Owen v. Owens - how do you decide if records show both names?

+9 votes
This is a general question.  Almost all of my Owen(s) relatives have records using Owen and Owens for the same person.  How do you decide which one to use for the NAB?  If the father's earliest record is Owen but half of his children's first record is a Census where his last name is listed as Owens, I just get frustrated.  In my grandmother's book, she uses both, sometimes for the same person in a different section of the book.  Help!!
in Genealogy Help by Marcie Ruiz G2G6 Mach 6 (63.7k points)
All names are variable, but some more so than others. Whatever document you choose as "primary", the name spelling on it will be essentially arbitrary or random in such cases, so I think it makes more sense to look at what the person's descendants did or are doing: if the family uses Owens now, simplify life and use that for their ancestors, too. You can acknowledge the variability in a few key biographies, if you want, but it'll be kind of obvious from the sources, so you don't need to bother pointing it out every single time.
My maiden name is Owen but I have noticed about every other generation it changes to Owen. I do attach records that I know are my ancestors even if it says Owens

4 Answers

+11 votes
Best answer
My mother's name was Wood. But growing up, we always referred to her family in the plural, because there are so many of them, aunts, uncles, cousins, etc. But over time, this got me confused and I never actually knew what their family name really was -- until I started searching records.

Turns out, even in official documents, no one else knows either.

My mother and uncle are twins, born minutes apart -- the same doctor, same staff. On their birth certificates, one is named Wood, the other Woods -- including their father on each, one Wood, the other Woods. The same doctor delivered all the older children, all named Wood.

All the rest of the family go by the singular, including ancestors.

Another set of ancestors are Necessary, but at some point, one branch of the family changed their name to just Essary. The story is that the patriarch originally changed his name to Necessary from ? because he was running from someone/something.

Official records are only "official" because they were recorded by governmental officials. But they often made mistakes and typos, and if the families couldn't read or write, then it was left up to the officials in charge to determine the "correct spelling", and they only know what they are being told.

Long story short... you may need to compare with the other family members, and then make your best guess (but document your reasons).
by Dennis Wheeler G2G6 Pilot (585k points)
selected by Maggie N.
oh, and I never trust census records for spelling -- the census taker could also be a poor speller.

try to find more definitive records.
Dennis, I have Wood and Essary relatives! What’s up? Mine are western NC, kinda.
Dennis, just saw this story about your Owen vs. Owens and the story about the name "Necessary" !
+8 votes
Hi Marcie, I concur with what Dennis has said. I also think is the fathers earliest record, as u mentioned as being Owen a reliable source? If so then I would say stick with Owen! If not then at least try to find a primary source for the father and use that spelling of the name throughout all of his descendants. As Dennis mentioned, Never Trust The information in a Census, always use it as a guideline or clues to finding family lines and possible connections and then verify by further research.
by Shaun Doust G2G6 Pilot (362k points)
Marcie, I have to agree with Shaun here with the caveat hat if a person is documented to have changed the spelling of his/her name, then use that one.

From my grandfather up the ancestral line, the spelling of the surname was Shepherd. (Marriage cert. for him says Shepherd.) My dad and his brothers changed it in the 30s. Funny though, my grandfather is buried under Sheppard.

I am also an Owen descendant. If there’s is not documentary record of the person changing his/her name, a signature for example as a documented use, then I have stuck with Owen. Fortunstely, weren’t too many cases of a change. Gravestones are terrible proof of the spelling of a name, especially back in the1700s and 1800s when it was just as likely that an abbreviation could be used.

Owen to Owens is rather radical. On the other hand, there are my Reese relatives who spell it Reece, which is less so.
Census records, marriage certificates, etc have typos or were filled out by other parties, so Owen becomes Owen's. My great grandmother's name was Emeline but is misspelled on many documents and she was buried as Lina, which is even Linda in my grandfather's social security death notice. I find consistency in location, for instance, more important than spelling likely filled in by clerks. Also some relations are listed in records by initials. Same point: circumstantial evidence and personal knowledge.
+7 votes
This problem appears frequently using basic databases-I am Owen my dad was OWENS but after 1945 he reverted to OWEN! I have found many records mis-transcribed as OWEN from OWENS and vice-versa. The only solution is to search records using the variant options and use the name given on the actual document. Once you get back to 1700's it gets worse as spellings changed day by day. My Birds relatives start in Cheshire as Bryd, Brydd, Brydde, or Byrd, sometimes Bird. The variant option brings up none of these and in addition very few websites have the parish records for the Wirral back beyond 1700. I have only solved the issue by going back to very early sources and looking at the entries line by line and building my own database up from scratch :)
by Gareth Owen G2G Crew (590 points)
+5 votes

Welcome to WikiTree Marcie, and thank you for introducing yourself in the g2g forum.

I hope you enjoy yourself here as much as I have.

by Cheryl Hess G2G Astronaut (1.8m points)

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