General Keying Guidelines

Over the past few weeks we’ve seen a lot of questions regarding how information should be keyed.  So that we’re all on the same page we’ve taken the most common questions, found the answers, and posted them all in one place, an online article found here.          

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The article is helpful. It reinforced my understanding that you had moved to asking (generally) for full 4-digit years and spelled-out month names. And it clarified that I shouldn’t use wildcards when I can’t interpret a letter, which I did not know previously. However, I’m not sure you’ve really provided an alternative to the use of wildcards for when I am clear that a letter is present, but I can’t tell what it is supposed to be…

Thanks, though, I think this is a good start to some general principles for keying.

This whole time I’ve been entering initials with periods after them. Would this have messed up my accuracy rating really bad? I don’t know how you guys figure that, but I hope mine isn’t terrible because of this. 🙁

So do we enter the initials with or without a space? For example, should it be HB Stowe or H B Stowe?

The article did clear up some things. What I read originally led me to believe that you could use wildcard options when you could not interpret a letter and I used them a couple of times. I won’t anymore… and I agree with the second comment, I have been typing in periods if they put periods & not putting them if they didn’t, I know now to skip them altogether. I am with her, I try to do the keying correctly & I too hope this didn’t mess up my accuracy too much… maybe someone can answer this, I have come across several where the name given is a one gender, it list the relationship as the fitting gender, but the gender listed in the box is obviously wrong
(ie. Rose, daughter, M). What is the proper thing to do, do you type it exactly as it is, even if you know it is an error by the name & the relationship?

YOUR ANSWE =(Should I include the ? or * symbols when characters are unrecognizable? -The ? (question mark) and * (asterisk) may be used as wildcard tools when entering data using the list of suggested entries. They can be very helpful as you attempt to decipher handwriting. However, they should never be in the text that is recorded in the form.) MY QUESTION = It still remains unanswered – if I see there is a letter/number in a name OR a group of letters/numbers that CAN NOT be read what do I use if a ? OR * is not allowed. Sometimes the original source is simply bad and one or more letters is missing or illegible. What do we use???
Please provide further clarification on this problem.

I just submitted census records where I used punctuation. I watched the webinar; now that you have jogged my memory I won’t use it next time. I wish I had read blog before I hit send!

I have been working on the New England Naturalization records. What do you do for those images which are obviously the back of the card? I have been keying them as blank, but normally I know that the person is the same as the last one keyed, and sometimes there is no date given on the front of the card (often because the naturaliztion petition was denied.)

Second, do you figure the residence based on the State that the court is in when only the name of the town is given, or leave it blank?

Third, do you enter the county as Denmark when what is listed is “Dane” or enter what is there?

How does one become an evaluator?

I second Candy’s question about the genders. I’ve come across this several times, where the name and relationship indicate a different gender than the “F” or “M” column.

Loved this….would like more of these things to come round if it relates to all this…..please give us more guidance….even specific guidance on certain projects would be fabulous!!!

Keep it coming!

I ‘third’ Candy and DeeDee’s posts about genders. I also want to know how to handle letters that we just can’t make out. We need some very specific guidelines here.

I’ve been working on the Nebraska 1885 census and have found a number of entries for names of cities/areas rather than countries or states as the place of origin. I’ve entered them as they are stated i.e. “Boston” or “Hanover”. Is this correct?

I saw something in Phyllis’ question which prompts me to comment – I’ll see in a census that a person initially told the enumerator a city, let’s say “Hamburg” and then it will be crossed out and Germany or “Ger” is written in – I have been including the city AND country as it seemed part of the whole answer AND it provides a specific detail to a searcher … this happens with other locales … does Ancestry want that additional detail?
In directions we are told if we understand that “Ger” stands for Germany to use Germany – if we know that a locale, a city given as “Berlin” is in Germany – do we use “Berlin” or Germany, because we know Berlin is in Germany? And with parents born in Germany it’s likely that the Berlin shown is not Berlin, Wisconsin.
I have been changing the gender if both name & relationship indicates otherwise – is this okay? I appreciate knowing that I should not use periods. I have been using a space between initials, is that okay?

