Humanities › History & Culture Tips for Finding Alternate Surname Spellings and Variations Share Flipboard Email Print Getty Images / SementsovaLesia History & Culture Genealogy Surnames Basics Genealogy Fun Vital Records Around the World American History African American History African History Ancient History and Culture Asian History European History Inventions Latin American History Medieval & Renaissance History Military History The 20th Century Women's History View More By Kimberly Powell Genealogy Expert Certificate in Genealogical Research, Boston University B.A., Carnegie Mellon University Kimberly Powell is a professional genealogist and the author of The Everything Guide to Online Genealogy. She teaches at the Genealogical Institute of Pittsburgh and the Salt Lake Institute of Genealogy. our editorial process Kimberly Powell Updated August 09, 2019 Changes and variations in surname spellings are of utmost importance to genealogists, as it is likely that many records are missed when only one form of the family surname is considered. Thinking creatively is often required when it comes to finding your ancestors in indexes and records. Many genealogists, both beginner and advanced, fail in the quest for their ancestors because they don't take the time to search for anything other than the obvious spelling variants. Don't let that happen to you. Looking for records under alternative surnames and spellings may help you to find records you have previously overlooked and even lead you to new stories for your family tree. Get inspired when searching for alternative surname spellings with these tips. 01 of 10 Say the Surname Out Loud Sound out the surname and then try to spell it phonetically. Ask friends and relatives to do the same, as different people may come up with different possibilities. Children are especially good at providing you with unbiased opinions because they tend to spell phonetically anyway. Use the Phonetic Substitutes Table at FamilySearch as a guide. Example: BEHLE, BAILEY 02 of 10 Add a Silent 'H' Surnames that begin with a vowel may be found with a silent "H" added to the front. The silent "H" also can often be found hiding after the initial consonant. Example: AYRE, HEYR or CRISP, CHRISP 03 of 10 Look for Other Silent Letters Other silent letters such as "E" and "Y" may also come and go from the spelling of a particular surname. Example: MARK, MARKE 04 of 10 Try Different Vowels Search for the name spelled with different vowels, especially when the surname begins with a vowel. This happens most often when the substitute vowel will yield a similar pronunciation. Example: INGALLS, ENGELS 05 of 10 Add or Remove an Ending 'S' Even if your family usually spells your surname with an ending "S," you should always look under the singular version, and vice versa. Surnames with and without an ending "S" often have different Soundex phonetic codes, so it is important to try both names or use a wildcard in place of the ending "S," where allowed, even when using Soundex search. Example: OWENS, OWEN 06 of 10 Watch for Letter Transpositions Letter transpositions, especially common in transcribed records and compiled indexes, are another spelling error that may make it hard to find your ancestors. Look for transpositions that still create a recognizable surname. Example: CRISP, CRIPS 07 of 10 Consider Possible Typing Errors Typos are a fact of life in almost any transcription. Search for the name with double letters added or deleted. Example: FULLER, FULER Try the name with dropped letters. Example: KOTH, KOT And don't forget about adjacent letters on a keyboard. Example: JAPP, KAPP 08 of 10 Add or Remove Suffixes or Superlatives Try adding or removing prefixes, suffixes, and superlatives to the base surname to come up with new surname possibilities. Where wildcard search is allowed, look for the root name followed by the wildcard character. Example: GOLD, GOLDSCHMIDT, GOLDSMITH, GOLDSTEIN 09 of 10 Look for Commonly Misread Letters Old handwriting is often a challenge to read. Use the "Commonly Misread Letters Table" at FamilySearch to find letters that were possibly substituted in the spelling of the name. Example: CARTER, GARTER, EARTER, CAETER, CASTER 10 of 10 Consider Name Changes Think of ways your ancestor's name may have changed, and then look for his or her name under those spellings. If you suspect the name was anglicized, use a dictionary to translate the surname back into the native language of your ancestor.