Sunday, August 19, 2018

Spelling Doesn't Matter in Genealogy

These days, names have a set spelling.  I cringe when someone spells my name "Laura."  But it wasn't always that way--spellings of names used to be much more fluid and wasn't a big deal.

But often people researching a family disregard individuals with names not spelled the way in which they are accustomed.  They insist that those individuals with other spellings simply could not be the right family, so they miss clues that truly are connected to their own family members.

Well, I was recently indexing an 1892 death register from the Munkacs district (then Hungary, now the area around Mukacheve, Ukraine), and it's a great example for how fluid name spellings could be.  With only 7 deaths recorded on this page, 4 of the deceased (all young children) had surnames spelled differently from their father's surname.
Page of Munkacs Area 1892 Death Records

The third death of the page was for 8-month-old Mali (Malke) WEISZ.  Mali's surname is clearly spelled WEISZ.
Death record for Mali WEISZ, March 6 1892

But take a look at her parents' names.  Her father was Fisel VEIS.  Same surname, very different spelling.
Parents of Mali WEISZ

This wasn't just on Mali's death record.  The very next death listed was that of 21-day-old Sali VEISZ.  Again, Sali's surname was clearly written.
Death record for Sali VEISZ, March 7 1892
But take a look at Sali's parents.  Her father was given as Aron WEIS.  Again, same name--but a different spelling--and different than Mali's father as well.

Parents of Sali VEISZ
This wasn't limited to WEISZ/VEISZ/VEIS/WEIS deaths.  On the same page is the death of 6-month-old Etel LEBOVICS.  Etel's surname clearly ends in "cs."
Death record for Etel LEBOVICS, March 7 1892
But Etel's father's name is recorded as "Moses LEBOVITS," ending in "ts."  Again, spelling wasn't something that anyone really stressed over.
The final death on that page was for a stillborn child, who died on March 26, 1892.  The child's surname was recorded as "WEISZ."
Death record for stillborn WEISZ child, March 26 1892

But the father of this stillborn child was recorded as "VEISZ."
This phenomenon isn't limited to Munkacs-area records.  I've seen it in Russian Empire records and others.  I've seen it in nineteenth century American records.  So next time you see a spelling that could be an alternative spelling to the one you're researching, do not disregard it!  But please do not call me Laura either.

Note:  I'm on Twitter.  Follow me (@larasgenealogy).


  1. You don't seem to mention a time period when this name change happened, but prior to 1900 even using an alias was not seen as something bad, people did it all the time.

    1. This isn't a name change but rather different spellings of the same name.