Thanks this has cleared up a lot. But what do I do when The country of Birth or Allegiance has to places listed? Such as in the New England Naturalization Indexes: Norway & Sweden and Great Britian & Ireland. Also can I just leave a field blank or do I have to click on the blank button for every blank field. I think that I have been doing it wrong. Thanks

Where will you post the answers to all of these good questions? I think the specific questions asked and your answers will be much more helpful than the basics presented here.

I have always keyed in place names as given in the original document as one cannot assume a location just as an abbreviated name can have a number of interpretations. Also, the map of Europe has changed considerably over the years so that, for example, to use Germany in place of Barvaria for a birthplace at a date when it was not part of the German Empire would be historically incorrect.
With regard to comment number 2, I have always used a space between initials as this automatically accepted by the system.
I am another who has used wildcards in place of unidentifiable characters when keying in. In my own records I use use _ in place of any character that I have been unable to read on the original document/image. This could be a solution.

I too endorse the fact we need guidance on unidentifiable characters if we cannot use wildcards. I also think the “help” given on the keying in “page” is misleading.
Another problem I have encountered with the county in UK criminal records – often the county town and not the county is named in the records. I stick to the rule of entering what is written and then have to confirm the entry because it is not a recognised county. Is this an instance where we should interpret “Lancaster” is the county town of Lancashire and enter the county etc?


Lancashire is the name of the County, so I have been entering Lancashire for Lancaster, Derbyshire for Derby, etc. The only time I have deviated so far is when a city which was also a county has come up, such as Bristol. Bristol was later in Somerset and is now in Avon but at the time of the records was a county in its own right. I’ve keyed it as Bristol.

Hope that helps.

I thought it might be helpful to post a link to the pre 1974 counties of England. As you can see the county was Lancashire, not Lancaster. A more difficult translations is know that Salop refers to Shropshire. If I find a useful site for alternative names for the counties, I’ll post it here.

Since 1974 British counties have come and gone. I have lived in Surrey for over 25 years and only recently have they decided (I’m not sure its official yet) to move County Office from Kingston upon Thames to Woking. Kingston upon Thames has been in the Greater Borough of London since at least 1974.

Confused? I think we are still trying to muddle the Nazis invasion!

I agree the article is helpful, however I think the comment relating to abbreviated names is also rather mis-leading. I have been transcribing the criminal records & a lot of the Forenames are abbreviated but with recognised abbreviations i.e. Wm, Edwd, Richd, etc and we are advised to key as per the record however when it comes to Joseph this is abbreviated to Jos with a raised h which becomes Josh, which is a name in itself? Not only that but when searching for records people normally use the full names! Surely it makes more sense to key the proper name when it is obvious?

Meant to add in the last post – Julie S has commented on Lancaster – this is a place in Lancashire not an abbreviation for Lancashire, same as Derby is a place in Derbyshire – these are not counties!

Leanne, I have read elsewhere on another thread that Ancestry wishes Josh (whether written with a small h above or as a name) to be written as Josh. Their choice.

The comments regarding Derby and Lancaster refer to the Criminal Records where the County is given as Lancaster rather than Lancashire. Why Lancaster is used rather than Lancashire with regard to the County name, I do not know, but it is common usuage on census forms, parish returns as well as the criminal records. In that sense it is an alternative for Lancashire. That there is a town in Lancashire called Lancaster I don’t dispute or that for that matter that there is a Duke of Lancaster rather than Lancashire.

Good help is provided here.

I’d also like the answers to the questions posted here.

Also, is the “field help” in the actual keying tool (lower right corner) consistent with these guidelines? On the Nebraska census I was sure they asked you to key the word months for partial years (i e 8 months rather than 8/12). Perhaps I dreamed this, but I don’t think so.

When keying in data which includes a title, eg Captain or Sir or Mrs, I have been ignoring these as they are obviously not the name of the person. However, I read in your guidelines about punctuuation that we should enter Mrs. where shown. Can we have a ruling on titles please.

Re Judith’s comment about titles: it was my understanding that titles should be keyed under ‘prefix’ and things like Jr., Sr., etc keyed under ‘suffix’.

