The Genealogy Name Game Part One: Spelling Variations

Greetings Family Historians & Genealogists!

I never had the pleasure of meeting my great grandfather Louis Malo. However, he has taught me a thing or two about genealogy ! The biggest lesson I learned from him was about name variations and how to work around them when building a family genealogy. The Malo surname went through a number of modifications in both Canada and United States. Mollo, Moleau, Malh, Mello, Milo, Melo, Maylow, Mahlo, Maughlo, Male, Mallow, Milly, Miles, Mehl, Mahle, Mal, Mall, Matos Nalow, and Calo are just some of the Malo variations I found when researching the branches of this family tree. These variations created brick walls that I learned to work-around so I wanted to share with how I managed to break through the name game.

Why Variations Exist in our Ancestors Names

Until the about the 1800’s the majority of people around the world were illiterate, so many people did not know how to spell their names and may have relied on others to do so. Some ancestors may have had an idea of how to spell their name, but they may have changed the spelling from one document to the next, and sometimes even within the same document! When ancestors gave their names to officials such as census takers, the name may have been spelled out phonetically. For example, the French surname “Daigneau” may become “Deno” to an English speaking census taker. Name variations were also created through typos and the misinterpretation of handwriting. Many genealogical  records found on the Internet, including those on well-known genealogy sites, have been transcribed. This transcription may have inadvertently created name variations. The use of initials, nicknames, middle names, and dit names by our ancestors can also create naming variations that can be challenging for genealogy researchers. Immigration and colonization created untold name variations and changes.

Work-arounds for Name Variations

When faced with name variations, genealogy research can be a challenge! However, there are some work- arounds you can utilize that may help you chip at or break through a brick wall. Keep a list of all the variations you have tried and the outcomes of the search so you don’t waste time later on searching for the same variations.

  1. Some databases allow you to search using a soundex system. Soundex searches by grouping similar sounds together and gives results based on similar sounding names. The National Archives uses this system with census records from 1880 onward. Family Search and have applied the soundex system to many of their databases. To use this feature make sure “Match all terms exactly” ( advanced search option) or “Match All Exactly” box (Family Search) is not ticked/checked.
  2. teamed up with and to develop a free open-source database of name variants. You can search for and/or add variants you have found.
  3. If the name variant data bases mentioned above do not turn anything up, spell out phonetically the name in question and use that variation to run a search.
  4. Search using a previous variation. For example, if Malo is spelled Maylow in one document, search for the surname “Maylow” because the name may have been spelled the same way more than once.
  5. For immigrant families, try searching for the name equivalent in the new country. For example one name written in Greek becomes “Fox” in English. When searching records from the country of origin, do the opposite.
  6. If you have enough detail about the ancestor, or just unique names, you can search genealogy databases using only a first or last name, or even initials.
  7. Use “Wildcards” and Boolean searches in data bases that offer them.
  8. If you have a silent letter in a name, search with and without the silent letter. For example, Christopher and Cristopher.
  9. Names that start with vowels may start off spelled with another vowel, for example Engel may be spelled Ingel.

If you are still stuck after using these tips and tricks, Record Click has a professional genealogist that is a specialist in your  that can help you out.

Part Two of The Name Game will focus on dit names, so stayed tuned.

Helpful Links:

WeRelate Name Conveter

RootsWeb’s Soundex Converter

Census Records of the National Archives of the United States

Now What?: Find Ancestors Online With Search Wildcards

How to Properly Use a Search Engine for Genealogy

Boolean Search: Make Your Searches Smarter

To speak with a professional genealogist about your family tree research contact us.