DIG: How Do You Spell That?

In an ideal world, every document you find would be accurate, but as genealogists, we know better (or should anyways). Census takers were not always accurate in writing their information and neither were the sources they got it from. (Those sources could have been anyone at the residence or even neighbors, if the family was unavailable.)

It seems no one really emphasized "correct" spellings on names until the birth of social security and personal IDs in the 1930's. Prior to that, if it sounded right, it was right! I mean, if you couldn't read or write (or had a very limited education), how would you know the difference as long as they could pronounce it properly?

My ancestor Lawrence Winkler is a great example of this. In the early 1800's he was listed under the name "Lawrance", "Lowrance", "Law" and my favorite, an 1819 township census lists him as "Loranc Winckler" (This person also listed the county Wayne as "Wain" and township as "tounship"). His tombstone even reads "Lawrance" instead of "Lawrence" which is the way it is written on his government land deeds and will.

Based on this level of accuracy, you should never take a single record as true and accurate without other records to back it up.  If it's a census record, multiple census records make a stronger case but could still be wrong. Try and use vital records or other primary documents for verification. In short, it's a great starting point to lead you to gathering more accurate information.


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