Different Spelling of Names in Your Ancestor’s Records

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What if you find several records that you think relate to your ancestor, but there is a different spelling of names? Do last name spelling variations still mean that’s your ancestor? A Boundless Genealogy Channel viewer asked this question recently and today we are going to spell it all out for you!

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Discrepancies in Surname Spelling

A Boundless Genealogy Channel viewer, Andrew, recently commented that in his census search for his 4th great grandmother, her name was spelled a variety of ways. Here are some variants he listed:

Andrew brought up a great point! Often our own ancestors didn’t have a “standardized” spelling for their name. Those that were creating records for them just spelled the name how it sounded. So then, you have to imagine that the accent your ancestor spoke with may have influenced variations on spelling too!

When you find records with a variety of name spellings, how can you verify the records are for your ancestor? Let’s look at a quick case study.

The Case of Rosaline

In my own research, I was looking for a woman named Rosaline Commerce. She married J.F. Doolin in 1875 in Washington County, Kentucky.

By 1880, J.F. and Rosaline Dawling were still living in Washington County, Kentucky.

A Rosa Dolan lived in Jefferson County, Kentucky, with her brother, James Commerce, by 1900.

Mrs. Rosa Dowling married Charles Donohoo in 1901 in Washington County, Kentucky.

Is This the Same Lady?

With all of the surname variants, how can we know if the Rosa in each of these documents is the same woman?

Clue Webs Across Many Documents

We need to look at ALL of the clues and how they connect across the four documents we found. If we limit our search to just the name spelling, we miss out on a lot of other vitally important connections.

By comparing all the clues, we see a common place of Washington County, Kentucky across three of the documents. We see the Commerce name show up in two of the documents. We see a consistent age for Rosa across two of the documents.

These common threads help us to confirm that this is the same Rosa, even though the surname is spelled differently in each document.

What kind of name variations have you come across in your research? What were the additional clues that helped you know it was the same person despite the spelling differences?

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