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Rhonda's Tips: Genealogy Questions Answered
by Rhonda R. McClure

October 25, 2001
See Rhonda's Previous Columns

Handling Name Changes

Q: My mother's surname is Kadinger, but I found that the older descendants spelled it Kedinger. How do I link these two spellings together? -- Jean

A: Spelling has not always been the priority it is now. In fact, spelling variations are common as you get back to the early 1900s and before. I have come across documents where a person's surname is spelled a number of different ways within the single document.

Because computers are so literal, you may want to settle upon a single spelling when entering your individuals. This allows you to locate everyone by a given surname, when using search functions in the program. However, you will also want to keep track of the variant spellings you may find as you are working in the records. You might include this in the notes section for the first ancestor of a given line or the most recently found ancestor for that line. Whichever you pick, you will want to be consistent.

Some programs will allow you to record variant names as an additional entry. If you have this option, it is another way to list these alternate spellings.

Page No Longer There

Q: In July this year I visited "Descendants of Edward Small of New England" by Lora Altine Woodbury at Genealogy.com. However, it is no longer available there. How do I find out if Genealogy.com has it on CD or otherwise available. -- Ira

A: Unfortunately you have experienced a draw back of the Internet, its fluidity. The Internet is in constant change, usually when it comes to the availability of family history pages.

Usually such a change is the result of a person having to change where they post their Web site. In other instances though, the change is in the priority of the researcher.

Most researchers post a page for the families they are concentrating on in their current research. This is natural, as the researcher is working on that family and is hoping to reach out and contact other researchers of the same line. As their focus changes, though, they may replace their Web page with a new family.

You might want to try another search at Genealogy.com to see if perhaps the family in question is still available (maybe it has just been posted in another section of the person's Web page). If you cannot find it that way, do a search of the Internet in general, either through FamilyFinder at Genealogy.com or through a general search engine such as Google.com. Remember that a general search engine will give you non-genealogy pages, whereas FamilyFinder excludes Web sites that are not genealogical in nature.

If you cannot find the page elsewhere either on the Genealogy.com site or out on the Internet, then it is likely you may not find it until the person decides to post the information again. Genealogy.com does not take the information found on Web pages uploaded by individuals and publish them to CD-ROM discs.

Disappearing Web pages is the principle reason that I caution people to print out any Web page that holds information on their family tree. It is unfortunate, but all too common, that when you try to return to such a site, it no longer exists.

Surname Definition

Q: A friend of mine asked me to help him find the definition of his surname. Where would I be able to find information on this? I too am interested in how to find the definition of my surname.
-- Becky

A: Surname dictionaries would be your first stop. They are alphabetical in organization and will give you some indication as to the origin of a surname. Many of these dictionaries are regional in focus. For instance, you may find a dictionary of English surnames or Irish names. As a result it is sometimes necessary to know where the family came from in order to find the true meaning. Some surnames are occupations or localities in themselves, earned by the earliest ancestor who work in that occupation or lived in that area. Other surnames are taken from nicknames.

For instance, the surname Ackroyd is British and means "dweller in the oak forest." When surnames were necessary, in England about the 1200s, the first Ackroyd lived in the oak forest and took his surname from this. An example of a nickname is the surname Beal which stands for "handsome man." The surname Benton is a locality surname, it stands for "place in the bent grass" or "bean farm." The surname Bender is taken from the occupation of an archer (one who bends a bow).

You can find many surnames from many different ethnic origins at Surname Origin List. While thorough, it is not a list of every surname that has ever existed.

Notations on the Census

Q: I found the 1910 census records for Philadelphia, for my Great-Grandfathers. Both of the records I've found (i.e. Philadelphia Enumeration District 719 - Thomas Jennings and Enumeration District 297 Charles Rodgers) show numbers in column 30. For my Maternal Great-Grandfather it says what looks like a 9 or and 8. For my Paternal Great-grandfather it says what looks like a 4 or and 11 possible an "H." None of this matches what I've read in the 1910 Instructions for Enumerators. -- Michael

A: What you are discovering is that the census pages were revisited after they were completed by the enumerator. They were gone over for a variety of reasons. You will notice that many of these pages have check marks and x-marks in the name and relationship columns. There are also check marks to the right of the last column of many entries.

Because we are often viewing these census sheets on microfilm, photocopies or digitized image, it is difficult to notice differences in pens. The clue to the columns in question is that the handwriting is different. It is subtle, and requires the examination of the numbers written elsewhere on the pages, but you will find that there are differences. Because the veterans column, along with the one for recording blind individuals and the deaf and dumb were not heavily used during the original enumeration, they were often used for statistical purposes later on.


Rhonda R. McClure is a professional genealogist specializing in celebrity trees and computerized genealogy. She has been involved in online genealogy for fifteen years. She is the author of the award-winning The Complete Idiot's Guide to Online Genealogy, now in its second edition. She is the author of four how-to guides on Family Tree Maker. In late 2001, she wrote The Genealogist's Computer Companion. She is a contributing editor to Biography Magazine with her "Celebrity Roots" column and a contributing writer to The History Channel Magazine. Her latest book is Finding Your Famous and Infamous Ancestors. She may be contacted at rhondagen@thegenealogist.com.

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