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Roots to the Past with Diana Lynn Tibert

Lost in the spelling

 One of the first things we stumble upon, often after a night of trying to figure out who does and doesn't belong in the family, is that no surname spelling is written in stone. There are many reasons why spellings changed, but how does a researcher know, for example, that John Kane and Thomas Cayens who lived in neighbouring communities were brothers?

 Some researchers have a natural ability for juggling letters and easily coming up with alternate spellings. When I search records for a particular name, I like to think of it as skimming. All the surnames close enough to resemble the surname I seek, regardless of how zany it is spelled, float to the top. After a closer look, some of these surnames are discarded, but I make note of ones that deserve a second look.

 For many researchers, coming up with alternate spellings is difficult. The Ingeneas ( website is trying to make this task easier. It has compiled a list of surnames and their common and not so common spellings. Currently, the team of "accomplished genealogy professionals based in Ottawa" has compiled more than 10,500 surname variations and misspellings.

 On the website, you will learn quirky alternatives, such as Oldfather for Altvatter, and some I wouldn't even have thought of, such as Ekstrom for Armstrong.

 Certain spelling variations are not included and for good reason. These deal mostly with prefixes and suffixes added to names which, for the most part, indicate "son of" in certain cultures. In other words, you won't find McArthur, M'Arthur and MacArthur. It is assumed you know either of these three prefixes can be used. As for suffixes, the "son" can be interchanged with "sen" or left off completely.

 When looking for names such as Farquharson, there is always the possibility it might be found simply as Farquhar.

 If the surname you seek is not listed, you can submit it to the website. If you are having trouble coming up with alternate spellings, read through the database. Pay particular attention to letters that also appear in your surname and see the patterns that are repeated throughout the list.

 For example, names ending with "ey" or "y" are often spelled using "ie" - Bailey, Bailie and Bayly.

 Letters that share similar sounds are also interchangeable. For example, the "c" and "k" in Kohl and Cole. Surnames that start with a vowel can sometimes be the most difficult if other spellings aren't considered. Irving has been found as Urwin and Erwin.

 Some changes were simple where letters have either been doubled or singled, such as in Brannigan and Branigan and Llewellyn and Llewelyn. Other times, the letters have just reversed order as in Keiffer and Kieffer. But one of the hardest spelling alternatives can simply be a spelling mistake or a misreading of bad handwriting as in Lance and Lunce.

 You'll begin to see that almost every alternate spelling, if said out loud, could easily be the accepted spelling used today. For example, Wallace sounds like Wallis and Wallice. Even ones that have major spelling differences, such as Creggen and Kriegan, are pronounced almost the same.

 Researcher's File

 Seeking information on Albert Picket, born April 15, 1771. Albert was "brought to the Colonies with his father, an officer in the King's Army. His mother died before they sailed." He possibly lived in Nova Scotia before moving to Connecticut then to New York where he became an author of educational books and owner of Female Academies. Who were Albert's parents and siblings? Contact Margie Hinton, 53 Desert Jade Circle, California City, CA 93505 USA; e-mail

 Diana Lynn Tibert is a freelance writer living in Milford, Nova Scotia. Submit a query. It's free! RR#1 Milford, Hants County, Nova Scotia B0N 1Y0; e-mail

posted on 06/09/09
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