Question of The Week: How many different spellings of your surname have you found and have any helped break down a wall?

+43 votes
How many different spellings of your surname have you found and have any helped break down a wall?
in The Tree House by Deborah Collier G2G6 Mach 3 (37.9k points)
Original family name of my paternal line ancestor was Guyard, which got written Guiard, Guillard (all sound the same).  Somewhere along the way, the parish priests decided to alter the family name across the board, turned it into Liard.  Which of course still gets mangled, one of my great-uncles moved to the US and I found him in census records as Laird.  Duh!  Nothing Scottish about us at all.  

I don't know if the priests thought they were reverting the name to original form or not, there was in fact a man named Liard who came to the colony in the 1600s, but he is no relation.

He actually led me on false trail.  Finally found the right people by looking at the female line and their children.
I keep having the same issue with the Priest changing  - reverting - inventing the spelling of last names but with so many people illiterate, they had to count on someone to record the events - I actually think if all the names were spelled exactly like they sounded, we would have an easier time finding ancestors i.e.Boudreaux would be easier to find if Boodrow was the spelling.
In French, Boo does not sound like Bou.  ;)  

Part of the problem was the regional accents brought over from France.  Pronunciation was quite different from one place to another (compare Cockney English and Southern US drawl).  Plus the occasional person with a speech defect.  Or under the influence.  :D
LALONDE, LALONE, LaLONE, LALON, LALANDE, LELONE are some of the spellings I have run across, but none have gotten me back further.  It is more interesting the pronunciations of my name, I especially like the one where it sounded Hawaiian - la lan-ee!
Scheurer, Sherer, Shirer, Sherrer, Shirah, Shirey, Scherer. Scheurer is a German name but when they came over to South Carolina in 1734 the name morphed into many different spellings. The Shirer spelling helped me to break through a huge brick wall on my 4th great grandfather. That and DNA testing proved that he was from Switzerland.

On my husband's mother's side there is Ulrich from Germany that somehow transformed into Woolery.
Michael. It seems they would get mad at each other and keep changing the spelling around.

Hoffpauir, I have seen so many variations it's hard to list.
DeRush, Darush, De Rush, Deroche, Deroches, Desrochers,Desroches, Boucher, Stone, DesRochers, DesRoches

My paternal last name is Réaume - pronounced as RAY (as in laser ray) and OME (as in home without the h) - variations include Reame, Rheaume,Reyome, Rehame, Rehm, Ruhm, Ream. Both Grandparents had the same last name (and the same 5th Gr-Grandfather) so that made it a bit easier. However, the Catholic Priests had the last say in how the surname was recorded in the records.  

MY maternal lines are really mucky...Pawloske, Pawlowski, Pawloski, Pavloski, Palowsky etc., and Horeske, Horetki, Horetski, Hotrawsky etc.  The maternal line spelling was at the mercy of the stenographers on both the immigration ships and at Ellis Island.  I can only imagine how difficult their jobs must have been. This coupled with the census enumerators lack of understanding Polish and poor handwriting results in some very tedious and time consuming research.

My maiden name was Newsom. People would always add a e to the end, Newsome. In researching I found it spelled Newsum, Nusom, and Newsham in England. There was even a Newsham Hall. I have found people who have the e and don't,  It seems easier to add the e. Looking at ancestors tombstones, I Discovered that even though they spelled it Newsom, and even signed their name that way, the name on their tombstone is Newsome. Kind of hard to figure where and when the e was added or deleted.
Wisking is a veritable gold mine of variants!   I finally did break down a major brick wall by embracing these.  I found a gentleman I have been hunting for over 5 years, not as John Wisking as most records show, but as John Whiskin!    I found him finally in the Workhouse under various Wisking variants and even under a few transcription errors.   He died at the Levesden Asylum in 1871 and the death was registered as Whiskin.  But then so was his wife when she died 10 years later.
There are lots of different spellings of the Barford name generation by generation even with the same families childrens registrations. But it is easy to follow these up if you are consistent however I dont think it will ever end as even present day people seem to get it wrong, official documents, spelling it out, maybe they dont listen or associate it with an add on TV.

