Friday, February 19, 2010

What's in a name?

As we turn over another decade, we will see census recorders canvassing the corners of our country to ensure we have a complete and accurate count of the number of people living in the USA. The task will not be easy considering the projected number of people living in the USA, but in 2010, it is more a matter of verification than recording. Early census takers had to write down all the information and since most people were not able to read or write, it was up to the census taker to interpret how to spell names. This is one reason why you will find names in the census records with several variations.

As a quick test, try to respell your name phonetically or write it out with your opposite writing hand. Chances are you will have several variations. For example, my last name is Sanders. The original spelling was apparently "Alexander", which over time and through different linguistic cultural influences, the ALE became silent and Xander, became Sanders.

Recently, one of my ancestors was stricken with a misspelling in a different record type, but has the same effect. Either way, I didn't know it at first. Her name was May Ellis, my paternal great-great grandmother who lived from 1863-1950. It is always important to consider the sources and potential pitfalls of vital records, even if they are very legible.

The record I am referring to for May Ellis was a death certificate from Oklahoma. This document was typed and as you may know, death records contain birth dates, birth locations, parent names, burial location, cause of death, maiden name and more. For many years I did not know May's lineage, but with this one record, I saw for the first time her maiden name - Horner. Since it was typed, I was pretty sure how to spell it and started looking for more details on the family. This was an exciting find for me to say the least!

However, after many hours of searching on, I was unable to confirm any familial connection. Then I happened to find another researcher who listed May Ellis but with a different maiden name - Hamar. So I tried that maiden name and my other sources confirmed this to be a true match. What likely happened is that the typist of the death certificate misread a hand written name and in turn created a transcription error. If you imagine the spelling of Hamar in cursive with a poorly written "a" and a smudged or broken "m", you can get Horner.

There is a lot to be said for how your name is spelled as it denotes origin, even if it is spelled differently. Therefore, for those of you doing research on your family tree, be sure to check your spellings (twice) and always confirm with two or more reference sources, so that our future generations don't end up calling us by a different surname!

No comments: