Surname Spellings: It’s All In The Eye Of The Beholder
Early on in my genealogical research I was under the impression that it was best to look for the spelling of my maiden name Yates using just those letters. Boy, was I proved wrong almost immediately. While looking in census records for my ancestors with that surname I have found it spelled as Yates, Yats, Aytes, Yeats, Gates, Gats, to name just a few. Actually, the surname Yates refers to “gate keeper” so it wasn’t too far off to see it as Gates.
A lot of this confusion has to do with some illiterate census takers, and (sorry to say) transcribers who just couldn’t read the census takers scribbling. For instance, the Aytes transcription was because the census taker had made a big loop at the beginning of the Y and so to the transcriber it looked like an A. I may never have found my kin in Tennessee if I hadn’t had a kind soul in the Roane County Genealogical Society find the alternate name.
Searching the 1940 US Federal Census (to be released April 2nd, 2012)
With just this one example, I hope that it will encourage you to consider all spellings of the surname for which you are searching. Use your wildest imagination when you do it!
If you will be transcribing the The 1940 US Census, please use your best assessment when it comes to probable name spellings too.