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People with different spellings of surname

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Julie Report 4 Aug 2019 13:01

I am looking to get an idea of how others deal with recording ancestors whose surnames appear with different spellings. In some cases there is merely the odd instance of variance, but in others there can be considerable variations. I have cases where even children of a couple baptised in the same parish have several differences in how the name is recorded. The same can apply to burials and marriages and any other record. Who is to say what the "correct" spelling is? If the principle of using the same spelling for all the members of a family was applied there might be some who have no documents with that spelling. On the other hand having members of the same family with different spelling looks odd. What approach do others apply?


Rambling Report 4 Aug 2019 13:36

I have Whetman ancestors who on various records have used Whitman/Wetman. Because the name on the majority of records ( and earliest) is Whetman I have used that throughout but added notes to say "married as or listed as" for the variants. Likewise with the name Forrester/Forester.


ArgyllGran Report 4 Aug 2019 18:32

I'm also using the most frequent spelling - but in my case it's the present day spelling.

I have several generations, starting in the early 1700s, of a family who are nowadays (and since the mid 1800s) called McGarva, so I've listed them all as that, but have added notes to say what they were actually listed as in the different records.

McGarva, McGarvay, McGarvie, Mcgarvah, Mcgarvaa, MacGarva


Kim Report 5 Aug 2019 09:18

I have always been told that many years ago the census information was collected by someone calling at the house. Lots of people couldn’t read or write so the person who was filling in forms wrote down what he thought he’d heard. Because of accent problems it was often misspelt.


Julie Report 5 Aug 2019 11:30

Yes Connie, the same is also true of many documents pre-20th century, being down to what the priest or registrar or whoever heard. There is an arguement that you can only misspell something if it has a recognised spelling, which in that era wasn't truly the case with either forename or surnames - hence the problem here and now that there isn't a correct historcal spelling to use.


Florence61 Report 5 Aug 2019 11:55

Well misspelling of names is what makes it so difficult to trace some relations. I have a family who couldn't read or write and the spelling of that family has many variations which has made it incredibly difficult.
I took the most common spelling and used that as most family members today spell the surname that way.

My grandmothers family name was Prophet which has been misspelt as Proffett, Proffitt,Prophett , Prophitt and Prophit etc. so researching is definitely not an easy task.

Florence in the hebrides