Let's Discuss "Modernizing" Surnames

+4 votes

I'm a bit perplexed regarding how genealogists handle surnames. I'll use one particular example: Samuel Andrews-3308.

In this genealogy: Alfred Andrews (Member of Connecticut Historical Society), Genealogical History of John and Mary Andrews who settled in Farmington, Conn.: 1640 (Chicago, A. H. Andrews & Co., 1872), Andrews is the spelling of all the ancestors, including Samuel Andrews.

However, a copy of his 1769 probate, including his will, is available in ancestry.com. It appears to be a copy of the actual will; the signatures of the testator and witnesss are clearly executed by different signers. Samuel signs his name as "Samuel Andrus."  Throughout the probate Andrus is the spelling used for the surname.

Further, when his wife Sarah died in 1780, she spells her name as Andrus and her will names her children as Andrus.

Since we place so much emphasis on using the LNAB in creating our profiles, why then are we often NOT using the spelling as the person did during their lifetime?

Although I've furnished but one example, this is not an uncommon practice. I'm just an inquiring mind, hoping to further my education!


WikiTree profile: Samuel Andrews
in Genealogy Help by Jim Parish G2G6 Pilot (158k points)
edited by Jim Parish

In cases like this,  I will start at the father's surname spelling (last name at birth), give the variant spelling, and will note what records contained the alternate spellings, whether the alternate spelling appeared to be clerical in nature (I also will note if I see other spelling errors of the person who penned the original document), and whether the shift became permanently adopted.  When a whole branch of descendants goes by the changed spelling, I have to respect that shift once it's adopted. 

My maiden name is Andrews and the rhotic spelling Anders is occasionally seen in records of my American southern-born ancestors, and this shift was permanently adopted in one branch of descendants closely related to me.  So the variant is not only misspelled, it's not phonetically equivalent.  Ironically, that branch of Anders has their patriarch's headstone engraved with Andrews and his wife's headstone with Anders - she is buried in the Andrews section of the cemetery.

Standardized spelling is historically a recent invention, which explains some of the variance.  Many documents I've seen were filled out and even signed by a clerk or some other official, and surnames and given names were often at the mercy of that official's spelling AND hearing abilities.  In some cases, illiteracy of those being recorded compounded the problem since they could not convey the original spelling of the surname.  In my personal experience, even though I always spell my surname to someone, they still can get it wrong.




2 Answers

+6 votes
Best answer

"Use their conventions instead of ours." - modernizing is not the wikitree way.

by Anne B G2G Astronaut (1.2m points)
selected by R W
That's what the "other name fields" are for.

When I originally answered this question, only the headline was there. So I answered the simple question "Let's Discuss "Modernizing" Surnames"

Now that the whole question is present, I will address it a little differently.

We do not have a positive Last Name at Birth (LNAB) for Samuel, unless someone wants to actually go look at the record. The Barbour Collection of Connecticut Vital Records, which everyone relies on, lumps all the spellings together ie. ANDREWS, ANDROS, ANDRUS, ANDRUSS, ANDREWES, ANDREUSS. The "Church record index" distinguishes between Andrews,Andrewes and ANDROS, ANDRUS, ANDRUSS, ANDREUSS, and places Samuel as baptized Andrews/Andrewes. A transcription done by Nathaniel Goodwin says Andrews. So I think Andrews should probably be the correct LNAB (by baptismal record). Andrus would be current last name as in keeping with his will, and should probably be changed in this case.

Andrews is what's on the profile, so unless someone actually checks the birth record, and finds it different it should remain Andrews.

I'm pretty sure the original creator of the profile, just spelled it Andrews out of habit, or what they saw in the book, without a thought to LNAB. There haven't even been any conflicting spellings merged.


Thank you, Anne. I inadvertently posted the headline without the body of my question! I was busily editing it when you first answered. As I said, I'm still learning and appreciate your kind instruction.

In  the genealogy by Alfred Andrews (Member of Connecticut Historical Society), Genealogical History of John and Mary Andrews who settled in Farmington, Conn.: 1640 (Chicago, A. H. Andrews & Co., 1872), it is mentioned that the earliest land records spelled the name Andrews. Further, the 1681 will of John Andrews uses Andrews as the surname spelling Andrews throughout, including the surnames of his children, including Benjamin.

Volume 2 of Alfred Andrews has the will of Benjamin Andrews, in which the surname in spelled throughout "Andrus," including the children's surname.

Volume 3 has the will of Samuel Andrews, in which the surname is also spelled "Andrus" throughout, although you provided his baptismal citation which is transcribed as Andrews.

In the end I would agree with you that for Benjamin and Samuel, the correct LNAB is Andrews, with Andrus as "other name."

Thanks again for providing me with a "learning moment." :)

I'm embarrassed. Had I gone beyond the profiles of Samuel and Benjamin to John's, I would have seen that you did extensive work on John and his children last year, which is massively sourced. That would have answered many questions up front.

All this started because I was sourcing Samuel's third wife, Sarah (Nott) ANDRUS, and slipped down a very long rabbit hole (at least for me).
I know all about falling down rabbit holes................  : )
+2 votes
The real question is what name did Samuel's parents use when he was born.  Probably the biography used the modern name and should not be used here.  Andrus would probably be the name Samuel used, but there's no sureity that that was his parent's name.  If you know what name they used, go with that and use Andrus as the current last name if it's different.
by Dave Dardinger G2G6 Pilot (407k points)

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