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

December 19, 2002
See Rhonda's Previous Columns

Surname Spelling Changes

Q: I have found that my family has changed the spelling of our last name a couple of times and, as a result, research is pretty challenging. What can I do? -- Gus

A: Spelling is a modern issue. It has become a major importance to us today. Of course that doesn't stop names from being misspelled (for example, how often do we receive things in the mail in which our name is not spelled correctly?).

While sometimes a family made a conscious effort to change the spelling of the surname, usually changes were the result of a clerk who recorded the name incorrectly in a record. For researchers this means that we need to compile a list of variant spellings.

Variant spellings are those spellings that we are aware of. Often this is the result of finding variant spellings in records as we research but it can also be the result of looking at a surname and coming up with a list of possible spelling variants.

Some variant spellings are extreme, while others are easy to identify. Sometimes the variation is not actually a variation but the result of a misreading of the record. This is more apt to happen when the record is one from the early 1800s or late 1700s when the penmanship of the clerks was sometimes quite different.

Is there an easy way to work with the spelling variations? The best way is to compile a list of all known spelling variations. Putting the surnames in alphabetical order will make it easier for you to compare your list to an index of surnames and ensure that you haven't overlooked one of the identified variations. Of course, this doesn't help you with currently unknown spellings, but it is easier to work with a list than to try to remember all of the variations.

Some records will group similar spellings together, such as the Soundex. Some databases recognize certain similar variations, which should help you as well. But in the end there may be no easy way to work around this depending on how different the spellings of the surname are.

Incorrect SSDI Residence

Q: The residence on the SSDI for my deceased wife is incorrect. Can you help correct the residence error? -- Jack

A: The information found in the Social Security Death Index (SSDI) is from the Death Master Index that is compiled and maintained by the Social Security Administration. It is the address that they apparently had on file at the time of your wife's death. It was the address that they considered to be the legal residence at the time.

Is it possible that the address that the Social Security Administration has was a previous address? Sometimes people forget to alert the Social Security Administration to an address change. As a result the Social Security Administration includes what is now an incorrect address in the Social Security Death Index. There is also the possibility that there was just a mistake when the name was being entered into the death master file.

If either is the case, then you will need to contact the Social Security Administration to see if it is possible to get the information changed before the next release of the Death Master File, from which all companies offering the Social Security Death Index get the raw data they display. It may be that you can find the information you need on the Social Security Administration Web site

If you cannot find the answer you need on their Web site, then the next step would be to contact your local Society Security Administration office. I know that for living individuals that the Social Security Administration keeps addresses of only those who are receiving benefits, and on their Web site they offer different methods for making the change. I did not see anything specific about incorrect addresses in the SSDI, but I also didn't search the entire site.

Entering Royal Data

Q: I have been meeting with some long, lost relatives and have been able to get through some major brick walls to find out that we have many royal links, even to ol' Charlemagne himself. (Of course, it all has to be verified by other means). My question is, how do I enter these names in Family Tree Maker 8.0? Here is an example of an entry, but of course, they don't have last names on many of the royals: Charlemagne - Emperor Of The Holy Roman Empire If I enter this as is in the name field, the last name appears as "Empire". However, if I don't enter this title in the name field, I have a very difficult time searching for the royal links through the index of individuals, unless I put it in the AKA field. The other problem by not putting it in the name field, is that the AKA field is not always an option, depending on the report I run. So to make a long story short, I have included all titles in the name, and in the AKA, but am not sure this is the proper way to do this. -- Sue

A: Actually, you can enter the royal name in the Name field, but you need to understand how Family Tree Maker recognizes the names and how it determines what a surname is. Also, there is a trick that will allow you to force Family Tree Maker to recognize a specific word of the name, or no word for that matter.

First, in your example, Family Tree Maker has looked at the last word of what you entered and determined that Empire, since it is the last word, is the surname. In most instances, this is how Family Tree Maker reacts. While the royal names, with a lack of a surname and the addition of a title add some issues, it is important for all Family Tree Maker users to understand this fact about Family Tree Maker, because it affects multi-word surnames as well.

When you are entering a name that has no surname, you can force Family Tree Maker to recognize this by entering backslashes. In your example, this would be done by entering the name as:

Charlemagne \\ - Emperor Of The Holy Roman Empire

A similar approach can be done when you enter a surname that has more than one word. For instance, if the name is George de la Vergne, and you simply type that in to the Name field, Family Tree Maker will index that under Vergne. Of course, that is not the full surname. So again, you would use the backslashes to tell Family Tree Maker what to identify as the surname:

George \de la Vergne\

Duplication in the Census

Q: In my research I have found 2 different people who appeared in the same census year in different households. I realize that the enumeration date and the census date were usually different. Am I correct in assuming that the age of the person is based on the census date and not the enumeration date? One such person was enumerated on 1 June 1880 (age 16) in her sister's household and enumerated in her parent's household on the 9th of June and listed as 17years old. Her date of birth was 3 April 1863. For another ancestor, he appears on 8 Jan 1920 as head of household in Washington DC, age 28 and in his brother's household in Utica, NY on 10 Jan 1920. His birth date was 2 July 1890. Can you explain the dual counting? -- Phyllis

A: With each census, the enumerators were given specific directions about how to ask the questions, especially when it cam to the date of those who were living in the household at a given time. Of course, the earlier censuses took longer to enumerate and as such it is possible that the person answering the question thought the person was living in the household.

In the instructions for the 1880 census the enumerator was to record the name of every person whose "usual place of abode" on the 1st day of June, 1880 was in that household. It went on further to state:

The census law furnishes no definition of the phrase "usual place of abode," and it is difficult, under the American system of a protracted enumeration, to afford administrative directions which will wholly obviate the danger that some persona will be reported in two places and others not reported at all.

The directions went on further to say that decisions as to whether or not to include a person were to be left up to the enumerator, based on his or her understanding of the household, situation or individual in question. In answer to your question, it is possible that the two individuals in question could have been enumerated twice.

As for the different in the ages of the girl in the 1880 census, again it is possible. While the ideal situation was to talk to someone "in the know;" that didn't always happen. The enumerator might have talked with a neighbor or the sister's husband and he just knew that the girl had been 16. Perhaps he forgot about her birthday. I say this because regardless of the date of the enumeration, she was still 17 years old according to the directions, but whether or not the person being enumerated knew this is the great unknown to us.

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

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