Genealogy is all about names. We find most records through surnames, and then narrow the search with given names. But too many of us search only for the perfect match. Close counts not only in horseshoes but also in heritage hunting.
When I was a girl, I noticed a family named O'Neal lived in our community. We had the same name: O'Neil. When I asked my mother about the other O'Neals, she quickly told me we weren't related because they spelled their name differently. Luckily, I never embraced that logic, and I've happily found ancestors with all sorts of spelling quirks.
Although today we can choose how to spell our last names, many of our ancestors didn't have that option. Those who could not read and write were at the mercy of someone else to record their names in documents. Spelling wasn't standardized, so names were often spelled phonetically.
As genealogists, we have to imagine how a German name sounded to English ears. I recently helped a friend whose surname is Johnsonbaugh. We both were excited when I found records that proved his named had been Americanized from the German Schanzenbach. Saying the two names out loud, it's easy to see how some English clerk might have made the translation.
Or perhaps the Schanzenbach family wanted to be more American and began to say and spell it themselves as Johnsonbaugh.
A good practice is to make a list of every imaginable way to spell all the surnames in your lines. That list should be at your fingertips when you use Internet search engines or look through indexes. One name of interest to me is Hiatt. I find it spelled Hyatt, Hite, Hight and Hiatt. It isn't even unusual to find a name spelled more than one way in a single document.
If you dig wa-a-a-y back in your history, you'll learn that our ancestors didn't always have surnames. The world was a lot smaller and people seldom traveled far from home. It was easy to refer to Joseph the blacksmith and George the miller. Or a man could have been known as Joseph, son of John.
As the world grew and folks moved away from their small villages and farms, the need arose for less duplicative identification. Joseph the blacksmith may have presented himself as Joseph Black, or Joseph Smith, John's son, may have become Joseph Johnson. George the miller probably became George Miller.
My immigrant Swedish ancestor came to America as John Anderssen, but there were four others with that name in the community of New Sweden.
Folks began to call him John Stalkofta because he was a soldier and wore steel armor that looked like a coat - stalkofta meant steel coat in Swedish. That gradually was Americanized until, a few generations later, the family was called Stalcup.
Other spellings included Stalcop, Stallcup, Staulcop and Stawlcup.
Quite simply, when it comes to names, pronounce them as many ways as you can and then spell them phonetically. Keep an open mind and a keen eye for all possibilities.
Tribute To WWII Heroes
If you have family or ancestors who fought in World War II, you'll want to explore a new collection available at Footnote.com. The company is allowing free access to this new collection for an undefined limited time; the site is otherwise subscription based.
You'll find many war photographs, and subscribers can upload and preserve their personal war photographs. Those who lost family at Pearl Harbor will particularly appreciate the interactive USS Arizona Memorial. Members also can create tributes and share stories on the site.
Lithuanian Research Program
What's the best way to research Eastern European roots? Lithuanian research specialist Howard Margot will share his expertise at the Jan. 11 meeting of the Jewish Genealogical Society of Tampa Bay.
Margot, who travels regularly to Lithuania, has traced his family to 1747. He has also published numerous articles in leading Jewish genealogy journals, as well as various newsletters and newspapers.
The society will meet at Gulf Coast Jewish Family Services, 14041 Icot Blvd., Clearwater, at 1:30 p.m. for refreshments. The program begins at 2.
The meeting is open to anyone interested in learning how to do Jewish genealogical research. For information on the organization or directions to the meeting, call Sally Israel at (727) 343-1652.
Family's Health History
Having insight into your family's health history can greatly affect today's generations. Bradenton's Donna Moughty will present "Saving a Life: Your Family's Health History" at the South Shore Genealogical Society meeting Jan. 20 at SouthShore Regional Library, 15816 Beth Shields Way, Ruskin. Lunch is served at noon and the program begins at 1 p.m.
Reservations are required and can be made by sending a check for $13, payable to the society, to P. O. Box 5202, Sun City Center FL 33573. The society must receive the check by Jan. 13.
Questions? Call Rose Huggard (813) 633-0868.
New Ancestry Tutorial
Professional genealogist Barbara Renick has created a tutorial video slide show called "Searching at Ancestry Part 1," which explains how to use the new Ancestry.com search engine.
Ancestry.com is accessible free if you're a member of the Hillsborough County public library system. It should be one of your first stops online when you begin research of any new line.
Find Barbara's tutorial at www.zroots.com/part%201/part%201.html.