RootsTech 2015

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Wednesday, April 23, 2014

The Good and the Bad of Names, Dates and Places -- Part Three Dates

This is the third in a series about names, dates and places as recorded for genealogical purposes. I am now to the issue of recording dates. You might think this to be a very limited topic. If it were only so! Let's see how inventive our fellow members of the genealogical community can be.

Stating the current standard is easy. Dates are recorded in the European fashion, that is day, then month spelled out and then year. Here is what todays date should look like for genealogy:

23 April 2014

Umm, isn't that easy? As I just wrote, we can only hope. Here are a few of the attempts at this from members of the community. Remember, to a computer program, every character (including punctuation) is important and changes the order when sorting on that particular field. So, abt and abt. are two different categories.
  • abt 2014
  • abt. 2014
  • 23 Apr 2014
  • 23 Apr. 2014
  • 23 April 2014
  • 2014
  • bef 2015
  • bef. 2015
  • aft 2013
  • aft. 2013
One thing to note is that the various genealogy programs force you to enter dates in a certain pattern. Some, allow you to choose the pattern. So you don't see quite the variety that you could see on paper Family Group Records in the past.

Now what about standards. Here, as with names, there are about as many suggested standards as there are entities that think they are necessary. For example, one large online family tree program, Geni.com has the following date standards:
  • The most readable and reliable format for presenting dates is day, month, year; this style is least likely to create confusion when entering, matching, or merging data.
  • Abbreviate months as: Jan, Feb, Mar, Apr, May, Jun, Jul, Aug, Sep, Oct, Nov, Dec without a period. Enter days with double digits and present four digits for the year.
  • If a baptismal date is entered into the birth date field because an actual birth record is not available, then precede the date with a code of “bap” or “chr.” Explain this in the research notes field. Document the date in the source field.
  • Some softwares have a designated field for recording a baptismal or christening date. It is not necessary to code baptismal or christening dates when entered into a designated baptismal field or christening field.
  • Dates can be estimated, if documented as such, by preceding the date with one of the following codes which are all entered without a period: about = “abt” after =“aft” before =“bef” between =“bet” calculated =“cal”
OK, now I would not do a few of these with my own data. Here is another "standard" from Judith Schaefer Phelps entitled "Getting It Right: Data Entry Standards for Genealogists." She cites Slawson, Mary H., 2002, Getting It Right: The Definitive Guide to Recording Family History Accurately, Deseret Book Company, Salt Lake City, 263 pgs. Her standards for dates are as follows:
  • The most readable and reliable format for presenting dates is day, month, year; this style is least likely to create confusion when entering, matching, or merging data.
  • Abbreviate months as: Jan, Feb, Mar, Apr, May, Jun, Jul, Aug, Sep, Oct, Nov, Dec without a period. Enter days with double digits and present four digits for the year.
  • If a baptismal date is entered into the birth date field because an actual birth record is not available, then precede the date with a code of “bap” or “chr.” Explain this in the research notes field. Document the date in the source field.
  • Some softwares have a designated field for recording a baptismal or christening date. It is not necessary to code baptismal or christening dates when entered into a designated baptismal field or christening field.
  • Dates can be estimated, if documented as such, by preceding the date with one of the following codes which are all entered without a period:
  • about = “abt” after =“aft” before =“bef” between =“bet” calculated =“cal”
  • The terms, “Infant,” “Child,” or “Deceased.” are acceptable entries in a death date field, if a death date is unknown. Use the code “Infant” for a stillborn. Use “Infant” for a young individual from birth to age 3. Use “Child” for someone aged 3-8. Use the code “Deceased” for anyone older than age 8, if you have no clue about the death date. Explain the circumstances and your reasoning in the research notes field. Document in the source field.
I think you might get the point about now. You see variations because there are variations and there are no uniform standards. Does it matter? Well, that is an entirely different question. My basic rule is that if it is readable and correct then who cares? What both of these "standards" are trying to do is minimize conflicts when moving data from one format in a certain program to another format in another program. That would seem to be a valid concern. 

The main thing I would disagree with is using any kind of abbreviation. That practice is a hold over from paper forms with limited space. I would also never use just numbers for dates, I would always use the order, day-month-year spelled out. Using numbers is like asking for trouble and mistakes. Other than those suggestions, I would say take your pick. What do you think works?

1 comment:

  1. Totally day-month-year is my preference , always has been ! I am enjoying this series ( like a refresher course) .

    ReplyDelete