When to Change the Spelling on a Name?

One of the problems I still struggle with is when to change a spelling for one of my families. Usually it’s not an issue. 90% of my families stay pretty consistent. There is that other 10% though. My latest example being the Featherson/Featherston family.

I first became aware of the Feathersons on my great-grandparents marriage certificate.

New Jersey Office of Vital Statistics & Registry, marriage certificate 4422 (1923), Redford-Parkin; New Jersey Department of Health, Trenton

My 2x great-grandmother’s maiden name on this record shows Jennie Featherson. Now in indexes, it usually comes up as Peatherson just like Sutcliffe usually comes up as Putcliffe. I really believe that is an F on this record.

Once I had her maiden name, I tried searching for her in a census. I knew then that Jane Parkin was born in 1896 and since the 1890 census is gone I have to go father back than I would normally like. I tried searching in the 1885 New Jersey State Census and came up with nothing after trying many spellings.  That leaves the 1880 Census. I should also note that I found John Walter Parkin, his wife Jennie, and their 4 children in the 1900 census. That means I have an estimated birth date of Jan/June 1875 in Pennsylvania.

William Featherston, 1880 Census
1880 U.S. census, population schedule, Baltimore County, Maryland. Baltimore city, enumeration district (ED) 33, p. 546-A, dwelling 94, family 106, William Featherston; digital images, Ancestry (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 1 Apr 2016); citing National Archives and Records Administration microfilm T9, roll 498.

I was a little surprised to find my closest match living in Baltimore, Maryland in 1880. It might seem like a jump, but putting together the evidence, maybe not so much. Jennie Featherston is about 5 years old and born in Pennsylvania. Her mother was born in New Jersey as were her parents. This is a nice fit, but how can I prove this is my Jennie? Featherston and Featherson are close enough. Then I got an idea to check a city directory. I thought maybe if I found William Featherston/Featherson in the city directory and his name was spelled without the T, then that would help my case.

William Featherston, 1882
John W. Woods, Baltimore City Directory, 1882: 289; digital images, Ancestry http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 21 Apr 2016.

Strange enough, I couldn’t find him in 1880, but kept checking and finally found him in an 1882 Baltimore City Directory. It looks like the T is still sticking to his name though. This means I need more records, and more instances to compare. So I sent away for the marriage certificate of Jennie Featherson and John Walter Parkin.

New Jersey State Archives, marriage certificate (1891), Parkin-Featherson; New Jersey Division of Archives & Records Management.

Well, this 1891 marriage certificate just confuses me more. Here I have Jennie Featherson, born in Philadelphia, USA (NEW CLUE!), her father is listed as William Featherson and her mother as Jennie with no maiden name. That doesn’t exactly help my case either, since the 1880 Census of William Featherston has a wife named Anna. I just have more questions. Are these the same families? Are they different families? Is Anna a second wife and Jennie a first wife? There is a gap between William Featherston’s second and third child, plus a change in location. That could be a gap where his wife died. It was about this time where I remembered that I had Jennie and John Parkin in 1900 with their four children and it should list the birthplaces of her parents.

John Parkin, 1900
1900 U.S. census, population schedule, Essex County, New Jersey. Newark Ward 11, enumeration district (ED) 113, sheet 12-A, p. 12-A, dwelling 172, family 248, John Walter; digital images, Ancestry (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 18 Apr 2016); citing National Archives and Records Administration microfilm T623, roll 966.

Please forgive the surname on this record, the family is listed as having a surname of Walter, which is John’s middle name. If I pay attention to just Jennie though, I notice her father was born in England and her mother in New Jersey. Okay, so my 1880 Census couple the Featherston’s might still be a fit. Also notice that Jennie named her first-born daughter Anna.

It’s at this point that I realized I’m going to need more records than what I now have. Really, I could always use more records. Before I could decide to add this couple into my tree as Jennie’s parents, I just needed a little more. I went to FamilySearch.org and checked their catalog. They’ve had so much added recently, I thought I might try to see what they have.

Anne Featherston, 1875It turns out they have a Philadelphia City Births collection! Just what I needed… I guess. There is a perfect fit for Featherston, if my 2x great grandmother’s name was Anne. However, if you look over my previous records, they could use Anne or Jennie as a nickname of the other name. Or maybe they are still 2 different families.

It also doesn’t help that between 1900 and the 1905 New Jersey State Census, I lose my 2x great grandmother Jennie. I am assuming she died because John is living with his mother and their children are living in what looks like a children’s home. By 1910, John is also gone and the kids bounce around a lot. The Featherstons and Feathersons both disappear as well. It is obvious more research is needed.

If this turns out to be the right family it is surely enough evidence to change the name in my database from Featherson to Featherston. The question I have though, is how much evidence do you wait for before changing the spelling of a name in your database? Except for the two marriage records, all other spellings of the family name is Featherston. Yet, the more solid resources, vital records, give the name as Featherson.

6 thoughts on “When to Change the Spelling on a Name?

    • Kathleen says:

      Hi John,
      In the big picture of things I guess it doesn’t matter since I know to look for both spellings anyway. I am more wondering about in the future for bigger name differences. I never said I didn’t over-analyze things. 🙂

  1. Marceline Beem says:

    I have that issue with my Sikes/Sykes line. By my great-grandmother’s generation, they use mostly Sikes, so I use that spelling for the surname. For those who sometimes used Sykes, I use the AKA field in Legacy and source it with the document that uses that spelling.

    For the bigger name changes, such as my surname – I use Beem/Beam until the immigrant ancestor, and I use the German spelling for him, since he isn’t listed in any records as Beem (that I have found) until near the end of his life.

    • Kathleen says:

      Thanks for your comment Marceline! 🙂 I love the AKA field in Legacy and I use it often. I have one line where everyone in the family used Moyer for the longest time and the only place it would be different was on census records and then one of the kids just started using Myers. It was the strangest thing. I was going to try to do another post about that but it is too confusing for me to follow, let alone try to explain.

      I think using the most used one would definitely be the way to go. I just have to figure out which one that is first! 🙂

  2. ka7suz says:

    I have LaRUE (among others with spelling variations) – LeRue, Larrow, L’Rue, etc. LaRUE is the most common use, so ALL finds get that as the primary name. However, when I source it, I always record how it was spelled in the record. I am able to put alternate spellings in a field in the software I use, so when I go to the name index, I will see Isaac LaRUE, even though I found it spelled Isaac LARROW. If I look at LARROW in my list, it will take me to him at the primary name – that way I am able to analyze if I have a new Isaac, or just found him again in a new place. This keeps me from thinking I have found a new piece of evidence, when it is already in my data. I do this with all of the surnames with spelling variations, be they the common spelling at the time, or census takers phonetic spelling guess. LOL

    • Kathleen says:

      You make a great point! I have one consistent name that I use for most families but in Legacy’s AKA field, I always source which one is used where. Sometimes that leaves a lot of alternate names but I only see my consistent one. Mays, Mayse, Maze, Maize, Maise, etc. I’ve seen them all! LOL. At one point, one section switched to Mayse and keep it that way to this day, so I would like to make sure I know when that change over happened since these days we are better with spelling on records. It’s never boring that’s for sure!

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