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Three Free Resources To Find Surname Variations

If you have ever searched a database for an ancestor and did not find what you were hoping for, it is still possible that your ancestor is there. They may be "hidden" behind a variation of the surname that you had not thought of previously.

For example, Christian RASMUSSEN was listed in the same database with four variations of his surname's spelling:

  • Rassmussen
  • Rasmusen
  • Rasmusson
  • Rasmusun

If I searched only by the one surname with which I was comfortable, chances are I would not find Christian.

Successfully searching databases and indexes requires the researcher to be creative. Put yourself in the census enumerator's shoes for a moment. He had a lot of work to do in a small period of time. I hesitate to believe that he would verify with each household that he spelled their names correctly. He probably wrote down the spelling of the name that was most familiar to him and moved on to the next house.

Fortunately there are some good resources available to help researchers come up with spelling variations.

MyTrees.com's Surname Variants
At MyTrees.com, when you click on the Name Variants link on the home page (you might have to do a Control-F to find this phrase as it is easy to overlook) you get a screen where you can enter your ancestor's surname. Click on Find Spelling Variations and you will get a list of many other ways that the surname could have been spelled based on how the name sounds. Click on the image below for an example.


Surname Suggestion List
This free software will also display other possible variations of surnames. We previously published information about it here.

Standard Finder
Standard Finder is a new project published by FamilySearch. Here, you can search for a surname and it, too, will return a list of other possible variations. Click here, and then scroll to the Standard Finder section.

If we are going to find our ancestors, we must develop creativity and imagination when trying to come up with variations for our ancestor's names. When we cannot think of all potential variations, MyTrees.com, Surname Suggestion List, and Standard Finder are good resources to turn to.


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Great information!

In addition, most of Ancestry.com databases have a "Soundex" search option which displays spelling variances as well as "*" wildcard searches.

I've also had much luck searching the census using only the given name, date of birth + or minus 2, and county of residence (when known).

Many times using given names of spouses and children will yield results.

Thanks very much for pointing out this site, I'm sure this will soon become an old favourite. I don't know if this is the same data that is used by Ancestry et al for their soundex search options, but it certainly seems very extensive. It still wouldn't have found my ancestor though...
I came across a person in the census who was named as 'Gilson'. When I tried to search for them in previous census records, I got no results, even with soundex switched on. I made my own educated guess and typed in Gibbon. Sure enough they appeared. Then for another decade back in the census and they appeared as Gileson.
I think sometimes you almost have to switch letters and make names up in your searches. I knew that Gilson was not a common sounding name and could have been mistaken for Gibbon, but also that 'l' 's' and 'b' can get mixed up. Switching for letters that look alike can also get you results you want. When you really want to get hold of the enumerator and give him a good rattle is when he calls your ancesor Simon Philips when his name was actually Frederick Vickers - no amount of soundex and name switching is going to help you then!

I have just tried out the latest update for Legacy Charting. You now have the correct people in my descendants charts but now they are not in order. You have my youngest sibling as the oldest and I (the eldest) is number 8 followed by the sibling that comes after me. I have been using Family Tree Maker and Legacy since they have come out. I use Legacy for some things and FTM for others. Would that be a problem. I have been moving files from one program to the other.

Allaine, the child order fix will be in the next update....

Thank you for the new Legacy Charting program. I do require complex charts, i.e. siblings, etc, and other type of information on some charts I create. Is there an easy way of doing this or is it a case creating individual charts and then copying and pasting?

Surnames can change for many reasons. One reason not discussed in this article is changes to not only make a name pronounceable, but to make the name conform to the same name in another language. In Poland, and I am sure in other countries, the Germans who lived there for centuries often, but not always, changed their German names to the Polish equivalent. This was somewhat easy to do since many German names are the same as an occupation or a feature in the land. Thus, names like Schwarz became Czarnecki (both mean black), Rode became Czerwinski (both mean red), Schattschneider became Cholowinska (both mean head in some form). This concept of complete name change is a real eye opener when one considers looking at records for your ancestor in a different language. For a more complete list of German names that changed to Polish names, see http://www.sggee.org/AlternateSurnamesDatabase-substantiated.pdf

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