However this reminds me of a trick I use to employ when younger working in a department store in a small town where you were expected to remember everyones name and they all had accounts. I use to smile and say " How do you spell your name? It worked like a dream until the day I said this and the woman replied B-R-O-W-N and don't tell me that you dont know how to spell that! I replied ever so nicely "some people have an E on the end of it. but I never forgot her name after that. I would say ah Mrs Brown without the E.
Moseley, Mosely, Mosley, Mosly, Mozely (and variations thereof), Maudsley, Molesley, and several more variations I can think of. I can't say the spelling has helped break down and brick walls, but I always keep it at the back of my mind when I'm looking at records.
I have this theory that some New England Moseleys had their pedigree done, and when the genealogist hit the brick wall, he knocked it down by connecting to the Maudsleys and announcing that the Maudsleys were really Moseleys all along.

Which they weren't.  The names are quite distinct in England.  The Maudsleys have no connection with the Mosleys who were lords of Manchester and baronets, although they were all in Lancashire.

If the Maudsley-Moseley connection in New England is genuine, of course that would mean that the name changed in America, so those Moseleys are Maudsleys really and not connected to any English Moseleys.
My family name is Granville, also spelled Grandville and Grenville.  However, I hit a brick wall not knowing that this name had earlier been Gonneville.  Weirder yet, this family was actually Lemire- Marsolet in the 1600’s in Quebec.  Around 1760 Rene Lemire named his son Rene Lemire Gonneville.  Where did Gonneville come from.?  In 1760 the English were conquering the French and were giving Captain James Cook credit for discovering Australia.  Anne Lemire married a man with the title Sieur de Gonneville.  Anne’s husband knew that in 1505, Frenchman Jean Palmier Sieur deGonneville discovered Australia for France.  Apparently Rene Lemire gave his children the Gonneville name so that we would all know it was a Frenchman who first discovered Australia, not an Englishman.

47 Answers

+8 votes
on my great grandmothers side Ihave found 4 different spellings of Hooley
by E G G2G6 (6.7k points)
+10 votes


This is my favorite learning experience.  My maternal Grandmother was a Wallace.   We grew up wearing the Wallace plaid, I learned the Highland Fling and when my cousin retired, he decided to take a trip to Scotland to figure out how we were related to Rob romantic!

We could not find the connection, then, at Allen County Library in Ohio, I found this written about my 3rd great grandfather....He is descended from ancestors who were natives of France, from which country, because of religious persecution, they came to America and settled on the Hudson River in New York.   Their original name was Wallis.


by Robin Lee G2G6 Pilot (670k points)

Hmm, there is a Wallis-et-Futuna French possession in the Pacific, but if you look that up, you will find the following little statement about the origin of the name Wallis:  The Wallis Islands are named after the British explorer, Samuel Wallis

It isn't a French name at first look, might have been imported into France from England or Germanic nation though.  Unless of course the name got changed from its original French to a more English sounding name.


+8 votes
From the point of entry into the US I have only found two spellings within our family line of Bowles /Boles.
by Buffalo Buffalo G2G Crew (430 points)
+8 votes
Not really my name but my husbands surname Barford 20 so far and yes depending on what era and where they lived a great help. However the piece de resistance was the friend who sent us a Christmas card addressed to Mr and Mrs Bastard, I really wondered if that was a Freudian slip.
by Heather Douglas G2G6 Mach 1 (10.4k points)
or a ''friend'' that needs to be deep-sixed?  ;)
+10 votes
23 years ago, 1993, before the internet, I started researching the name of Shaules, on my mother's maternal side. They originally came from Quebec and ended up in Detroit in the 1870's. Found them in the City Directories. After hand copying the information in the directories, went on to try to find them in Canada and specifically Quebec.

I tried Shaules, Shauls,  Shawles, Shaales, Shoules, Shall, and every other variation I could think of. but had no success. This went on for a few years actually. One can only take so much nothingness before you have to give it a break. So, I started and stopped every few weeks.

Then the internet started being productive.  Found many Shaules here in the states, but none in Quebec.

By the year of 2000, I married a beautiful Scottish lady that had lived in France for 20 years. When she started looking at what I had found she told me that there is no name of Shaules in the French language. It didn't exist. The name in French was Chasles, or Cháles. Once I had that information the bricks starting falling to the ground and the genealogical yellow brick road started being productive.

Even with that, there was very little information to be found out there.. My ancestors were very nearly lost in obscurity in the records, but with untold hours of research, the Catholic parish records, a little luck, and the contributions of others,  I now have a pretty solid picture of my ancestors. It all started with the right name.

Now I have a 74 page manuscript that I am going to donate to libraries and historical societies so that no one else has to put in this much time to get results.
by Tom Dunne G2G Crew (890 points)
+8 votes

There's one particular example, which proved extremely confusing. In my line, I originally encountered it as Cagle or Kagle, through Adaline Cagle, who is my 3xGreat Grandmother. 

