Surname Search Tips

Pronunciation and handwriting influenced name spellings even though the family “always” spelled it one way. Old ledgers were often recopied opening a way to errors or omissions. Search the original record. Consider these search tips:        

Search phonetic spellings of the name

  • Kraus pronounced by a heavy-accented German might sound like Graus, Popp might sound like Bopp.
  • The census taker, tax man, or city official may have written down what he heard.
  • Double consonants might appear alone, e.g., Haman for Hamman. Notice how far apart these spellings are in a printed index? Search each variant. Use your browser’s Find tool to quickly locate part of a name.
  • Substitute every vowel for others, e.g., Seibert, Siebert, Sibert, Syburt.
  • The letter H might sound like, or be rendered as, an A or O, especially at the beginning of a surname; search these variations.

Handwriting  and other misinterpretations

  • An English version of a name was sometimes substituted! King for Roy, Carpenter for Zimmermann, Morningstar for Morgenstern, Steven for Ettienne, Carl or Charles for Karl.
  • Our handwritten L looked quite similar to the letter Germans used for B. Even an American L and S looked similar at times. Other often-mistaken letters are c for e, n for u, u for a.
  • An r at the end of a word might look like an n, e.g., Brenner and Brennen. Search both spellings.
  • Hyphenated surnames may be inverted
  • McKane might be M’ Kane or Mc Kane, and even transcribed as M. Kane
  • La Chance may be indexed as LaChance; St. Eve might be Saint Eve or Sainteve. 
  • Special characters may or may not appear as the English language equivalent so search both versions. For example, Müller and Mueller.
  • Search electronic indexes for part of a surname.
  • Make a list of all variant spellings to seek in every resource searched.

Targeted searches may be necessary

For example, say great-grandfather Morgan Park was a farmer during the 1870s but hits for Park on this site were negative.

Since Mr. Park was a farmer, a site search for subjects or topics was tried. In our example, a search for farm and/or agricultur (a part of that word) showed two new hits. Both hits refer to the “1870 Agricultural Census.”

  • Every name on each agricultural census was read since Park, per se, was not found with the site search.
  • At last, a clue! An M. Part farmed a few acres in one of the county’s precincts. To confirm M. Part is your man, search the 1870 population census again, this time looking for neighbors as well. Deeds at the courthouse might also be enlightening if he owned or leased the land.
  • Last, obtain a copy of the original census from which the article was derived – commercial websites have most, if not all, the censuses for Illinois available. If not, the old-fashioned route still works – view the microfilm at a library.

St. Clair County Genealogical Society, PO Box 431, Belleville, IL 62222-0431.
E-mail:  Privacy policy and Use Agreement.
©1997, 2018, the St. Clair County Genealogical Society. All rights reserved.
Information may be linked to but not copied. Authorized by SCCGS Board of Directors. Contact Us.