What do we do with a person whose last name is spelled differently on each record?

+5 votes
in Genealogy Help by Peggy Seaman G2G1 (1.6k points)
If you have any records on the parents you can use their spelling for LNAB.
I think this may be more of a language problem or a translation problem.  My family is from Eastern Europe where the name used a diacritical mark over the letter "C".  My mother told their name was something like "Vancek."  She said the family tried to spell their name phonetically, but couldn't agree on how. The name has been written with "V's" and "W's" used interchangeably, followed by either an "A" or an "O"  and then "C", "S", "CH", "SH", or "SCH" for the letter "C".  This has resulted in birth, death, and marriage certificates all written by the individuals concerned, and all with different spellings. I have not yet found an old enough or original LNAB from before they immigrated to the United States.  Most of my current family members use "Wonchock".  I think I shall just proceed to use this spelling and note variations under the "other names used" - although I am not sure how to do this.
It's not that unusual for European immigrants to the U.S. to have anglicized their surname, and then have subsequent generations of the family migrate to different areas of the country and adopt their own spelling or variant.  In one case in my family, one branch changed their surname spelling back to the original version from the old country.  But the upshot is that descendants adopt the variation used by their branch of the family, and it becomes their de facto legal name.  At some point all the variants start to show up in records, and you have to treat all the different variants as legitimate spellings.

I know all that philosophy doesn't help you if you're seeing a lot of different spellings for a single person, but I'm just saying don't get too hung up about it if it permeates your whole family and affects a lot of your profiles.  You won't be the first researcher to have relatives with different spellings of a name that all descend from the same ancestor.

3 Answers

+8 votes
Best answer
I would use the surname that is most commonly used or as it is written today as the last name (LNAB or CLN).

All other variants are simply separated by commas and listed under "Other Last Names".
by Dieter Lewerenz G2G Astronaut (2.5m points)
selected by Peggy Seaman
It may boil down to a judgment call, but I think you also need to consider the credibility of the records you found.  Census records, for example, are notorious for misspellings, since an enumerator often just wrote what he thought he heard.  Copies of original birth, death , or marriage certificates are usually pretty accurate; and draft registration certificates are good, because they were normally completed by the subject himself, who presumably knew how to spell his own name.  But transcriptions of old handwritten records may be subject to interpretation, so if any candidate spellings are based on those, it's best to try to find the original document and make sure you agree with the transcriber.
That is absolutely right Dennis.
+4 votes
This is exactly why profiles have managers.  It is basically up to the manager to figure out which spelling was intended by the person in the profile. As mentioned by others, you need to take into account the source itself and who actually did the recording.  Census takers and immigration agents were notorious for mis spellings and did not take a lot of time to be sure it was right. They had a lot of people to record and not much time. But marriage records, death records, draft records, etc... were often done by either the person in the profile or a close relative that should be in the know.  I will use some census data in interpreting this though because they will tell you if the person in the profile could read and write.  If they could not do this, it becomes a guessing game as to what is correct.
by Gurney Thompson G2G6 Pilot (306k points)
+3 votes
This is the case with Colvilles in Scotland.  Baptized Colvin, married Colvill, children and buried Colville. (There is someone on FindAGrave who cannot understand IT IS THE SAME NAME)  I usually use Colville because that's what I think people are looking for.  You just can't get all wound up about spelling in Argyll in particular.  There was no standardized spelling.
by Joelle Colville-Hanson G2G6 Pilot (132k points)

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