However subsequent searches have turned up a plethora of alternative spellings, depending on whether it was imported into French or English: Cagle, Kagle, Keigle, Kaigle, Goeckel, Goeckell, Quecle, Quequel, Quequell, Kequel, Quelquele, Kequel, Kekel... and others which are sure to exist. 

Have a look at Adaline's grandfather's descendants. It's truly amazing the diversity of spellings that came out of that one name! Thanks to another member here, Mary Beth Mylott, who has connected so much of it, and her blog, which helped me make one of the connections.

by anonymous G2G6 Pilot (128k points)
Oh my, that's certainly a lot of different spellings and an incredible amount of research!!
+7 votes
Jeanette Wibau was an early Huegenot immigrant to the Northern New York area from the area near what is now the French-Belgian border.  In her new home were other immigrants from what is now the Netherlands, Germany, England, and France, and each language spelled her last name in a different way from the others. I think "Ouibow" was one variation, but all tried to stay faithful (in their own orthography) to her pronounciation of her name in an age (late 1600's-early 1700's), when spelling rules had not been invented.

 Luckily, I speak German and some French, and knew how the original name sounded phonetically.  One has to be very open-minded and have a bit of familiarity with the pronounciation rules of these languages to have an easy time researching persons in upstate New York in this period.
by Dan Sparkman G2G6 Mach 2 (21.5k points)
And of course be open to regional pronunciation variations, as an example the two biggest variants in French, langue d'oc & langue d'oil (south and north), there is still a region of France known as Languedoc because of it.  Langue d'oil disappeared as an appellation because it prevailed and became modern French over time.
+9 votes

So far I have seen 57 variations of my surname (Ayer) - Aaire, Aars, Aers, Ahheayrs, Ahheire, Aier, Aiere, Aiers, Air, Aire, Aires, Airs, Ares, Aries, Aris, Ayar, Ayars, Aye, Ayeres, Ayer, Ayers, Ayhaire, Ayr, Ayre, Ayres, Ayris, Ayrs, Eaire, Eairs, Eare, Eares, Eayer, Eayers, Eayr, Eayre, Eier, Eires, Eyer, Eyers, Eyr, Eyre, Eyres, Eyrs, Hairs, Hares, Hayers, Heires, Heirs, Layre, Le Eir, Le Eyr, LeEyre, LeHeyr, Le Heyer and in some rare cases Oyer, Iyer, or Hare.  Even in these modern times I spent most of my life erasing an "s" off my own name that people insist on putting there even in the face of specific prohibitions not to add one.  I started out thinking that I was unrelated to any other variation, until I started noticing the records for the same person had his name spelled 5 different ways depending on who wrote the record.  The real problem is that all the sloppy record keeping causes a lot of confusion with other legitimate family lines that are not related.

by Warren Ayer G2G4 (4.0k points)
No kidding!  You could even add the word Ailleurs to the list, French for elsewhere, and sounds pretty much the same, with the S being silent.  

Illiteracy seems to be the prime bane of genealogy, since things get written phonetically so often, which can lead very far astray.  Like Maquefarlin, for McFarling.  True example.
I had never considered all those variations on Ayes and Hare.  I will definitely all this to my research notes. Thank you.
+7 votes
De Trieux -> Truax, Trax, Trux

Steinbruchel -> Stainbrook, Stonebrake

Druckebrod/Trockenbrodt -> Drybread - with a dizzying array of census misspellings
by Marc Snelling G2G6 (7.1k points)
+7 votes
My maiden name is Botma. There are a couple of different versions that were quite confusing when I started to work on my paternal line. Botma, Botman, Bosman, Boden, snd mostly Bothma. After the British took over the Cape Colony in 1806, lots of Bothmas popped up. My guess is when at registration mamea were pronounced, the Englisg government workers simply wrote them down the way they thought it sounded to their ear. That's where research comes in handy and proves to be very important.
by Catherine du Toit G2G2 (2.4k points)
+7 votes
My grandfather accidentally killed his father during a fight. We 'knew' bits and pieces of this but it was never talked about. Found out he actually went to prison for it. During his time there his mother died, the community got together, petitioned the Governor informing him that it was an accident. My grandfather was pardoned and set free after serving two years. The Community must have done a convincing job because I discovered later that particular Governor was very stingy with the pardons.

