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Researching Family Names

One of the most problematic aspects of searching your family tree can be the lack of consistency of names in official documents. Names have many varied origins - some were patronymics, named after the father, others relate to the name of the place where they lived, or the occupation they were employed in. People themselves sometimes used different names from those by which they were known by officials.

Names have changed over time and for many different reasons, for instance, when emigrants reached a new country they often changed the spelling of their surname which makes it difficult to trace them back to their original surnames.

In the past many people were illiterate and had no conception of how their name should be spelt. Those entering the data would just have to guess what they thought the spelling should be. This often led to some confusion - even brothers from the same family could have their name spelled in different ways, There are cases of people themselves using different names from those by which they were officially known. It is best to try different variants if you are getting stuck.

This problem is not just confined to surnames either, sometimes forenames were abbreviated, or diminutives were used. For instance you may have to try Ellen instead of Helen, or Jim instead of James.

Dictionaries of surnames should be used with great care however, as names have changed so much over time that the older ones are often of little value.

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