Archiver > TRANSITIONAL-GENEALOGISTS-FORUM > 2012-04 > 1335297105

From: Meredith Hoffman / GenerationsWeb <>
Subject: Re: [TGF] Name Variation, a name change or a priest who can't spell
Date: Tue, 24 Apr 2012 15:51:45 -0400
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In-Reply-To: <>

How about half an "Amen"? ;-} (because consonants can also get mangled and morphed..., but in different ways and for different reasons).

The technical term is "vowel reduction" -- but I do like "smooshing" ....

The vowels definitely get lost more easily than most consonants do, especially if you're speaking at normal, casual speech rate and casual (as opposed to "citation") articulation. It's actually surprising how words can sound very different when they're being spoken as slowly articulated, isolated "citation" examples, in contrast to normal, rapid, running speech; and it's more true of vowels, and especially unstressed vowels, which can end up all sounding pretty much like an unaccented "uh" sound.

And, especially before the 20th century, since names were usually _spoken_ by the informant to the scribe and the informant was often not literate himself/herself and probably didn't spell the name to the scribe, the scribe had to interpret the spoken name as best he could and the informant couldn't validate what the clerk/scribe had written. And for immigrant informants, there was an accent to be "interpreted" as well.

I think I've mentioned before on one or another of these lists that part of what's at play here is that for much of record-keeping until the early-ish 20th century, spelling wasn't standardized; and for many people there wasn't even much of a concept of being consistent within the same document. (I think education of the writer played a large part; documents written by lawyers and some clergy and others who underwent "higher education" tended to show consistency more than documents produced by folks with only "lower education.") I've seen mid-19th century documents from New England towns where the same name referring to the same individual is spelled more than one way in the same document; and I've seen the same thing in mid-19th century metrical records from Lithuania, especially when the entries were made over time, apparently by different rabbis.

It's fascinating ... and definitely one of the challenges of most genealogical research.


Meredith Hoffman, M.A. Linguistics
Professional Genealogy Researcher
GenerationsWeb / Plymouth, MA

JGSGB Publicity Chair
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On Apr 24, 2012, at 1:34 PM, Lisa McKinney wrote:

> My main Irish surname I've encountered is variously, Googerty, Gogerty, Guggerty and Gugerty.
> I think the key to the key (of variable spelling), is "smooshing" the vowels as you sound out the words. (Linguists on the list, can I get an "Amen?")
> Thank you,
> Lisa McKinney, MLA
> Genealogy Research
> From: "" <>
> To:
> Sent: Sunday, April 22, 2012 5:47 PM
> Subject: Re: [TGF] Name Variation, a name change or a priest who can't spell
> I must say I was doing the "happy dance" as the light bulbs were exploding
> in my head!
> Ann
> Kathy wrote:
> Nora,
> Thank you for sharing your valuable insight into Irish records with the
> TGF list. Ann Gilcrest especially must be happy to receive it. I really
> enjoyed your interesting message.
> Kathy
> Aunt Lizzie's Trunk wrote:
>> Ann,
>> In my experience with Irish research, spelling of surnames is quite
>> variable, and pronunciation is the key, I believe. The Irish accent
>> could not have been uniform across the island in the 19th century, and
>> I'm sure it is not today, either. I have come to believe, as well, that
>> priests, though they may have been educated, and certainly better
>> educated than their parishioners on the whole, might not have been /well
>> /educated in the sense we would understand it today.
>> Similar to your family name, I have been researching a family called
>> Langan and found them in a US census as Lanning. I would also expect to
>> find them as Lanigan. My own father heard his family name pronounced
>> "Gallivan" when he visited his ancestral home. My great-grandfather
>> Cornelius Archdeacon was listed as Conorls Schegan (by a German-surnamed
>> enumerator) in Cincinnati in 1880, 5 years after his arrival from County
>> Cork. (Try finding that with a search engine!)
>> I have looked at the records at FamilySearch. For the most part the
>> handwriting appears very neat and very consistent. It appears to me that
>> the priest, Fr. Smith, made a neat copy of his records into this
>> register at some point. He then went back and signed each record with a
>> thicker pen, or darker ink, in larger handwriting. This "copying over"
>> introduces the possibility that he made transcription errors. In fact,
>> regarding the entry of Denis' baptism, the previous record is the
>> baptism of James, son of Wm. Quinn and Catherine Mackey. I would argue
>> that the surname "Quinn" for Hugh was caused by Fr. Smith losing track
>> of where he was in the old record while copying into the book. Also note
>> the entry for the baptism of Margaret McGuire, two records up from
>> James'. One of her godparents was named Anne Kesidy [Cassidy]. I'm sure
>> we could find many similar variations.
>> I have not researched in that region, so I can't suggest any other
>> records to look for, but I will say this. The matching of the church
>> records to birth order on censuses (note I did not say exact age) would
>> be a strong indication that you have the correct family. It is possible
>> that finding additional records for sons Dennis and Hugh might help you
>> with the ambiguity of the surname spelling and you may find variations
>> in reported ages similar to Catherine's.
>> If you are doing Irish research, however, you need to be comfortable
>> with ambiguity and inconsistency. :-)
>> Nora Galvin
>> Bridgeport, Connecticut

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