At some stage most people will come up against a barrier or dead end when undertaking family history research. But rather than giving up and moving on to a different ancestor it’s worth trying out some well known genealogy strategies and tips that may help to break down that `brick wall’.

One of the most common problems that researchers face is finding the right records for a specific person. You know their name, you know they exist and yet you can’t find them. In this week’s blog I’ll look at some of the difficulties you may face when searching for personal names and I’ll list some tips for working around these problems. In coming weeks we will look at ways to overcome other barriers, including finding geographical locations, dates etc.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Unidentified family portrait. H93.23/148

 

Spelling and transcription errors

It’s not uncommon to find misspelled names in documents.  Although most major events were recorded by an official, it’s possible that they were either misspelled by the informant or misspelled or misheard by the person taking the details.

Forms may have been filled in incorrectly too. Mr. William Henry Joseph may have had his given names mixed up and been listed as Mr. Henry William Joseph, or perhaps his surname was listed as his given name – Mr Joseph William Henry.
The details on an index are not always reliable either, as poor handwriting or typing errors could have resulted in transcription errors.

This example for Hannah Bellingham (Bourne) shows just how a name can vary. On the registration index to her children’s births and deaths you can see how her maiden name is written five different ways.


Nicknames, anglicised and abbreviated names

It’s not unusual to see individuals listed by their nickname rather than their given name. This is often the case when someone has used a nickname their whole life and considers it to be their  unofficial real name.  In this case John may be listed as Jack, Henry as Harry and Elizabeth as Betty or Lizzie.

Records show that migrant ancestors sometimes shortened or anglicised their names, or had their names anglicised for them. So the surname Rosenberg may have become Rose or Rosen, the given name Panayiotis may have become Peter and the surname Schmidt may have become Smith.

Many genealogy sources use abbreviated versions of popular given names – Wm for William, Jno for John, Jas for James and Elizth for Elizabeth. To give you an idea as to the wide range of abbreviations used, have a look at the following list.


Brick wall solutions

There are a number of ways you can try and overcome such barriers.

Begin by writing down a list of every possible spelling variation of the name, including names that sound similar, nicknames etc. Try rearranging the order of the names too. Then methodically search for each name on your list.

When searching genealogy databases try truncating individual names. This will help you to retrieve every variation of that word. To do this you need to remove the end of a word and replace it with a truncation symbol – usually an asterisk *. So if I wanted to retrieve all variations of the name Katherine, I would search for the truncated word Kath*. This should retrieve such names as Kath, Kathy, Kathleen, Katherine and Katharina. I’d then do a second search for Cath* – just to be sure!

Many databases have a search function that allows you to search for name variations, including similar names or alternate spellings.  This will help you to retrieve a greater range of possible names.

When it comes to locating anglicised names try searching our catalogue for books on the surnames for specific countries i.e. Greek surnames or French surnames. This should help you identify the origin of the name you are researching. Or browse the internet for sites that focus on the Anglicisation of names. We also recommend that you look for the immigration or naturalisation documents for the generation of ancestors who migrated to Australia, as these documents might contain such important information as their original name and the  names of their parents.

 

 

 

 

Three men standing on deck of the ship Liguria, enroute to Australia. H2001.326/6

 

 

If you still have no luck, try and broaden your search. Look at records for other family members –parents, spouse, sibling or child. I only came across the name variations of Hannah Bourne (see above) when searching for her husband Timothy Bellingham. You could also try researching the surname and place, but not the given name.

As with all research you should regularly step back and review the records you’ve been using. If you’ve only been using online databases and websites then it’s time to explore some of the indexes and unique record collections held here at the  State Library Victoria, in various state archives and in local and family history societies.  To help you discover more about the range of resources available please go to our online research guides.

 

This article has 13 comments

  1. Thank you. Knowing that Thomas was often abbreviated to Thos has helped me no end!

  2. HI Ann,
    in Sept., 1902 my 4th G/ Grand father Bartholomew Beckett bequeath his father’s( also Bartholomew), peninsular war medals along with three clasps, along with his own good conduct and long service medals, to the Melbourne Public Library. is it possible to still view these?.
    Bartholomew was an historian, I am wondering if there might be some of his work in the library, and available to view. I am hoping that it might contain some of the family info., that I can’t find anywhere else!!
    Regards Rhonda Comenos

    • Hi Rhonda
      Thank you for your query. I will take it as a deferred inquiry and someone will get back to you in the next few days. Regards Ann

  3. Hello Ann
    Looking for information for Susan Duro in Victorian , Australia , Police Gazette 1855,1864-1924 any help would be much appreciated.
    Best Regards Bryan

    • Hi Bryan, Thanks for your query. Susan and her children William and James actually appear many times in the Police Gazette – between the years of 1872 and 1882. The `Victoria, Australia, Police Gazettes, 1855, 1864-1924′ collection is a part of the Ancestry Library Edition database, which you can access at your local public library and here at the State Library Victoria. Once you get into Ancestry, do a search for the Police Gazette collection, then search for the surname Duro. You can then open each record and print or download the relevant gazette page. Regards Ann

  4. Hello Ann
    How can I find records of a person who was a patient at the Benevolent Asylum Bendigo 1872-1875
    Regards Bryan

  5. Hello Ann, your notes gave me new hope of perhaps finding details of the death of my grandfather – William Francis Salvador(e) SINNETT (I’ve tried SENNETT/SYNOTT/SINET/SENITT, etc). He was born in Richmond 1894, married Permella ADAMS in Ballarat, deserted in 1923 and was divorced by Permella in 1926 also in Ballarat. Apart from a reference to his attending his father’s funeral in 1929 in Ballarat, I can find nothing from there os. So he’s now 124 years old, and still no death notice, funeral notice, cemetery record, anywhere. Any suggestions please!!

    • Hi Frank,thank you for your comments. I will take your details as a deferred inquiry and get back to you shortly. Best wishes Ann

  6. We cannot find the death cert., of my G Grandmother Chistina Baird wife of James Baird,, lived in Sth., Melbourne, not listed in Victorian records, not in the census around the late 1880 ,s

    • Hi Iris, thank you for your comments. I will take your details as a deferred inquiry and get back to you shortly. Best wishes Ann

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