Genealogy Blog

3 Tips for Overcoming Spelling Variations

02 Apr 2014


Variations in spelling are one of the major challenges of genealogical research. Because standardized spelling is a twentieth-century concept, there can be all kinds of ways to spell words. This includes names, which can make researching very challenging. Many online search engines can account for some spelling variations, but there are always twists that can confuse things (such as having the wrong first letter in a name, which totally throws off the entire soundex system). Here are some tips to get past spelling variations.

1. Phonetic
Think about how the names are pronounced. Are there different  ways to spell the same sound? For example, a letter c, ch, and ck might all be pronounced with the hard “k” sound. The same goes for the letter f and gh (think rough and tough). Consider variations such as these when searching.

2. Sound Shifts
Watch out for sound shifts, which can throw off even phonetic spellings. Names that are pronounced the same are not always spelled the same. And names that are spelled the same are not always pronounced the same. Regional and national dialects and accents can have a major affect on the way words are spelled. A perfect example comes to us from England, Connecticut, and North Carolina. Hertford is the shire town of Hertfordshire, England. The city of Hartford (capital of Connecticut) was named for it. The spelling changed because the English pronounce the “e” in Hertford similar to an “ah,” thus it sounds like “Hahrtford” to an American. The town of Hertford, North Carolina, was also named for the English town. It retained the English spelling, but the pronunciation has changed to “Hurtford.”  The same sounds and spelling shifts can happen in your family’s names (both given names and surnames).

3. Enlist Your Friends
One great way to get spelling variations is to hand friends a piece of paper and a pencil and ask them to write down the name you are looking for. Just tell them the name, don’t spell it for them. If they themselves are uncertain of how to spell it, ask them to write down every variation they can think of. By asking several friends to do this, you will undoubtedly find a few spelling variations you hadn’t thought of. This works best with someone who is unfamiliar with the name you are searching for. Indeed, asking non-genealogists is a great way to get variations because they don’t come with the same set of assumptions that family historians do. There may be more than one way to pronounce the name, for example Beaufort, North Carolina (pronounced Bowfort) and Beaufort, South Carolina (pronounced Bewfort).

Genealogy Standards: A Must-Read Resource

18 Feb 2014

Back in 2000, the Board for Certification of Genealogists (BCG) published the Millenium Edition of their Standards Manual. Fourteen years later, in honor of their half-century as  credentialing organization, BCG has a issued a new version: Genealogy Standards, 50th Anniversary Edition.


Genealogy Standards


At one hundred nineteen 8.5×11” pages plus a five-page index, the manual was a brilliant help to genealogists everywhere, not just those who were certified or even seeking certification. The first thirty-five pages dealt with Research Standard, Teaching Standards, and Genealogical Development Standards. These were followed by eighty pages of examples. The examples were subdivided into seven appendixes with samples of all kinds of work.

For this edition, the standards have been updated and reorganized. As editor Tom Jones explains in the introduction:

“The number of standards has increased from seventy-two to eighty-three. The increase, however, reflects reorganization more than added material. Sections of multipart standards now appear separately.”(p. xv)

These new standards have been organized in a way that places similar subjects together:

  • Standards for Documenting
  • Standards for Researching
  • Standards for Writing
  • Standards for Genealogical Educators
  • Standards for Continuing Education

While the last two sections don’t apply to all genealogists, the first three certainly do. Each standards chapter is further subdivided into sections. For example, the chapter on researching has three subdivisions:

  • Planning Research
  • Collecting Data
  • Reasoning from Evidence

Each of these subdivisions has between ten and eighteen standards. Each standard is defined by one to five words. This is followed by a more detailed description of the standard. Most of these are fairly easy to understand, but some of them took reading through a couple of times for me to exactly understand them.

The large section of examples has been removed to accommodate a smaller 6×9” size for the book. They are now available to all for free on the BCG website. A few appendixes remain, including a glossary of terms used in the standards.

One very nice addition is the Evidence Analysis research process map that appears at the end of the book. It is reproduced from Evidence Explained by Elizabeth Shown Mills, and is an excellent overview of the steps we take in genealogical research.

One glaring omission is the index. The absence of an index makes it more difficult to find subjects in the book. One must read through the titles of the standards and hope one can find what one is looking for.

There is another area where I think the book misses an opportunity. One common problem for genealogists is knowing what to do when they feel there is nothing left to do to solve a research problem that still has no solution. Standard 18, Terminating the Plan, provides reasons for terminating a research plan, but it does not provide any assistance on alternatives to terminating, or how to make the final decision to terminate.  Even Appendix C, which includes references to other sources and resources, does not appear to address this issue.

Genealogy Standards is an excellent resource for all genealogists, not just those seeking certification. By following these standards,  you will be able to  be more certain that the people you have discovered in your research actually are your ancestors, instead of simply people with the same name. The book is available from Maia’s Books. The pre-pub sale price of $11.95 is still showing on the website, so take advantage of it quickly before it returns to $14.95.

