I've often been amazed at the inexplicable changes in spelling of surnames and first names, with the most astonishing thing I've yet seen being a complete misspelling of a person's last name on their tombstone. People might assume that something "written in stone" is correct, but I've now seen for myself that's not always true!
But having joined you briefly in this rant, I'd love to encourage all of us here at WikiTree to get creative with how we do investigation any time we hit a dead end, keeping in mind that many "brick walls" happen at junctures where names change. These changes happen not just at the expected moments--such as when immigrants arrive in a new country and change spelling to be more in keeping with their new homeland--but also due to the person writing the document spelling the name how they think it should be written, as well as translation errors, spelling changes due to someone being illiterate, or the person being known by a different name than their given name. And then there are cases where a person's first and last name are switched around.
Here are some tips I've found helpful to break through brick walls that end up having been there due to differences in name spellings:
- Establish as many factual details for the person as possible, including family members wherever possible. Sometimes census records provide just the right clue to pick up a trail that got temporarily lost due to a name change.
- Leave off the name in searches, and seek to find all other attributes matching--or using the bare minimum of data facts you have for an individual. This minimalist approach has often rewarded me with breakthroughs, with results showing up I'd not seen before, which is how I then recognize the same person showing up with a different name.
- Try creative combinations of search fields, such as trying a combination of birth place, gender, approximate birth date and father's last name to narrow down the search, and see what turns up. Vary the results in different ways, such as including just the first name of a person with the first name of a parent, spouse, or other family member.
- Search on initials rather than full names. I've sometimes had good fortune when doing searches on just initials for the name, along with combinations of other facts.
- These tips are useful for searching genealogical databases such as familysearch.org, and also for searching in Google Books--especially when you know a specific time and location for individuals.