Saturday, January 12, 2013


Trudy asks:
"Would you address using all caps for the surname? I don’t use all caps but when I read a story I do like to scan for information about the surname I am looking for and like it when they are in all caps so I can quickly pick them out. What are the pros and cons of using all caps in a database?"

The standard used to be that you typed surnames in all caps. Why? Most early genealogy books either contained no index or an index by last name only. If you had the surnames typed in all caps, it was easier to scan the page for the person you were looking for. For example, if you were looking for Elijah Davis and the index had 42 pages listed for the Davis surname you can imagine it would be hard to fully read 42 pages looking for Elijah. You could turn to those pages and quickly scan and the word DAVIS would stick out saving you time. Most genealogy books today are indexed with full names making it less of an issue. Elijah Davis will appear in the index with just the pages he is listed on.

Today most people use just first letter caps. In formal reports you can use all caps but make them small caps, 2 points smaller than the main text, which is more pleasing to the eye. When you use small caps, it is common to small cap the entire name of the main person of interest (NGSQ Style). Most genealogy programs will allow you to type names in using first letter caps and then you can tell your reports to put surnames in all caps BUT it won't convert to small caps, at least Legacy won't. I have sent a suggestion in for this. Here are three examples from a formal report:


In this example, the entire name of the person of interest is in small caps at 10 points. The rest of the text is at 12 points. It is done this way because that is the standard of the National Genealogical Society Quarterly (NGSQ).


This one has all of the surnames in small caps at 10 points. I think this one looks good too though it doesn't quite conform to the NGSQ standards.


And this is the same text with all caps surnames at 12 points.

I personally think that using all full-size caps is more cumbersome to read. Don't worry though, the genealogy police will not come after you if you prefer all cap surnames. As long as you are CONSISTENT with how you do things then no problem. So tell me, readers, which one do you prefer to read? It would be better if I had an entire page of these styles but it would take up too much space.

Stay tuned. Tomorrow will be a part II on styles.

Copyright © 2013 Michele Simmons Lewis


  1. I prefer all caps surnames, because that eliminates possible confusion with multiple middle names and two-part surnames.

    I have no preference between small caps and full caps, as it is a matter of practicality for me, not aesthetics.

  2. In that case I would go for the small caps and then you would have the best of both worlds :)

    I can understand your point, especially when you have middle names that can double as a surname. One thing I will say is when writing out a female's name, the maiden part of if goes in parentheses. In my example above, you can see that Woody married Nellie (Kelley) Boone. Kelley is her maiden name and Boone her first married name. That helps avoid some confusion.

  3. Proabably not a genealogy standard as they usually recommend standardization but I put my direct ancestors in my FTM file and all posted files in all caps. When I'm working on the tree, I can immediately identify my direct ancestors vs the family members connected to them.

  4. I am not sure about FTM but Legacy Family Tree has a way to identify all of your direct line ancestors. They are bolded on the screens. They don't print that way, you can just see it when you are working on your file. It is an easy way to navigate though to other parts of your tree. You can just keep clicking the bolded people until you get to where you need to be!

  5. I think mixed case is more accurate because some names, like McDonald or VanHeusen, are mixed case.

  6. Excellent! I will tell you that people that use all caps (and I have to do this when I use small caps) is this...

    McDONALD, McHENRY etc. With VanHeusen your only choice is VANHEUSEN.