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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
It 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.