Changes – Family Finds

Several of my ancestors have surnames that change over time. Often, the name change was to conform to American characteristics. The surname changes I have documented are, for the most part, taking a German pronunciation and phonetically adapting it to American-English. There are a few methods that can be employed to find records of the variant spellings of surnames. Most search systems allow the use of so-called wildcards, usually the asterisk (*) and the question mark (?). Many indexed document databases, particularly genealogical and library systems, support the more sophisticated Soundex Code for surname searches.

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I have successfully used the Soundex Code to search indexed documents and databases for surnames that have changed spelling over time. The Soundex Code is a 4 character alphanumeric, it consists of one letter and three numbers. The characters represent the first letter plus, up to 3 consonants of the surname. The table at right defines the number associated with the consonants. Notice that H, W, and Y are not included and will be ignored in the surname unless they are the first letter. If the surname has few consonants then the code is filled out with zeroes. [1, 2]

Soundex Code
1B F P V
2C G J K Q S X Z
3D T
5M N

These rules apply as well:

  • Treat double letters as singles, in other words, use one number for consecutive consonants that are the same.
  • Except for 0 (Zero), there should never be two of the same number next to each other in a Soundex Code, including if the second consonant has the same as the first letter.
  • Soundex Codes are always 4 characters, this means for longer surnames some consonants will be ignored.
  • Surnames with prefixes Mc or Mac are considered part of the surname. However, prefixes such as Van, De, La etc. should be considered both ways.