In Search of the Wild LNUs

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A long time ago in a kingdom far away there lived a fairmaiden by the name of Fnu MNU. She married a handsome  young knight named Sir Arthur LNU and thusshe became Fnu (MNU) LNU. Wait!  Stop!Does this sound a bit like a page out of YOUR family tree?

Are  you spendingsleepless nights prowling the Web in search of your elusive MNU  and LNU ancestors?  Or perhaps you've encountered them insomeone's  GEDCOM file on WorldConnect atRootsWeb, and after doing more searches have come to the conclusion that there are many researchers out therehunting  those wild and crazy LNUs.

Well, it's time to let you in on one of  genealogy's best kept secrets: LNU, MNU, andFNU are not real names. They are acronyms. (Acronyms are combinations of the first letters/syllables ina  group of words to form a new groupingof letters that can be pronounced as a word.) They are:

  •  First Name Unknown (FNU)
  •  Maiden Name Unknown (MNU)
  • Last Name Unknown (LNU)

Theyare first cousins to the mysterious UNK  ancestors that you might have spent timetracking down until you realized  thatUNK was short for "unknown."

Researchers have used these acronyms  and other symbols and abbreviations foryears, with little or no uniformity  fromfile to file, to indicate the unknown or missing names. The meaning of  these acronyms is often unclear and can bemistaken for actual names by  new‑and notso new‑genealogists. After all, we all have a few  oddly spelled names in our trees, so what's aMNU or two?

On another  note, becareful should you encounter any DITTO ancestors in your line. DITTO  is an actual surname, but it is frequentlymistaken as a surname by those  readingan enumerator's "ditto" entry to denote that the name is the sameas  the one listed above it. (DITTO andDITTOE are Anglicized forms of a Huguenot name of unexplained etymology. The names are found in North America by1700.  Ditto also is a short form of theItalian personal name  Benedetto.)

All of this name confusion serves to reinforce the notion  that while user-compiled genealogies are avaluable tool in research, you  need toexamine original records to verify or refute what the compiled  records indicate. When possible examine therecords for yourself.

What  can you do tomake your files clear as to the abbreviation or acronyms you  use to indicate any unknown given names,maiden names, or surnames? There are  noperfect solutions or worldwide standards. Some compilers, especially those  who use genealogy software, put a questionmark to indicate that a name is  notknown, but this is not recommended as some creative family historians use  one question mark, while others use two orthree, and a ? for a name might  mean onething to you and something else to another researcher

A  recent unscientificsearch at WorldConnect revealed  the following are being used as names:

Unknown--  2,742,761

LNU/Lnu -- 14,134

UNK/Unk --  39,332

FNU -- 139

MNU/Mnu --  3,357

?? -- 78,201

?,? --  605,694

??? -- 140,665

___ (underscores of  variablelengths) 6,244

- (one hyphen) 6,491

MRS/Mrs (as a given name) -- 555,699

[--?--]  3,125

Obviously there is no standard for indicating that a name isnot  known‑hence the confusion. Thesearch even turned up an ancestor by the name of Unk FNU -- with FNU probably used as an acronym for FamilyName  Unknown. Not surprisingly there wasno birth date or place for her and one wonders why such information is even included. It serves  no purpose.

Unknown maiden names should be indicated by using square  brackets with a single em dash (or twohyphens, if the software, typesetting  orword processing programs will not accept or use em dashes), or use a  question mark amid the em dashes -- e.g.Catherine [--] or Catherine  [--?--].

The same format can be used when the given name is unknownor in  doubt. The latter happenssometimes when you learn your female ancestor married someone whose surname is known, but not his given name.Such  references can be recorded as  [--?--] Smith. Some of the popular  genealogy software has to be forced to usethis format.

In formal genealogical writing, the English tradition of putting a woman's maidenname  in parentheses -- Elizabeth (Smith)Jones -- is commonly used by many genealogists. Therefore nicknames should not be put in parentheses,but  rather enclosed in quotation marks.Example: Catherine "Cathy" [--?--] Jones.  Again, your genealogy software program may ormay not handle nicknames in  this formator might require some tweaking. For those female ancestors with  middle names that might be (or mistaken for)surnames, such as Mary Morgan  Kirby, itis important to indicate that Kirby is her maiden name. If her  nickname was Polly, and she married a Smithher name should be recorded so  that in afamily history publication it appears as: Mary "Polly" Morgan  (Kirby) Smith.

Remember you do not have to fill in every field in your  genealogy software. If you do not know thegiven or maiden name of a  woman, eitherleave the field blank or use [--?--]. Her given name is not  MRS, and certainly not Mrs. King William ofEngland.

Using acronyms or various symbols when names are unknown isnot a good idea because you want to  makeit clear that the name is unknown so as not to send others and  generations of future researchers on anendless and futile search for the  wildLNU. Don't put your cousins in the position of having to ask "What's  MNU? Or who is Unk FNU?

Previously published in RootsWeb

Review: Vol.  6, No.35, 27 August 2003

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January 18, 2014
Wesley is the founder of

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