I have a relative whose first and middle names were given as "Mary Magdalena". However, for her entire life, she went by "Lena" and some records even have that listed. Anyone living who remembers her knows her as "Lena" (and may not even know her given name), so I would expect them to search for that name.

I'm a complete newbie to genealogy and am using Ancestry.com. I expected there to be a "Given name" field and "Preferred name" field (or perhaps a "Nickname" field"), but all I see is the generic "Name" field. I see that I can add more than one name and then set one of them as the "preferred" name and others to alternates, but I don't see clarifications on what they mean, or what the best practices are.

In this case, do I set her preferred name as "Lena" (since that's what she preferred to go by during her life) and then set the alternate names as "Mary Magdalena"?

Or is it the opposite with her legal name being the "preferred" name aside from her own personal preference?

2 Answers 2


I had a similar situation in that records for my great grandmother showed up as Mary, Maria, and Marie. I knew her as Mary but in the "First and Middle Name" field I put Maria (Mary) Wilhemina Henrieta (her middle names). Maria was the oldest name I could find for her. She was also married twice so I have a few "Alternate" names for her as well.


You can use wildcard searches, i.e. try an asterix or a ? Before lena, and it will search for any name that ends in lena.

See https://blogs.ancestry.com/ancestry/2010/01/04/ancestry-search-improved-wildcard-flexibility/

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