I'm modifying a genealogy (updating an old, written one, that is) which includes a trans man. We will have him listed as male (of course), and will not be recording the (apparent) change in gender (from female).

I'm unsure of how or if to note his name change from a very female-sounding name to a very male-sounding name. This also includes a change of last name.

I'm thinking of doing this in the same way we do other name changes:

"John Smith (nee Ellen Brown)" or something along those lines. This would also not record the year in which the name was changed, which is fine by me. My concern is that this is "dead-naming" him, which is generally looked down upon. The alternative is to not note any change, but I'm afraid that could be confusing to people who don't yet know of the change.

Any expert guidance on how to proceed?

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    What does "I'm modifying a genealogy" mean? Are you making a revision of someone else's work, or your own? Has this work already been published, or not? What is the intended audience?
    – Jan Murphy
    Commented Oct 9, 2019 at 20:26
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    I edited your question to say "(apparent) change in gender". I assume you meant that the gender designated in the records changes. The question would be improved if we could clarify that.
    – Jan Murphy
    Commented Oct 9, 2019 at 21:51
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    I asked if the genealogy was your own work or not because modifying someone else's work would involve an extra layer of ethical problems.
    – Jan Murphy
    Commented Oct 9, 2019 at 21:53
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    P.S. Welcome to G&FH.SE! If you need more information about how the site works, you'll find it in the usual places.
    – Jan Murphy
    Commented Oct 9, 2019 at 22:17
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    All great edits, thanks!
    – jhch
    Commented Oct 10, 2019 at 14:11

2 Answers 2


The ethical way to proceed is to ask living persons their consent before adding them to a work of genealogy. Just as you wouldn't use a living person's DNA sample without explaining the purpose for which it would be used, and securing their informed consent, you should talk about these issues with a living person whose information you want to include and secure their consent.

Since your question is about a trans man and you use the pronouns 'he/him' I will use those in this answer. The respectful way to refer to a person is to use the call name and pronouns that the person asks you to use.


You say:

The alternative [to dead-naming him] is to not note any [name] change, but I'm afraid that could be confusing to people who don't yet know of the change.

If you are considering 'outing' someone, then you most certainly need to stop and think about what you are doing, and talk about the issues with him. The PFLAG National Glossary of Terms says in their entry Coming Out:

Not everyone is in the same place when it comes to being out, and it is critical to respect where each person is in that process of self-identification. It is up to each person, individually, to decide if and when to come out or disclose.

In the section Disclosing Birth Names, the GLAAD Media Reference Guide - In Focus: Covering the Transgender Community says:

Do not reveal a transgender person's birth name without explicit permission from them.

In the webinar LGBTQ Genealogy, given on 12 Oct 2023 at the Georgia Genealogical Society, genealogist Stewart Blandón Traiman advised the audience not to deadname transpeople in citations or reports. Write the citation as you usually would, but substitute 'Private' for the deadname.


You talk about not including a "change in gender (from female)". This language usage describes the point of view that someone might take if they were only looking at the overall historical record, not considering either how individual historical records are created or the life of the actual person who may have felt himself to be a single gender the entire time.

Most people wouldn't speak of a "gender change" if a cis-male infant was recorded as a 1-month old female in a census record but was enumerated as male in all his other census records. While that conflicting evidence needs to be taken into account (resolving conflicting evidence is one of the elements of the Genealogical Proof Standard), most hobbyist genealogists would say that the gender assigned to that member of the household in that first early census must have been a mistake. (As a side note: mis-gendering can happen on anyone's record, whether they are cis or trans, both when records are created and when they are indexed for computer databases. I've seen genders in the computer indexes that don't match what's on the record recently in the US City Directories and in the census collection on Ancestry, as well as examples like the one mentioned earlier where children were recorded as different genders in multiple census years.)

Record creators in the past may have assumed a gender or assigned a gender that does not reflect the lived experience of that person. Strive for precision and clarity. Avoid usages such as "on the census [the person's name] said" as if the person gave their own information to the census taker. We rarely know who gave the information that appears on a census record. (Execptions: The 1940 US Federal Census instructed the enumerators to mark the informant for the household, and for the 1911 and 1921 Census of England and Wales, the household schedules survive, which were usually filled out and signed by the head of household. Only in cases like those censuses do we have any direct evidence about who talked to the enumerator.) Because of issues like these, I prefer to say "this record says" when quoting or summarizing the information inside it.

See the entries in PFLAG's glossary Assigned Gender and Assumed Gender. Consult the living individual about whether or not to include information about the gender assigned at birth, and the language that you could use to describe that information. The trans individual whose personal information is involved can tell you what language usage is acceptable to him. The polite thing to do with any living person is to use the language they ask you to use.


We don't have to be professional genealogists to benefit from the standards and ethical guidelines used by the pros. The Association of Professional Genealogists Code of Ethics and Professional Practices says, under point 9:

[I agree to] [t]reat information concerning living people with appropriate discretion

The BCG's Genealogists' Code of Ethics says:

I will keep confidential any personal or genealogical information disclosed to me, except to the extent I receive consent to share.

The National Genealogical Society's Guidelines for Sharing information with Others recommends that family historians and genealogists consistently:

• inform people who provide information about their families how it may be used, observing any conditions they impose and respecting any reservations they may express regarding the use of particular items;

• require evidence of consent before assuming that living people are agreeable to further sharing or publication of information about themselves;

• convey personal identifying information about living people—such as age, home address, genetic information, occupation, or activities—only in ways that those concerned have expressly agreed to;

• are sensitive to the hurt that information discovered or conclusions reached in the course of genealogical research may bring to other persons and consider that in deciding whether to share or publish such information and conclusions.

The Code of Conduct/Ethics of the International Association of Jewish Genealogical Societies says:

Generally, requests made to genealogical researchers should be respected when individuals ask that certain information about themselves or family members be kept private.

In short, the ethical standards of the day all recommend the same advice that was already stated in the previous answer. Ask living people what information is appropriate for you to include, and ask what language usage is acceptable to them. If your trans interviewee / family member asks you to use the term "gender assigned at birth" rather than talking about a "gender change" then use the requested language.

Be aware that language usage changes, and phrases that seemed neutral or respectful when first introduced into discourse can become outdated and perjorative over time. A genealogist should be prepared to listen to clients with sensitivity and adjust their language usage without complaint to ensure they are speaking to and about their clients with respect.

Further reading:

  • 1
    This is an exemplary answer. Well written and well cited. I'll be taking your advice!
    – jhch
    Commented Oct 10, 2019 at 14:20

I have a similar circumstance in my family tree. It may be relevant that this was in England and Wales (where I believe that, if somebody applies to be recognised officially as another gender, previous records are unavailable. So, except for the fact that I sought his records in a very narrow time window, the records would not match what I know.

I recorded him as male (Obviously). I asked for permission (and received it) to identify him as the child of his birth parents, with a note about his name change

To the degree that he consented (or didn't consent) I would keep the details (name change, birth name, current name, birth details) confidential. If he didn't consent at all I wouldn't have recorded them.

Likewise, I would not record his birth name and current name without his agreement (to avoid deadnaming him ).

In summary: ASK HIM.

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