News Stories and Blog Posts for Genealogists, December 20, 2013

20 Dec 2013

This week we have some intriguing blog posts for genealogists from the internet. From the Event to DNA to paper sons and daughters,  this recent crop of stories covers a wide variety of topics. I hope you find them as interesting as I did.

First up is a post by English blogger Tony Proctor. He provides a very interesting discussion of the research process. He asserts that we would benefit from event-based thinking, as many events involve multiple individuals, some of whom may or may not be critical to the event in and of itself. I found it a fascinating conversation. You can read more in Eventful Genealogy.

The Irish Times recently ran a story about recent happenings in Irish genealogy written by the noted genealogist John Grenham. He updates us on what’s happening at the Irish Genealogical Research Society, RootsIreland, a major new National Archives of Ireland venture, and This last is the most exciting, as they will soon be launching a new version of the indexes to vital records in Ireland. Read more in What’s On the Horizon?

Legal Genealogist Judy Russell brings us another DNA discussion. This time she Talks about some new features available from Family Tree DNA and 23andMe. 23andMe has adjusted their calculations for Ancestry Composition, which may change some of your percentages. And Family Tree DNA has released the Matrix: a new tool for comparing results. Read more in Updated DNA Tools.

Diane Webb wrote an interesting piece this week in the Newnan, Georgia, Times-Herald. She has been working on some cemeteries with the Coweta County Genealogical Society. One is a pauper cemetery where they are trying to identify burials. The other is a cemetery with some destroyed markers trying to identify family members to approve erecting new ones. She also points out the difference between a graveyard and a cemetery. Read more in Genealogy: Paupers’ Cemetery Being Researched.

Chinese Paper Sons

The Chinese Exclusionary Act of 1882 was repealed 70 years ago this week. But for sixty years, Chinese laborers were barred from entering the country. Many Chinese families are paper sons and daughters. These were immigrants with falsified documents declaring them to be related to Chinese-Americans already here, thus being allowed to enter the country as an exception to the ban. The result is thousands of families with made-up surnames. Find out more from National Public Radio in Chinese-American Descendants Uncover Forged Family Histories.

Have you visited or otherwise used resources from the Family History Library?

02 Nov 2013

We asked and you answered! Last week we asked if you had visited or otherwise used resources from the Family History Library. Most of you have at least visited your local family history center or accessed materials on FamilySearch. Don’t forget to check out our bi-monthly newsletter or Facebook page to take our next poll.


What genealogy events have you participated in this year?

07 Sep 2013

We asked and you answered! Last week we asked how many of you were able to attend genealogy events this year. We are happy to report that 83% of you have attended some sort of genealogy event this year and 24% of you have been able to take advantage of events hosted by your local societies.


Don’t forget to check out our bi-weekly newsletter or Facebook page to take the next poll and see how you compare with your fellow genealogists.

This week we would like to know what, if any, Western states you have any interest in

18 May 2013

We asked and you answered! Last week we asked which, if any, Western states you have any interest in. Don’t forget to check out our bi-monthly newsletter or Facebook page to take the next poll and see how you compare with your fellow genealogists.



Will you have any New Year’s resolutions?

12 Jan 2013

We asked and you answered! Last week we asked if you will have any New Year’s resolutions. Don’t forget to check out our bi-weekly newsletter or Facebook page to take the next poll and see how you compare with your fellow genealogists.

Family History Month Sharing Contest

07 Oct 2012

Celebrate Your Family’s Story with Mocavo’s Family History Month Sharing Contest


In honor of Family History Month, we invite you to celebrate your family’s story by sharing family trees, old photos, and family documents on Mocavo.  Anyone who shares a family tree, photo, or document to their user profile on between October 7-October 12, 2012 will be entered into a drawing to win a free FlipPal!  As an added bonus, we will also feature a favorite photo on our Facebook wall during every day of the contest. If your photo is chosen, you will win a $20 Starbucks gift card!  Please do not upload photos directly to Facebook.  Contest winners will be alerted via email.  Join us and celebrate your ancestors by sharing your family history with our genealogical community.

Expert Tip: Get Creative With Your Family Trees

07 Oct 2012

We spend years researching our ancestry, solving mysteries, collecting stories and artifacts, and compiling our family tree. But what good is all that effort if you don’t share it with your family?

In addition to the traditional compiled genealogy, many people use their arts and crafts talent to create interesting ways to display their family history for all to see. Diane Hadded has some tips for creating heirloom plant tags, CD covers, brag book covers. Good Housekeeping magazine has a very interesting idea for creating a family tree centerpiece using twigs and pictures. And the doyen of arts and crafts, Martha Stewart, has a number of ideas for projects for kids and adults.


Image from Martha Stewart’s “Make A Family Tree” Article

How long have you been researching?

07 Oct 2012

We asked and you answered! Last week we kicked off our newsletter polls by asking how long you have been conducting genealogical research. Don’t forget to check out our bi-monthly newsletter or Facebook page to take the next poll and see how you compare with your fellow genealogists.