Genealogy Data Entry Techniques

In the course of a week, I get to see a lot of genealogy data. Some of what I see is abysmal. Many otherwise highly-skilled genealogists do not seem to know that their keyboards have a SHIFT key! Instead, they simply turn on CAPS LOCK and then ignore upper and lower case after that.

Of course, the use of UPPER CASE text has a long history in the computer business. The mainframes of the 1960s and 70s only used upper case text. Data typically was entered on 80-column punch cards. The IBM 026 keypunch machine, the most popular keypunch machine ever built, indeed did not have a shift key and was incapable of entering lower case text.

By the late 1970s, all of this had changed, and data was being entered from computer terminals in normal upper and lower case. However, not everyone got the word. It seems that a number of people do not realize that the keyboards of the twenty-first century have improved since those “stone age” computers of 40 or 50 years ago.

Here are two short examples produced by a popular genealogy program. Which one do you find easier to read?

Example 1:

4. JOSEPH PATRICK KENNEDY, SON OF PATRICK JOSEPH KENNEDY AND MARY AUGUSTA HICKEY, WAS BORN ON 6 SEP 1888 IN BOSTON, MA,2 DIED ON 18 NOV 1969 IN HYANNIS PORT, MA, AT AGE 81, AND WAS BURIED IN HOLYHOOD CEMETERY, BROOKLINE, MA.

GENERAL NOTES: FROM THE TIME HE WAS A SCHOOL BOY HE WAS INTERESTED IN MAKING MONEY. HE HAD AN INTERESTING HOBBY OF TINKERING WITH CLOCKS. JOE WAS A POOR STUDENT, BUT GOOD AT ATHLETICS AND HAD AN ATTRACTIVE PERSONALITY. HE WAS ABLE TO OVERCOME MANY ETHNIC BARRIERS DURING HIS SCHOOL YEARS AT BOSTON LATIN, A PROTESTANT AND PRIMARILY YANKEE SCHOOL. WAS ONE OF THE YOUNGEST BANK PRESIDENTS IN US HISTORY. HE WAS FIERCELY PROUD OF HIS FAMILY. HE WAS QUOTED AS HAVING SAID HIS FAMILY WAS THE FINEST THING IN HIS LIFE. JOE KENNEDY WAS A VERY HARD WORKER, WHICH OFTEN DETERIORATED HIS HEALTH. AT TIMES HE WAS HOSPITALIZED FOR HIS RUN DOWN CONDITION.

Example 2:

4. Joseph Patrick Kennedy, son of Patrick Joseph Kennedy and Mary Augusta Hickey, was born on 6 Sep 1888 in Boston, MA,2 died on 18 Nov 1969 in Hyannis Port, MA, at age 81, and was buried in Holyhood Cemetery, Brookline, MA.

General Notes: From the time he was a school boy he was interested in making money. He had an interesting hobby of tinkering with clocks. Joe was a poor student, but good at athletics and had an attractive personality. He was able to overcome many ethnic barriers during his school years at Boston Latin, a protestant and primarily Yankee school. Was one of the youngest Bank Presidents in US history. He was fiercely proud of his family. He was quoted as having said his family was the finest thing in his life. Joe Kennedy was a very hard worker, which often deteriorated his health. At times he was hospitalized for his run down condition.

I certainly prefer to read the second example. The first one is much more difficult to read – so difficult that I may miss important information.

If you are entering genealogy data, please take pity on the future readers of your text. Please use upper and lower case characters, the same as you learned in grade school. Your fourth-grade teacher probably would have flunked you if you used all upper case in her class. Guess what? I’ll also give you a grade of “F” if I see your genealogy data in all upper case!

Yes, there is a shift key on your computer. In fact, you can probably find two of them. Please use them only when appropriate.

In a future newsletter article, I may write about spelling, punctuation, and grammar. In the meantime, I can suggest some good reading for you:

Professional Genealogy: A Manual for Researchers, Writers, Editors, Lecturers, and Librarians edited by Elizabeth Shown Mills (It says “professional,” but don’t let that scare you; it is packed full of tips for us amateurs as well). This book is available at many bookstores as well as at Amazon.com at http://amzn.to/2Amr3iO.

Tips for Standardized Genealogy Data Entry at http://www.managedoutsource.com/blog/2016/11/tips-for-standardized-genealogy-data-entry.html

Getting It Right: Data Entry Standards for Genealogists by Judith Schaefer Phelps: http://www.columbinegenealogy.com/pdfs/Getting%20It%20Right.pdf

13 Comments

Almost as bad – a forum member insisted on Capitalizing Every Word He Typed, insisting that it took no longer to do so, while ignoring others’ protests that his posts were hard to read.

