When you’re going through records for genealogical research, it is very common to find misspellings. These misspellings can lead to other errors. Knowing how to navigate them will help you move your research forward and avoid recording your own mistakes.
Many misspellings in record keeping can be due to words or names that sound alike. There can be a name that is pronounced that same but spelled differently. Many different letters sound similar when said aloud. For example, D and E sound very similar.
These phenetic similarities can easily lead to misspellings. Names, location, and other information can easily be mixed up and be misrepresented. It’s also possible that records were kept by immigrants who were still learning English.
Pronunciations may have affected how a name or place was recorded. You can write out a word or name phonetically and see how it could have been spelled differently. For example, the name Kate could have been spelled Cate, Kait, Cait, or Kayte, or it could have been recorded as Katie or Katherine, or Catie or Catherine. You could also try putting an accent in the phonetic spelling.
There are many records out there that are handwritten—many of which are very different to decipher. Ink can be faded or blurred, or the writing may just be illegible. It is easy to misread letters or words. Even a single letter interpreted wrong can throw off your research. Some genealogical search interfaces can catch misspellings. But unfortunately, not all will be caught.
These misspellings can of little consequence at times, leading the reader to the same conclusion. But other times, the consequences can completely derail your research.
Just as many letters sound like, many letters and symbols look alike. For example, an E and a B can easily be confused. In some handwriting, there may be letters that are almost indistinguishable. Remember to consider visual misinterpretation as you are searching through records, particularly handwritten documents.
Most records are recorded by people who are prone to make mistakes. We all experience the basic human error. Much of the indexing done online is typed by people. Even with attention to detail and review, mistakes can slip through. It could be a misinterpretation, omissions, accidental deletions, oversights, or extraneous insertions.
It may be helpful to compile all the possible alternate spellings that you have encountered through your records. You can then use this list when you’re searching databases and indexes. It is likely that many individuals do not have their name spelled consistently in all the records of them throughout their life.
Being able to recognize potential misspelling, whether from basic human error, sounds like, or looks like mistakes, will help you move forward in your research. Being able to navigate through these errors and avoiding making them yourself will be greatly beneficial. You may even come to enjoy finding and correcting errors as you read through records!