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Genealogy Gazette

Volume 2, Number 9
Mountain Press, P.O. Box 400, Signal Mountain, Tennessee 37377, 1-423-886-6369
September 2010


Ninth Edition of 2010 - Genealogy Gazette

In this issue we will be discussing the spelling of surnames. Always keep an open mind as to the multiple spellings of your ancestor's names. The spellings have changed throughout the years and sometimes vary from brother to brother - which makes the search even more challenging.

If you have any comments or suggestions, please email me at jimd@mountainpress.com.

Thank you,
James L. Douthat
Mountain Press


Surname Spellings

In genealogy, we are all researching at least one if not multiple surnames. Most of us are aware that many of the names we are researching may come with different spellings. Take for example the name Faris. I was working on this surname with a friend of mine as he could not find anything on his grandfather. As we drove over to the county we were going to research, I commented that we would look for Farris and Fariss as well as Faris. He assured me that it was only spelled one way - FARIS. When we arrived at the courthouse, he left to make a telephone call while I searched deed records. While he was gone, I found three different deeds for his grandfather. You probably guessed it, but the name was spelled three different ways.

Most all names have different spellings as the standardization of spelling did not come about until about 150-200 years ago. Many of the older names have a variety of spellings. My own name of Douthat has about 33 different spellings with most putting a “g” in the middle of it. We have found that most of the “ats” are from Virginia, the “its” are found in North Carolina and the “itts” in Kentucky. This is not a hard and fast rule, but it works most of the time. Each of your surnames will be found in a variety of spellings. I have also seen my name spelled Doudeth, Douthet, Douthwhite, Dowthit, or even Toudith [in German]. Even the name of Smith is sometimes found as Smyth, Smitthe, Smytte, Schmidt or many other spellings. You have to approach the research with a very open mind. Since most of the names you will be researching will go at least back to the time of entry into the colonies.

Let’s look at some that do not fall into the simple category. My mother’s maiden name was PAINTER. Simple enough or so I thought more than fifty years ago when I started working on the family. I ran into the name spelled Paynter some, but not very often. I was back to about 1800 and suddenly the name was nowhere to be found in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia, where they all came from into the southwestern part of Virginia. After researching this family for a great number of years, I was transcribing the early deed book for Montgomery County, Virginia when I located a clue. In one of my ancestors’ deeds, the clerk had written in the margin, “He signs in English ‘Painter’ and in German it should be ‘Bender’”. This was my first indication that the family was German. A college German professor explained the reason for the confusion was the pronunciation of the German “Bender”. In German it would be pronounced “Baind’er” with the emphasis on the ‘ain’. Once I discovered this connection, the early Shenandoah records had a number of references to “Bender” that seemed to connect with the family.

In another similar case, I was researching my wife’s family. I had traced them back to North Carolina in the Wachovia settlement of the Moravians. In one of the ancestor’s applications for pension from the American Revolution, he stated he was born in Carlisle, Pennsylvania. In a quick search of the Pennsylvania records, there were no Kells mentioned anywhere. Sometime later we found an immigration record where a Kell signed the Oath of Allegiance in Philadelphia after his trip to the United States prior to the American Revolution. When we found the ship’s manifest, he was listed as “David Schell”. All of the other names were matched with the Oath of Allegiance except him and David Schell became David Kell between the dock and the courthouse. Going back into the Pennsylvania records, we find a lot of ‘Schell’ names listed in nearly every county.

It seems that many of our brick walls are just a lack of knowledge about the name itself. When emigrants came to America, many times the names were changed from the former language to English for ease of pronunciation or in some cases to escape the burden of the former name in the old country. Even today, people have to go to court to change a name for whatever reason. It was not uncommon for the slaves to adopt a name of their choosing which may have been the name of the former owners or a completely different name to divorce themselves from the former owners. We have found in our many years of research that sometimes brothers and sisters will spell their names differently just to be different. Take the name of Louis/Lewis, we find that these two are used interchangeably all too often. There are hundreds of names that fall into this category. Where I grew up the name Snider was often spelled Snidow. My mother always said they were the uppity branch of the family since one brother spelled his name with the “..er..” and the other brother spelled his name “...ow...”.

When researching, remember to be flexible in your spelling of the name especially when reading the original handwritten name. Always check the signature on a document to see if it was an actual signature or one someone else had written in for them. In this latter case, the document should also read, “His X mark” which indicates someone else has written the name there and spelled it the way they wanted to and not the way it should be spelled.

Happy Hunting!


James L. Douthat and Roberta D. Hatcher
97 Pages, Soft Cover, Full Name Index, Copyright 1985, TN-0053, $17.50

Jefferson County is one of the earlier settlement areas of east Tennessee since it is on the French Broad and Little Pigeon Rivers which have their head waters in western North Carolina. Since many of the early settlers traveled by boat, this was a natural outlet into this county. These court minutes reflect the earliest records of the day by day running of the county by the courts. Here are found many of the land transactions, divorces, orphan records, road orders and the many other items of general interest to the people of a county.

Click here for surnames.


304 Pages, Surname Index, Soft Cover, Reprint from the 1941 transcription by the WPA Workers, TN-1116, $65.00

Lincoln County, named for General Benjamin Lincoln of the Revolutionary War fame, was created in 1809. These Court of Pleas and Quarter Session for the years 1814 through 1817 give the minutes of the day by day running of the county by the commissioners. There are records of the many activities that take place in a county court such as road orders, registering land transactions, divorces, guardianships, etc. etc. One item of particular interest in this volume is a listing of the grantees with the number of acres, warrant number, entry number and the location of the property. These were the unlisted acres and lots for tax purposes and there followed a number of pages of these unlisted entries. The county wanted its money for taxes.

Click here for surnames.




WPA Records
169 Pages, Full Name Index, Soft Cover, Reprinted in 1996 by Mountain Press, TN-0706, $20.00

Marion County was created in 1817 out of Cherokee lands and named for General Francis Marion. These County Court Minutes are the records of the day to day running of the county. Here you will find the records of land transactions, road orders, orphan and widow situations as well as the record of the presentation of wills and inventories. Many names occur in these records.

Click here for surnames.

If you have any questions or suggestions for future editions, please email us at jimd@mountainpress.com.