Question of the Week: What's the funniest transcription mistake you've seen?

+27 votes

We've all had those moments of searching and searching only to find our ancestors buried somewhere in the census because a census taker had poor penmanship, or maybe the name was spelled phonetically. Do you have any memorable ones?


~ Thanks to Summer Orman and Brenda Butler for this week's Question of the Week! ~



asked in The Tree House by Julie Ricketts G2G6 Pilot (257k points)
retagged by Keith Hathaway
Great idea, Summer. Thanks for the suggestion.
Named for the Revolutionary War hero, Francis Marion, my great grandfather,  Francis Marion Savage, shows as "Fannie" (I'm thinking they probably called him "Frannie") and listed as female at age 1 year.

I find this mysterious "Fannie" on too many family trees in  "She" even got transferred to Wikitree.
My great-grandfather, James Lipsey, was listed in the census as "Sims Lapooey."  Every time I think of it, I have a thought bubble of old people in town fondly reminiscing about 'ol Sims Lapooey.
Searching TROVE (Australia papers) I came across ....father, No man...

Upon further searching I discovered it should have been "Norman".


33 Answers

+20 votes

On a UK census, "Taunton, Som." means "Taunton, Somerset".  But the transcriber wrote it down as "Taunton, Somalia"...

If you  mean the enumerator wrote it down wrong - I found a whole Haywood family in the 1861 UK census enumerated as "Howard", and the mistakes in birthplacenames when the census-taker heard them through a broad Devon accent have to be seen to be believed.  Awton Jezzy for Aveton Gifford? And just how do you pronounce "Woolfardisworthy"? (Woolsery).  And then these get written down...

answered by Ros Haywood G2G6 Pilot (471k points)
edited by Ros Haywood
+17 votes

I posted this as a comment on the profile wall when it happened, so it was easy to find today:

Added the source since curiosity wouldn't let me not look at the image. Who could resist finding out if his occupation really was recorded as "Shaman" as it was indexed at FamilySearch.

"Florida Deaths, 1877-1939," database, FamilySearch ( : accessed 8 June 2016), Charles P. Meares, 21 Feb 1905; citing Florida, reference Vol 09 cn 1470; FHL microfilm 2,116,941.

It was obvious, when compared with other writing on the page, that the second character is a joined "E" rather than an "H."

Charles was a "Seaman" as one would expect.

This was in Key West in 1905. Most jobs involved being on the water in some fashion.

Also in a Key West family, the abbreviated place of origin on immigration cards "B?h" is indexed as Bohemia rather than Bahama. If I hadn't been familiar with the families, I'd have passed them right by.

answered by Debi Hoag G2G6 Pilot (197k points)
I love this one, Debi!!! lol
It's not being able to read cursive handwriting that causes most transcribers difficulties!
I think we're doing a real disservice to the younger generation here in the USA where, for the most part, cursive reading has been dropped from the curriculum. I'm not as sure that dropping cursive writing is a bad thing.

Changing styles of cursive has caused me difficulty in reading the records such as that one above where the "e" looked like an "h" to the unaware. It seems that each decade or location had minor variations in how letters were formed. Maybe by dropping the use of cursive going forward, future generations won't have to deal with that.
+14 votes
Looks like Summer and I were on the same page when we suggested our mistranscription question.

I've had a few weird ones over the years but my favourite has to be my 4xGt Grandfather, Malcolm Coubrough..... it took me ages to find him in the 1851 census as they'd called him Mabalm Gousbrough!  It sounds about right if either party had downed a bottle of sherry first.

And then there's my husbands Grant sisters, usually known as Lavinia and Selina, but found as Laumia and Slenna on one census.
answered by Brenda Butler G2G6 Mach 3 (39.2k points)
Brenda -- you are right! I completely forgot about your comment on the other thread. I'm so sorry!

p.s. Fixed it! :-)
+11 votes
I was sourcing an ancestor who was born in Oklahoma (if I recall correctly), but several lines up on the census, a neighbor was born in Austria. All the rest of the lines, for several pages were ditto'ed ( ' ' ), so for several pages, everyone was transcribed as having been born in Austria (which might have been actually plausible for many in the neighborhood)

I don't find it funny, so much as sad -- at both the inaccuracies of the census taker and the common sense of the transcriber (if not machine transcribed)
answered by Dennis Wheeler G2G6 Pilot (374k points)
In fairness to the transcriber, they are told to transcribe what is there, not put what it ought to be, though.
You’re right, the instructions are to write what is seen. I’ve seen similar mistakes where several pages were ditto’ed.

