LNAB: Bayley or Bailey ? Pre-merge

+8 votes

A merge has been proposed for  Bailey-11124 (L) and Bayley-97 (R).   Before completing this merge the LNAB should be verified.   The attached source uses the surname Bailey as the birth name however it is apparant that there were different spellings used.   Does anyone have information as to the correct LNAB ?

WikiTree profile: Mary Holt
in Genealogy Help by David Douglass G2G6 Mach 9 (90.5k points)
In the 1600s, our ancestors (many of whom couldn't read or write) weren't concerned with consistency in spelling. Some records (such as wills) even spell the same person's name two (or more) different ways in the same record. Because of this, it is important that we include all of the different known spellings of a person's name in the data fields of the profile ("Other Last Names" is useful for this).

As for her name, I suggest holding off on the merge for Mary until (1) you've looked for additional sources for the spelling of the family name in England, and (2) the duplicate profiles for her father have been merged. The document displayed on that profile is a derivative source; it doesn't look like an authoritative source for the spelling of her LNAB. And if we merge children's profiles before resolving conflicts for their parents, the "extra" parent profiles become unconnected "orphans" that may lack sufficient information to support a merge -- best to connect the parents first...
Thanks Ellen, good answer.  Yes, the fathers should be merged first but as you said the LNAB issue will have to be resolved first as the two father profiles also use the Bailey and Bayley spelling.   Since we do not have examples of how those individuals may have spelled their name, if in fact they were able to spell their name, we will have to rely on whatever public records may be available.  Lacking that I suppose one has to turn to devivative sources for some guidance ?
It's a meaningless question.  Variant spellings didn't exist because they didn't know how to spell it right, they existed because no right had ever been determined.

The idea that one person might be a Bailey while the next might be a Bayley is a modern idea, totally alien to that period.

Both spellings (and others) were freely interchangeable for all Baileys, quite irrespective of whatever you might happen to find for any particular individuals in whatever records might have survived.

The spelling used was the clerk's choice.  He didn't have to spell anybody's name the same way they would - that's another modern concept.
Thank you for the education on 17th century surname spelling variations and how there was no "right" spelling. However, we are living in the age of WIkitree where LNAB is a field that requires an meaningful entry.  So given a number of spelling variations from which one must be chosen to place into that field the question of Bayley v Bailey does take on meaning.  Although no "right" spelling had been determined at that early period we do seem to stress here in Wikitree that a correct or consistent LNAB be entered into that field.  If it did not matter there would not be so many LNAB questions in regards to merges posted here in G2G.
It appears to me that records from England were somewhat more consistent in spelling than the records created in America after emigration. I can imagine that records were fairly consistent within a particular English parish because one parish clerk recorded all events over a period of years for a small group of families that he knew, and that clerk probably got into the habit of writing a family's name in a particular way. In contrast, the clerks who created colonial records in America may not have had the same long tenure in the jobs, nor the same familiarity with the families.

My point was that you already know as much as there is to know.  There's nothing more to be got from records of individuals that would be of any significance.

22 Baileys in early Virginia listed here. 


Some of the spellings found are listed, but of course there's no way of knowing that other spellings weren't also used in documents that no longer exist.

(McCartney uses Bailey to group them all together alphabetically - it's not clear whether that spelling is in the records for any of them.  It certainly won't be for all of them.)

Question for WikiTree is, when we have profiles for them all, should they all come out different for no reason that makes any sense.

"Familiarity with the families" doesn't come into it - the family isn't the variable.



I agree that we may have come to a point where further research into the spelling of these individual's last name may offer no definitive answer.  I see where you are coming from RJ.  Perhaps where there is a lack of evidence we should go the route of consistency or commonality as opposed to finding an agreed upon "correct" spelling.  McCartney uses Bailey to group them all together alphabetically.  Perhaps we should take the same approach here.  There are more than 12k profiles in Wikitree that use the Bailey spelling.  Most of these profiles appear to be from the late 19th - 20th century period. There are little more than 400 Bayley profiles. This seems to be an older spelling with most of these profiles in the 17th to 19th period.

Why are there so many discussions in G2G over one little data field in a Wikitree profile ?  Is this just a case of "much ado about nothing " ? Evidently we put a great deal of importance on getting the LNAB right.  Wikitree has this to say about LNAB: 

"The Last Name at Birth (LNAB) is significant on WikiTree."

"An LNAB should never be changed unless you have a high degree of confidence that the name you're changing it to is correct."

"If you are uncertain whether the current LNAB is correct (e.g. you think that "Smith" is probably wrong but you don't know what it should be), explain your uncertainty in the text of the profile and leave the LNAB as-is."