With regard to deciphering handwriting in the Criminal Registers I have come across words which I think contain a double s but appear to be written as an f followed by an s eg. Jefse which I think is Jesse. I have keyed Jesse having done some research and found the following article:

“Over 100 years ago the “s” was often written like a backward “f.” This strange symbol for “s” was used very commonly in instances where there was a “double s.” The unusual s first, called the “leading s.” Then the regular s.” from:

There is also the matter of the capital Q. Even as late as the 1960s when I was taught cursive handwriting we were told to write a capital Q as something resembling a large number 2. I have come across this again in the registers particulary in names such as Quin where it looks like 2uin but you do not have examples of this in your handwriting help. Also can we please have some guidance about indecipherable letters? Like your other contributors I have been using ?

I have been keying in snr and jnr on the English Criminal Records but have recently noticed these have disappeared as options so I am assuming Ancestry don’t want us to apply these terms. Anyone know the answer?

My lingering question after reading the various FAQs and questions is the same as others – what am I to do on specific letters I cannot decipher in the middle of a word???

One more comment, after working tonight on SoCal Naturalization records, which have to be some of the very easiest indexing I’ve ever done. But your examples to look at for the various forms are really poor, in terms of being of any help. Most that I’ve looked at don’t even have anything in the image in the area I’m questioning.

Many of the cards have a number in the body of the card, but not at the top. I’ve been marking the line blank in the top line because it is not in the same format and location as the others I’ve seen at the top. Is this correct? If I knew a little about the process, I’d be a better indexer… I think most of us have trouble working blind. We want to do it correctly the first time!

To answer my own query under 26 – I understand from the Forum Board that the correct keying is to put the Snr/Jnr after the Christian (forename) name. Eg. Edward Sparkes Jnr would be keyed as Edward Jnr Sparkes

When a sentence is commuted should I enter the original sentence or the commuted one? Also on a page of one of the registers there was a note to say that 2 people had been pardoned. I entered the sentence as pardoned. Is this correct?

What is the purpose of this?

It lists the questions but no answers.

Ann, this has been discussed on the messageboards. Ancestry’s answer was as I understand it is to put the commuted sentence. However, if the death just has r beside it you should record the death sentence.

With regard to the pardoned, I don’t know the answer, sorry.

i have been keying in information for aestry, but after 1 week, am unable to log on. Top page welcomes me as a member, but cannot log on to key in. Help please.

I finally figured out how to get specific help – I’m a little slow, I guess. I clicked on the “feedback” box in the upper right hand corner on an entry page, asked a specific question, and got an answer a day or so later. Which is okay, but it would be even nicer to have someone monitor the Q&A here and give answers as questions are asked. Then we could all learn at the same time?

I have not seen anything about the method for keying dates. For example, I have keyed over 100 New England Naturization cards and the dates seem to range from 1800 through the 1900s. Some of the cards are listed with only the last two digits of the year and I cannot differentiate if is 18XX or 19xx. What is the best way to key these cards?

While working throughthe scanned images, I happened accross some cover pages which explain the old index method and it includes a date range for the cards. Am I to assume the next set of downloads are for that date range? Again the cards only list the last 2 digits of the year. I think I have been incorrectly adding a 19 or 18 in front of the cards I just submitted…I hate to make extra work for the arbitrators!

I’ve been working on the SoCal naturalization records and like Beth P I have been trying to make sense of some cards that have numbers in different places than the top of the card. Unlike Beth, I have been keying them in. I’d like to do this right as well.

I have just started keying this weekend and after a few images decided to read the blogs. I agree with the person who said ‘no answers’ to all the questions. It appears to me that these issues need to be addressed for newbie to understand exactly what we are required to do. UK criminal records, a date is not always there but a session. is it O-N-D or take your pick, so I put Session F7. Like all programs they are great if the programmer has read the documents to make the keying to address the record required. That is simple enough. Some records require a little adjusting. Middlesex is slightly different to the England and Wales records.

