July 24, 2017

The Importance Of Considering All Surname Spellings

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.

I Solved A Census Transcription Mistake

Sometimes, you get a transcribed record for a census and you wonder how the transcriber came up with a completely different name than what it actually was.

For example, I have a transcribed census record with my ancestor’s surname spelled Aytes instead of Yates. It might look like a transposed letter error, but then I found an actual census image today that might present another reason for a transcription error: it wasn’t one.

Look at that loop in the Y , but the name in the 1840 census record where I found this lists him (correctly) as David Yates. Can you see how this could be misinterpreted by a transcriber though?  Heck, they could have thought it said “Gates” too.

None of this is a slam against transcribers or anything.  Genealogists owe them much gratitude for the hard work they’ve done. This just points out (again) the need to used every imaginable spelling combination to find your ancestors.

What’s your most memorable “name” story?



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