How a surname is spelt can make all the difference between finding records and not finding records. Some surnames sound the same but are spelt quite differently. If no one specifically spells their name, it all becomes a matter of personal interpretation on the part of the person writing. Then there are times when a surname could be spelt correctly but due to hard-to-read writing or poor quality of the electronic image, transcribers may incorrectly record the name.
I’ve come across many such examples within my family tree. Theakston has been both Theakstone and Theakeston. Barratt whilst spelt with ‘att’ at the end, when spoken, most people assume it to end in ‘ett’. Another time, an image was transcribed incorrectly and what was really Barratt was thought to be Hanelt.
Then there was Wallace and Wallis. For the longest time I had no clue where my Great Great Grandfather, Jesse Wallace came from. In the hope of finding a new lead I visited the Fremantle Cemetery and from his headstone I obtained his date of birth. His birth date now more specific rather than just being a year, I was greatly surprised when a new record popped up whilst searching. The date of birth matched exactly, the only difference was that the surname was spelt Wallis rather than Wallace. Before my visit to Fremantle Cemetery I had never even thought to search using both these names.
Sometimes however name changes are not simply due to human error. Immigrants or convicts may also have changed their surname. I’ve always thought that the Grady family in my tree were simply the Grady’s. As it turns out they were also known as the O’Grady’s. Did the family drop the ‘O’ after they immigrated to Australia? Convicts also liked to change their name in the hope of eliminating their past and their convict taint. I’ve got three convicts in my family tree and I was lucky to find that none of them had changed their names. Other people have not been so lucky. Many convicts not only changed their surname but at times also changed their first name, date of birth or age! These combined factors make research incredibly difficult for family historians and they generally have to dig a lot deeper to find the answers they seek.
At times searching for records can be daunting enough in itself and when combined with the added knowledge that you also have to search through other possible spellings, it can seem like a mammoth task. It’s important to remember that the records and the clues are out there, it’s just a matter of being patient and thinking outside the box.