Obviously, in the case of a merge we can't leave the LNAB as is even if we do not know what it should be.   My thought is that it would provoke fewer discussions on the "correct" LNAB if there were some written guidelines for handling those questions.   Perhaps as RJ seemed to say, in a case where no amount of additional digging is going to produce a "correct" answer we use a grouping or relational approach.  

Sorry for not staying on point.  In Mary Bayley's case I'm thinking we should use the Bayley spelling because the majority of the documents I came across which cited a primary source used the Bayley spelling. For this profile the approach I am proposing is to use a spelling that is most consistent with the best sources available and group her and her father with the other 400 or so Bayley profiles.


There were no spelling ruled until 1749.  The letter "y" and the "I" were often interchanged.  Walk through any older cemetery and you will see wife.  Read Shakespeare in the original form (not modernized).  He would spell the same word differently.  In addition to that, those who took the census did the writing and often dealt with early colonials who did not read or write.  It really was a "spell as you may" culture.

Adding that the spelling problem also exists with other common names. Have spent a fair amount of effort tracing my Bailey ancestors but even more effort tracing Cook ancestors, some of whom were Quakers. The Cook family appears in WikiTree as the Cooke family ("I thought the English always spelled it Cooke" said one helpful soul.) The Smith family appears as Smythes or Smythes. The Jones' ...well you get my drift! A nightmare is repetition.

Our answer seems to be right around the corner. Sourcing. Genetic testing of ancestors. Flexibility in understanding naming conventions...and experienced folk helping us to find our way through the past! 

Thanks  Ellen Smith, thanks all of you ...meanwhile, please source.

1 Answer

+2 votes
David, I have Baily ancestors that were Friends Quaker, I believe they simplified their names from Bailey. Quakers always sought simplicity in their lives, many had no burial markers / headstones; later some used simple, plain square markers. IMO the LNAB for the above merger would be Bailey with Bayley as a variant of this spelling. I have also seen it spelled Baillie witch is probably an older form of this root name. JPVIV
by Anonymous Vickery G2G6 Pilot (238k points)
John thanks for your answer.  The idea that Bailey may be a simplified variant of the surname may be correct.  Since I can not find any primary sources that clue me in as to how John's or Mary's LNAB may have been spelled it seemed that the spelling used as LNAB should be the spelling that was most commonly used for them during their lifetimes.  And this would of course depend on who was doing the writing.  As RJ and Ellen both said it most often depended on the clerk (someone that knew how to write) who created the records.  

Mary Bayley and her father John Bayley were Pilgrims.  From accounts I have read he immigrated prior to 1620 to escape religious persecution. In the transcripts of the available public records, biographies and derivative sources that cite original records John and Mary's surname seems to be spelled Bayley in most cases.  I suppose that Bayley is Bailey is Bailie when you get down to it but given that Bayley seems to be the spelling used most my thought is that the Bayley spelling should be used to be in agreement with most sources.  As RJ Horace said there was no "right" or wrong way to spell a surname in John Bayley's time, and it could be that John may not have even been able to write his name at any rate.  So here we are, Wikitree genealogist of all experience levels who have to decide on the best, most correct spelling to put in that LNAB field.  In my case I plead inexperience in such matters.  In my desire to do things the Wikitree way I've turned to more experienced researchers such as yourself and other Wikitree genealogist to provide some direction.  I appreciate all the comments that have been made.  I'm learning.
Now I'm puzzled.  Virginia was officially Anglican and I never heard of any Pilgrims.

Perhaps I should have used a more generic term such as dissenters or separatist.  The term pilgrim brings with it thoughts of the Mayflower and Plymouth rock.  My pilgrim reference was based on an entry I found regarding Mary Bayley's father.   John Bayley was a religious dissenter who had gone to Holland to escape religious persecution. His daughter, Mary is said to have been born there.  John Bayley is said to have immigrated to the american colonies prior to 1620. Mary's father John is listed as John Bayley in the roster of ancestors, National Society of the Sons and Daughters of the Pilgrams, an organization founded Dec 21. 1908 to perpetuate the memory and to foster and promote the principles and the virtues of the Pilgrims. [http://www.nssdp.com/membership/ancestors-of-the-society/ Ancestors of the Society: John Bayley]

Wasn't the Pilgrim's destination to be originally Virginia where they had a charter to settle, except that they were blown off course a bit ? Jamestown and Virginia are thought of as being Anglican but other religious beliefs also existed at the time.  The Puritans come to mind.


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