Re Comment 35.
Kathy, if you click on the “here” link at the top of this page you will find the instructions for keying dates.
Re Comment 36.
It is some time since I keyed any of the SoCal Naturalisation Index cards but I suspect that the cards referred to are Generic Name Cards which usually do not have a number of their own but give details relating to declarations and/or petitions which do not need to be entered. Some of the early cards, I can’t remember whether they are with birth date or with age, have their number at the bottom rather than at the top. In that case I have entered it.
Re Comments 30 & 32.
I have had it confirmed (November 13) that the original sentence should always be entered and not the commuted sentence.


ALSO #35.

Hi, group. I had an fantastic weekend at Mesa at a genealogy conference. Would you believe the people in charge of this program were there??? Did I have some heart to heart talks with them???? (You’d better believe it!) BTW, they are very, very nice people.

The two best items I came away with – which might not be exactly what I wanted to hear –
1. they don’t have enough time nor personnel to monitor this board continuously. I was left believing they hope we’ll take over and teach each other – even to the stage of making up our own rules, in some instances. (Speaking of, I wasn’t happy with the no * nor ? – new answer: just leave a blank space. Okay, I can do that. Just wish someone had said so…)
As the beta testing goes on, there will probably be more structure and “rules” but we are pretty much finding out the problems for them right now. They promised to pay a little more attention to cries for help, I think. Maybe that was wishful thinking.

2 – It appears our purpose is to provide data for indexes, which will lead to images. So whatever we put is a help for people searching; then they have to look at the document.

The “feedback” button on the data entry page is a good communicating tool and gets answers, which probably should then be shared with the rest of us in this forum.

I forgot to ask about the various numbers on the SoCal index cards… I was too busy griping about being ignored.

I’m re-energized and still enthusiastic about being part of this program!

I have been working on england criminal records, does anyone know what “do” is? i thought it might mean “same as above”, but that theory didn’t pan out when jane concealed her pregnacy and john under her, had “do” for his crime.

do (short for ditto) does mean the same again. The instance you refer to was just sloppy usage by the clerk. What he meant was that John’s offence was concealing Jane’s pregnancy. Ive come across it when the offence was concealing the birth of her child.

I recently ran across alot of people whose birthplace was listed as Oldenberg, Saxony and etc which were regions in Prussia. I edited it as written but wanted to make sure that I should not have used Prussia.
Thanks, Jim

I have downloaded your information
World Archives Project but I have no idea what to do with it

To everyone, please be careful when “guessing” about cities and countries. I found a marriage record for my great great grandfather in the Ontario Canada records. I recently learned that he DID NOT marry in Waterloo,Ontario,Canada as the records were indexed. He actually married in Waterloo,Ontario,New York. Apparently someone saw Ontario and decided it was Canada, now ALL of the records in that file are incorrect which will make it difficult for people in NY to find their ancestors.

ALSO My UNCLE Francis Claire was indexed as a Female. I’m guessing someone looked at the name and decided it was really a woman not a man and changed the sex while creating the index

I am having difficulty with the highlight on the record I am attempting to key. No matter how carefully I place the markers, after a few lines it is much to high or two low.

In the Nebraska census I have had the additional problem that as I move across the page to get the place of birth, the highlight has jumped down about four or five lines. I was not even aware this was happening, so for the person on line 15, I was keying the place of birth as whatever appeared on line 19. I realized what was happening before I completed the page and was able to correct it.

Up to now the misplaced highlight had merely been annoying. But I see that it can also cause errors. Does anyone know if it is possible to opt out for even having the highlight. But I do get tired of having to adjust the record position every time I tab to the next field. That is one reason why I don’t key as much in the Nebraska census as I might otherwise.

I’ve been typing the criminal records for England and Wales and I had that truble with the highligher. I have now started to use the guide lines instead, you have a blue line to follow across the page and it does help.

In Answer to no 46 by Margaret Loos
On The Keying Page There is an Icon Called Hilight This Can Be Turned on or Off.
Hope This Helps

On the NYC cards the country of origin is some times on the back of the card, no problem with this data. But, sometimes other information is available i.e. ‘Hon discharge from U.S. army March 1862’ How can this be entered ? The database won’t allow it. HELP!!!!