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Anything written in ALL CAPS, especially long bits of text, reduces readability by 40% because ALL CAPS eliminates the visual “cues” we instinctively look for when we read. A capitalized letter signals the beginning of a new sentence, a proper noun of adjective, etc. DON’T USE ALL CAPS–unless you’re trying to draw attention to something, of course!

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The only time I use all caps is when entering the names of my direct ancestors in my family tree, or referring to them in an email. It makes it easier to distinguish between JOHN SMITH and other John Smith in the family tree. Also I can spot my direct ancestor right away from a list of 16 children! Much easier to navigate / find ones direct lineage that way.

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Lower case is much easier to read; however, in a genealogy course, the SURNAMES were to be in all capital letters according to the rules. This makes it very easy to read and skim to pick out relevant names…..isn’t this still the correct format?????

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I agree totally about CAPS for surnames – apart from standing out it also takes away the confusion when a surname could also be used as a given name and vice versa. And forgive me – I confess to being in the older group of genealogists – poor spelling, punctuation and grammar can impact your research skills. If you aren’t pedantic about these just how good and thorough is your research? I try not to be biased but sometimes I do the old-fashioned …. tut, tut! 🙂

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So how do you distinguish the surname? Why you distinguish it because it’s in the surname field in your database and not the forename field! Surname or no, normal capitalisation of word rules should be followed when entering text into the database. The only time that an extra capital letter should be inserted into a surname is when normal use shows it, such as O’Brien or McDonald.

The point about using block capitals in direct ancestors is perhaps a more useful one, but I certainly hope that if those ancestors are contributed to the Familysearch tree that the block capitalisation is removed in the entries. However there are many more tools than entering a surname incorrectly to show direct ancestors. Proper genealogy databases will show relationships back to the root person of the tree. Proper genealogy databases will allow the highlighting of portions of the tree in different colours using sets of rules. Please also note that I am not referring to PAF when talking about proper genealogy databases.

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    Most modern genealogy software includes a feature that allows you to choose to have surnames displayed and printed in your choice of standard or upper-case and switch back and forth depending on what you’re doing at the time, however you must enter your data using standard capitalization (as “MacDonald” rather than “MACDONALD” or “MAC DONALD”) in order for this feature to work. Now, what I need is software that will convert the all cap surnames from my first (pre-PAF) genealogy program into standard form. I’d do it manually, but that first software also did not allow for attachment of source references and I’m still going through my hard copy files of documents research notes in order to add them to the database. Maybe I’ll get around to fixing the surnames before I die, meanwhile, please bear with me. 🙂

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Within some genealogy databases (and Legacy is the one I’m familiar with), there exists the option to display or print a surname in u/c even if it has been entered with normal capitalisation rules. Thus, if you enter the surname with normal capitalisation, you can display or print in EITHER normal capitalisation or in u/c. But if you enter the surname in u/c, you have limited yourself – you don’t have the option of displaying or printing in normal capitalisation format.

For non-database usage, such as in emails or letters, then Susan and Susie are quite correct – putting surnames in u/c is so much better for readability and comprehension.

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Try to read text by those pretentiously aspiring to be e e cummings – no caps and little, or no, or erroneously-placed punctuation (samples on his Wikipedia page, although I notice they have him correctly listed as E. E. Cummings). It’s as distracting as trying to read all caps.

Other errors: not knowing when to connect two words with a hyphen, or when not to do so, not knowing when to use who/whom, their/they’re/there, then/than, know/no, woman/women, here/hear and the newest bastardization of American English is “could of, would of, should of” in place of could’ve, would’ve, should’ve. When encountering the three newest errors, I literally stop reading and click off of whatever web site I was reading.

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While we are on the subject of grammar, isn’t the phrase “age 47 years old” tautology?

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    Are you citing a recent publication?

    I believe that style of writing was common during much earlier times, well before Strunk and White. Small towns published obituaries that were needlessly flowery and documented the decedent’s entire life. At the same time, large cities generally published death notices that only gave a name, age, surviving family, and time and location of the funeral.

    I’d also argue that while it is tautology, genealogy is an arena of multiple ages and dates. An error in grammatical style is preferred, if it helps clarify and remove all doubt about what is being stated.

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all caps are frowned and discouraged from FamilySearch. Users are encouraged to change them when spotted. Leftover from Ancestral File, still in, still being found, still redone, time spent taken away from new entries.

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When I started in genealogy a few decades ago, the then standard was that surnames were to be printed in all caps. But this was before computer based genealogy programs or even standard word processors were wide spread. All caps was the only way to highlight a surname.

With modern computer tools, this is no longer true. I can highlight a surname by using a bold font, using a color (font or background), or underlining the data. All of these are easier to remove when desired.

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