Names in Genealogy

Names, naming patterns, first names, surnames, place names, traditional names…etc etc etc.  If you don’t learn more and uncover the meaning behind names, then chances are you will miss out on finding one or two (probably more) of those elusive ancestors.
Because there was really no standardized education until the early 1900’s, most people in the UK did not know how to spell their name…and they didn’t really need to either.  So finding a surname spelled four or five different ways is the NORM in genealogical research.  Don’t ever think that the Robert Smythe you find in the records is NOT your Robert Smith…if you do, you’re on the road to major research flaws and many errors in your family tree.
Then you have the phonetic spelling of a surname; meaning it was spelled the way it sounded.  So many names are recorded in this way prior to the 20th century, and even after for a time.  You might see:
  • Beauchamp as Beecham
  • Fiennes as Fines
  • Grosvenor as Grovenor
  • Mainwaring as Mannering
  • Marjoribanks as Marchbanks
  • Mountford as Mumford
  • St John as Sinjun
Add to this the thick Scottish or English accents that some surnames were pronounced in and you will have even stranger phonetic spellings!  Imagine your ancestor arriving in Port Phillip in the 1800’s and stating his name as Benjamin Postlethwaite…and the scribe or immigration agent writing “Postlet” as the surname because he couldn’t imagine how to really spell it, and couldn’t care!
There is so much to names that I encourage you to learn more about your own and the ancestors you are researching.  Learning and accepting the incredible variations and derivations of names will assuredly help you with your genealogical research.
  • If you want a short course that teaches you all you need to know, check out the “Understanding Names in Genealogy” course offered by the National Institute of Genealogical Studies.  It is an incredibly detailed course about all things to do with names and will amazed at the amount of knowledge you will gain from it.
  • Family Search also have short courses on all things genealogy, and here is a great 5 minute video course on Name Variations
Apr 14, 2016 | Posted by in Thoughts & more... | 0 comments