Name Variations in Canadian Indexes and Records

From FamilySearch Wiki
Jump to navigation Jump to search

Canada Gotoarrow.png Name Variations

Introduction[edit | edit source]

Before you decide your ancestor is not in an index or record, try the suggestions in this guide. Identifying your ancestor's name in indexes and records may be difficult because of:

  • Spelling errors and spelling changes over time.
  • Errors in reading handwriting.
  • Foreign surnames modified to sound more British.
  • Errors made by an indexer.
  • Errors made by the transcriber of a record.

What You Are Looking For[edit | edit source]

Ways to overcome problems finding your ancestor's name in indexes and records.

[edit | edit source]

These 4 steps will help you identify your ancestor's name in indexes and records.

Step 1. If you can't find the record, check if the name is spelled a different way.[edit | edit source]

Two kinds of spelling errors are found in records and indexes:

  1. The transcriber or indexer misreads the original or mistypes the index entry.
  2. The creator of the records misspells the name in the original record.

The following table lists problems and suggests possible solutions:

Different spellings f Think of the ways your ancestor's name may have changed, and then look for his name under those spellings. For further suggestions, see:
Initials or abbreviations Look for the surname with the first or middle names as initials or abbreviations. For example, look for the name "GREEN, James William" under:
  • GREEN, J.
  • GREEN, J.W.
  • GREEN, Jas. W.
  • GREEN, Jas. Wm.
  • GREEN, James W.
  • GREEN, J. William
  • GREEN, J. Wm.
  • GREEN, James
  • GREEN, William

And don't overlook the spelling "GREENE"

Middle Name Look for the middle instead of the first name.

For example, instead of the name, "WALKER, George Herbert" try "WALKER, Herbert."

Vowels Look for the name spelled with different vowels. For example, look for GILLESPIE under GALLESPIE, GELLESPIE, GOLLESPIE, GULLESPIE, or GYLLESPIE.
Double letters Search the index for the name with double letters added or deleted. For example, for the name FULLER, try FULER. For the name BAKER, try BAKKER.
Transposed letters Look for the name spelled with each of the first four letters transposed. For example, look for name WIGHTMAN under IWGHTMAN, WGIHTMAN, WIHGTMAN, and WIGTHMAN.
Misread letters Old handwriting is often a challenge to read. Use the Spelling Substitution Tables for the United States and Canada to find letters which were possibly substituted in the spelling of the name.

Using this table the name CARTER might be searched for under GARTER, EARTER, OARTER, CEARTER, CEIRTER, CAETER, CASTER and so forth. For further suggestions, see:

  • Deciphering Old Handwriting from a genealogy course taught by Sabina J. Murray
  • Kirkham, E. Kay. The Handwriting of American Records for a Period of 300 Years.
  • Sperry, Kip. Reading Early American Handwriting.
Phonetic substitutes Use the Phonetic Substitutes Table to find ways the name may have been misspelled using letters which sound similar.


First letter Look at all the surnames that begin with the same letter as the name you seek. For example, if you cannot find the surname KELLY, scan all the surnames that begin with "K" for garbled or misplaced spellings of Kelly. For further suggestions, see Examples of Letters of the 17th Century Found in Parish Registers on RootsWeb.

Step 2. Apply the suggestions.[edit | edit source]

Using your ancestor's name, experiment with the suggestions made in the table above. Try possible:

  • Alternative or phonetic spellings. Remember to check Spelling Substitution Tables.
  • Handwriting alternatives.
  • Typos and inadvertent spelling errors.
  • Indexing errors.

Step 3. Search the original record.[edit | edit source]

If the record is a copy, the transcriber may have misread the original record. Find the original record by:

  • Checking the FamilySearch Catalog to see if the original record has been filmed. If so, obtain the film, and photocopy the original page in question. To search the FamilySearch Catalog on the Internet, click on Search for Ancestors on this screen, select Custom Search, and click on FamilySearch Catalog.
  • Writing to the place where the original record may be housed, such as a court house, provincial archives, or church. Ask for a photocopy of the page you need.

Compare the copy of the record with the original record, watching for the suggestions made in the table above.

Step 4. Look for relatives in an index.[edit | edit source]

Look for the names of parents, children, brothers or sisters, and uncles or aunts in the index. If you find relatives in the index, view the original record to see if the person you want is mentioned in the record but was missed by the indexer.

For further information on this principle, see Your Ancestor Had A FAN Club.

Background[edit | edit source]

It is frustrating to go to an index or a record where you believe your ancestor should appear and not find the person listed. This happens for a number of reasons.

In the past, people were not consistent about the spelling of their surnames. For example, Shakespeare spelled his own name several different ways. Do not rely on the spelling of a surname as a proof in genealogy. Thinking of alternative spellings is a key to success in genealogy research.

Handwriting has changed considerably over the centuries. Therefore, learn to recognize "ff" or "fs" as the old form of a double "s." Other similar keys for letter recognition will help you recognize your ancestor's name when you see it.

Many were illiterate and could not tell a record keeper how to spell their name. Others came to Canada from different countries. Either the person or a record keeper may have translated a French Canadian name into English or modified the spelling of the name in records, or the record keeper may have misunderstood the informant when he said his name.

All these factors explain why sometimes it is a challenge to find your ancestor in records, even when the person is there.