"If you can't get rid of the family skeleton, you may as well make it dance"
-George Bernard Shaw

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Spelling Doesn't Count!!!

How many times were we told in school, growing up, and in our jobs that our spelling counts???  Our kids bring their spelling lists home proudly every week to show off their scores. But what about in historical records? Not so much...
Why is there so much discrepancy with names and spelling?  There are a few things to consider here.  First is accents.  Censuses were taken by hand in the days before internet and bubble cards (those things you fill in with #2 pencils).  The person giving the family's information may have a thick heavy accent, so the way they say their information and then the way the census taker hears the information both influence how that information is recorded. 
I have also personally found some catholic records written in Latin.  I don't read Latin.  Fortunately the churches that have sent me the information have translated them for me.  And this also influences how the information is interpreted.  Different people may translate the information a little bit differently depending on how they were taught the language.
Literacy may have also played a factor in the interpretation and relaying information on records.  Another theory I have is who is providing the information.  Let's say a child of immigrants in the only one who can speak English.  The child is the one giving the information to the census taker.  The information the child is giving is only as good at the child's education.
When looking at other records, such as death records are only as good as the informant's memory or the information the institution has at the time of the decedent's death.

So what does that mean for genealogists?

Soundex is available to help search records.  In short soundex is a method of applying a code to a surname.  More can be learned by Google searching soundex or in a future entry of my blog.

Learning alternate spellings of last names and be flexible when it comes to searching first names.  Various of both can be found in records.

Always look at the original document when possible.  Even transcription errors can lead to alternate spellings of a surname or first name.  Ever look at old hand writing?  If you haven't yet, you will.  (And another good future blog topic).  Reading old hand writing can be difficult and lead to misinformation or alternative information or spellings.

Take care and happy hunting all!