There are so many instances where it seems that an indexer had to work harder at coming up with an off-the-wall interpretation than what is actually on the page.
+14 votes
There are a surprising number of errors like this one in Family Search considering that volunteers transcribe each record twice and discrepancies are reviewed by a moderator.  

Meet "Line Left For Dwelling Unit But Already Enumerated" living in Longmont, Colorado in 1940:
answered by J. Crook G2G6 Pilot (152k points)
Wow. That one leaves me a little speechless!
I finally remembered how I found other Family Search errors:

Meet "See Attach List Also," living in New York:


"See Also" living in Sandy, Utah in 1992:

If the links don't work, just search for See as a first name and Also as a last name.  I'm pretty sure I sent in the Sandy, Utah one to be corrected. Ah, well.
Thanks so much for the best laugh of the day!
"See Attach List Also" has an AKA of "See Attached List Also", which makes me shake my head even more.
Good grief, these absolutely take the biscuit.  The only good news for researchers is that they'll never be looking for their ancestor called "See Also".  At least I hope they won't be!
Good grief!
+13 votes
In a New York census about 1880, for the names I was researching -

All first names were an Initial (the initial for the second name), all the first names were shown as the middle name, so James Harris Adams would be H. James Adams.

In the transcription of the same census all the lower case tʻs became lʻs - so Harriette became Harrielle.  It was nice that I recalled the middle name of the spouse was Harriette and was then able to read the rest of the mess.
answered by Kristina Adams G2G6 Pilot (134k points)
Wow.  You're lucky you figured that one out.
I struggled through one of those pages but didn't figure out the puzzle.
(And I love to do the New York Times Sunday crossword puzzles where
you have to have your head on sideways to decipher their clues some times).
Thanks for the clue.  Many of my relatives are from New York and this
will help in the future if I need those pages again.
+16 votes
Either language issue, or a few cocktails.

1920 Bucks County PA census:

Walenty Luczak

Luczak Wastenty

I guess i have a Wasted family
answered by Glenn Major G2G1 (1.1k points)
+15 votes
I have a rellie on the 1871 census who was a "gunner, R.A." (Royal Artillery) which was transcribed as a gunner in the Royal Air Force. Some friends and I on facebook were having a giggle about it, coming up with a few alternative fantasy translations, such as Gunner, Royal Academy, and Gunner, Rearsby Allotments. This made me giggle as another person on my tree had been up before the quarter-sessions for cabbage-stealing at the allotments.
answered by Gillian Causier G2G6 Pilot (160k points)
+13 votes
An annoying one on Family Search

Persons born or married in Bourne Lincolnshire show as Bourne Dorset???

If you put Linconshire in the 'Restrict Records by' location box, you miss a load of entries.
answered by Dave Welburn G2G6 Mach 7 (77.5k points)
+16 votes
I spent some time identifying the town Nasserton, when the Illinois death certificate spelled it Waffletown.
answered by Greg Shipley G2G6 Mach 6 (67.1k points)
+16 votes
One census taker wrote down Arre's name as Arse.  A simple mistake or taking his frustration out on that particular house?  Hmmm.  I had to find other sources just to make sure she didn't have sinister parents.
answered by Emma MacBeath G2G6 Pilot (520k points)
Baptised on Craggy Island by Father Jack, maybe?
Am I too young or from the wrong place to understand the reference?
hahaha Drink! Drink!
Emma, it's a reference to an Irish comedy called "Father Ted".
Thank you, Fiona, for clearing that up!  It was driving me crazy not knowing the reference.  I've never watched Father Ted :-)
+9 votes

In 2012, several thousand people descended on the French  Pyrenean village of Bugararch They were  hoping to avoid the end of the world and get a lift from the alien space travellers who live within  the mountain, They were disappointed (and the world didn't end)

We have evidence from Family Search that on 16th February 1863,  a Baptiste Baron and his wife to be, one  Albine Raynaud,   may have successfully  hitched a lift from these travellers to the village of Milton Abbas in Dorset England for their marriage. There were another 30 odd couples from Bugarach  who also made this  long journey
List here

