 2021 in Genealogy Help by Debi Hoag G2G6 Pilot (406k points)
+8 votes
2 answers
272 views asked Jan 14, 2017 in Policy and Style by Jack Day G2G6 Pilot (468k points)
+10 votes
4 answers
+13 votes
1 answer
194 views asked Jul 22, 2015 in Policy and Style by Shirley Dalton G2G6 Pilot (536k points)

WikiTree  ~  About  ~  Help Help  ~  Search Person Search  ~  Surname:

disclaimer - terms - copyright