Saturday, 23 June 2012


When I took my first genealogy research class, I remember the instructor stressing that we must be flexible when searching for our ancestors' surnames.  This was due to many factors.  Back in the day, a lot of people could not read or write and so the concept of how their name was spelled was not a big issue.  In most cases for farm workers or labourers this did not impact their day to day life.

Emigration played a large part of this name game as well.  An English, Scottish or Irish accent changed how the name sounded to the North American ear and therefore how it was written down.  Another factor to be considered is that when the census were taken, the person taking down the information may have misheard the information given and basically guessed at what they thought they heard.

Therefore I thought I was ready to search and try out variations on a name.  I started with my Meehan surname and tried to think of all the different variations I could.  When I started thinking about it there were quite a few:  Meehan, Mehan, Mechan, Meecham, Meighen, Meaghan, Meaghen, Meagher, etc.

Other names such as Howson, had similar variations:  Howson, Hawson, Honson, Houston (this being the most popular), Howard.  The Faulkner surname became, Falconer, Falkner, pretty close to the original.  The easiest name so far to search has been Newton, it seems to have escaped the many and varied spellings that happened to my other surname searches, although I did find a Hewton.

Then there is the added fact that when these census or vital statistics documents are indexed there is another layer of human intervention that can lead to a completely different surname altogether.  So what we have is potentially a name that is taken down incorrectly in the first place being transcribed incorrectly as well.  It's the written equivalent of playing broken telephone.

When I was researching my Meehan family, I was looking for the marriage for Teresa Meehan and Norman Dunne O'Leary on the Ancestry website.  What I came up with was Teresa Mechan and Roman Dunne Breaw.  That one stumped for a while and I did have difficulty finding the marriage record until I took out most of the information in the search box and just left the parents names.  Even then George Meehan was recorded as George Mechan and his wife Emma Howson became Emma Teresa Danson Mechan.  Not too far off for the Meehan surname, but how in the world can you transcribe Breaw for O'Leary?  The only part of Norman Dunne O'Leary's name that was correct was the middle name Dunne.

My latest search for George Howson is even more bizarre.  I knew that George Howson died, at the age of 85 years, in March 1879 in Belleville, Ontario, as I had his burial record from St. Michael's Church in Belleville.  I realised I didn't have his death certificate recorded.  Easy peasy I thought and went to Ancestry to do a search.  No George Howson appeared.  I then tried New Family Search and  I found him.  Unfortunately New Family Search does not have images.  But it does have the certificate number.  So I went back to Ancestry and searched in the Belleville deaths for 1879 and found the certificate number I was looking for.  George Howson's  name was recorded as Genya Snorton, aged 0.  Of course how silly of me!

Now I'm wondering how many more Roman Breaws and Genya Snortons are out there waiting for me to find them?

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