 These people still appear in the Family search index as having married in Milton Abbas , though when you try to cite it you find the record is 'no longer accessible on Family search)

OK not so much transcription, but  certainly a lack of common sense in the person who originally transcribed the film

added link to list of marriages affected

answered by Helen Ford G2G6 Pilot (187k points)
edited by Helen Ford
+10 votes
I have several persons who were born, lived and died in the county of Kent, England. They probably never left the county as this was in the 16 & 1700s. However some people have interpreted this as Kentucky. Possibly not funny, more annoying as the error has been repeated and propagated on several sites.

One individual in particular appears here as James William Sojourner (Sojourner-2) married in Kentucky to his Kentish born wife. I now have every reason to believe he is James Williams (Williams-35711), who is described as "a sojourner" (a temporary resident).

OK, I confess I got his name wrong wrong originally, but I never thought he was ever in Kentucky!
answered by Peter Jennings G2G1 (1.3k points)
In answer to this - there are a number of Kentucky census records transcribed as Kenya. So... for all you kentuckians out there - remember to look for Kenya records if you're missing a census. (I heard they were working on correcting these, but there are still many out there)
+5 votes

Bertha Sassaver out of Bertha St Sauveur gave me a laugh today. 

answered by Dorothy Barry G2G Astronaut (1.2m points)
+6 votes
I knew my ancestor Matilda Maguire had been born about 1845 from her obituary, so started searching the NSW Australia Births. As Maguire can be spelt several different ways I made use of the wildcard as M*guire but confident of Matilda & roughly the year. No luck after hours of searching ever wider years. Maybe she was recorded as Tilly?. Searched just on M*guire with hundreds of entries. (Luckily not the USA where there would be thousands). Came across "Matidla" McGuire born 1864 with the right father & mother's names. Ordered this with a 30 day wait for original document.

Matilda McGuire born 1846.

Then had to scan it in & email it back to them with my complaint. Now correctly listed.


Graeme Rose
answered by Graeme Rose G2G6 (6.5k points)
+13 votes
I turned Crabapple into Crapapple.
answered by Trudy Roach G2G6 Pilot (168k points)
+11 votes
Some of the best are when the relationship is listed as a surname. This happens especially when the person's surname could be a middle name. Some examples might be:

Mary Lindsey Neece

John Vincent Stepson

James Thomason (rather than James Thomas - Son)

George Henry Nepfew
answered by Bill Vincent G2G6 Mach 3 (36.2k points)
+6 votes
In many records I've commonly found locations to be transcribed poorly, especially when the place is uncommon to that place and time. Some of these are quite humorous:

Iceland rather than Ireland

Georgia rather than Germany (Ger)

Angola rather than England (Eng)

NY rather than Ky

AK rather than Ark

Ontario (Ont) rather than Ohio
answered by Bill Vincent G2G6 Mach 3 (36.2k points)
My ancestor, who was born in Kingston, Ontario is listed in the 1860 census with a birth of Kingston, U.C. (Upper Canada).  Indexers interpreted that as Kingston, N.C. (North Carolina).
+5 votes
On a transcribed Death Certificate I note my 3rd great grandmother's Surname is recorded as Ichertein. Her Surname was Basting. My 2nd great  grandmother who probably only spoke German was more than likely  answering the questions as interpreted through her son and recorded by another scribe. 2 GGrannny probably was saying Yes that's her name or words to that effect in German and somehow in a mixed up way we got a mishmash and an unknown Surname. (My German colleagues may be better able to decipher if this is a possible scenario).
answered by Rionne Brooks G2G6 Mach 3 (37.3k points)
It's not German, not even in one of the weirder dialects. Maybe it was "uncertain"?
Thank you for replying Helmut, Please tell me is Ich German and ein German, as I thought it was? I really thought it was words put together by someone who doesn't  read or write in German.
As JKF famously said during the Berlin blockade: "Ich bin ein Berliner" (I am a Berliner) - maybe he meant to say Ichertein Berliner
+10 votes
Looking at a scanned newspaper, I came accross

Disolvement of Fartnership
answered by
I had a relative Edward Stephens with last name spelled "Stepans".

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