Another great uncle was hanged but it was well known and talked about simply it was maintained that he was probably innocent and even the victim's family thought he had been framed. A death bed confession cleared him but I don't know if anyone has ever gone to the trouble of obtaining a posthumous pardon.
wow, sounds like some of my relatives, only mine got convicted and sentenced to death.  Pretty far back in time though.
+6 votes
Many years ago while I was researching at Quebec's national archives, there was a lady from western Canada trying to trace her family 'WHITE' only to discover somewhere along the way someone translated the name 'LEBLANC' to 'WHITE'. You never know and must work with preciseness.
by John Nash G2G6 Mach 1 (11.0k points)
+7 votes
maybe at least 3 - Cavett, Cavitt, and Cabot
by Donna Parsons G2G1 (1.1k points)
+7 votes
I have found Multiple spellings for all surnames in or lines the worst being Fozzard so far i have found 13 variations to the original spelling, in the Bassingtheweighte i have found 8  so far and it has been like this with all lines the lowest has been Hopkins with just 3.
by Sandra Hopkins G2G5 (5.9k points)
+5 votes
When my great grandmother moved from Minnesota with her spouse to homestead in Montana, she listed her maiden name as Ereaux. She had a paternal uncle already living in Montana who also went by Ereaux.  Her mother and three youngest sons came along with her, and all went by Ereaux.  Generations of Ereauxs followed.  Great grandmother wrote a wonderful memoir and talked about her father's life in Minnesota, so I was eager to find documentation about him to back up her tale, but I found nothing!  Until, that is, I relinquished Ereaux.  Heroux, a french name that has no beginning or ending consonants, gave birth to the following: Eroux, Aroux, Iroux, Hiron, Troux, Ereaux, Hereaux, and probably others.  It was a great lesson for me on the virtues of flexibility when looking at records from a time when it was a rare gift to know how to read and write.
by Rita Carpenter G2G3 (3.7k points)

to add to your collection, Hérault, and L'Hérault and probably Leroux also.wink

+5 votes
About 25 years ago, near the beginning of genealogy on the internet,  i learned that the maiden name of my ggg grandmother was Gudger.  OMG, i thought, what kind of name is that! A few years later i found that other families in that part of Devon were named Goodyear, and the penny dropped.  Eventually i found her family, with the name spelled variously Gooder, Goodier, Godier and Gudier.  The furthest back family member i have so far is Edward born about 1660 - the baptismal records for his children born 1692 to 1704 tend to spell it Goodyea.  I'm taking this as a clue to possible French or Channel Islands origin - haven't got there yet.  It is not smashing through a brick wall, but gradually removing single brick stumbling blocks from the path.
by Shirlea Smith G2G6 Pilot (135k points)
+5 votes
I’ve been looking for records for my ancestor Sarah McGee for years. I have recently found records because of DNA matches that has taken me to McKee, and back one more to Marquis!  So no French Canadian Galarneau (Gardener) married to an Irish girl after all. And on her marriage she’s in the index as Martin!  But because of her two sisters descendants and the records that I connected through after I found the matches, I had an aha! moment and began to search for her geographically. So glad I did!
by Carla Tucker G2G2 (2.4k points)
+5 votes
Let's see: Armetstead (in England - "living by the hermitage"), Armistead, Armstead, Armsted (these three sometimes referring to the same person in successive census records). In colonial Virginia, pronounced "UM-sted" or even "UM-stay-ed." There's a story that African Americans with the name dropped the "i". My branch of the family (white, from Georgia) for some reason keep the "i" but don't pronounce it. Not as badly mangled as the Taliaferros/Tollivers :)
by D Armistead G2G6 Mach 1 (11.4k points)
+4 votes
That was my whole thing for finding my people - guess the spelling and how it changed and go look was my way to find and though I am really terrible at spelling - I somehow was good at that - all my families that came before me had these changes and you have to be flexible and guess a bit then the connections will be accessable - Desmarais to Demery,Mc Nee to Nay, Van Schoonhoven to Schoonover and so many more
by Navarro Mariott G2G6 Pilot (145k points)
+3 votes
My husbands grandmothers maiden name: Tesseneer,Tesenere, Tesseniere,Tessenyear, Tessinger,Tessenear,Tesenear,Tesner,Tessner,Lessenar, Tesney,Tesnear,Tesiner, Tessnear,Tisiner,Tessiner, Tessneer,Tessnier,Tusseneer, Tesnier,Tessenier,Tesener, Tesmer,Tessnire,Tysseneer, and ...
by R. Howard G2G5 (5.1k points)

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