Sunday, September 29, 2013

But my name is always spelled ...

Many times we get stuck finding records and documents concerning our ancestors because we get fixated on the spelling of a name. With a last name of McKinlay I have seen a number of variations in the spelling and pronunciation (ah those poor telemarketers from non-English speaking countries). For my own last name I commonly see it spelled as "McKinley" or even "MacKinlay". I have seen similar variations where my ancestors' names have been recorded so I just accept it and carry on.

Several years ago I was asked by the husband of my aunt to look into his family lines. Since this was just a first pass at this part of my tree I concentrated on looking for what could be termed "low hanging fruit". These are the records such as the decennial censuses along with birth, marriage, and death registrations recorded in the government files. With these kinds of records now indexed by and it is normally an easy task of find, read, analyze, and record. As always I started with what I knew and worked back in time. Everything was going great until John Haughton, the 2nd great grandfather of my aunt's husband.

In my tree John Haughton was born about 1821 in Ireland and married Jane Girdwood probably sometime before the birth of their daughter Mary in 1844. John and Jane had a large family of at least 11 children. When I first came across the mention of John and Jane Haughton in their son John "Hutton"'s Ontario registration of marriage document. Of course if I had been paying attention to that digital image and followed the process of "find, read, analyze, and record" my life would have been so much easier. Instead I skipped the middle two steps and paid for it later on.

With some additional research I was able to find the family of John and Jane in the 1861 census of Canada West in Rawdon township, Hastings County. Here the name was recorded by the enumerator as Houghton.

1861 Canada West census, Rawdon, Hastings County, population schedule, p. 70 (stamped), Household of John Houghton; digital image, ( : accessed 27 Sep 2013); citing Library and Archives Canada microfilm C-1033

In the 1871 census of Canada they were still living in Rawdon township, Hastings County. The last name is spelled Haughton by the enumerator. However, they have everyone being born in Ireland.

1871 Canada census, Rawdon, Hastings, Ontario, population schedule, p. 11, family 41, Household of John Haughton; digital image, ( : accessed 27 Sep 2013); citing Library and Archives Canada microfilm C-9993
John and Jane Haughton were next found in Tiny township, Simcoe county in the 1891 census of Canada. The children living with John and Jane are back to being born in Ontario and the name is still spelled Haughton.

1891 Canada census, Tiny Township, Simcoe East, Ontario, population schedule, p. 37, family 152, Household of John Haughton; digital image, ( : accessed 27 Sep 2013); citing Library and Archives Canada microfilm T-6368

But where where the heck was the family in 1881? They weren't found in any of the indexes I had access to in 2011. I had clues from documents concerning the children that the family should have been in Tiny township by then but nothing came up in the searches. So I went "old-school/new-school" in my search. I treated the digitized images as if they were on microfilm and went through each page for Tiny township until I came across this:

1881 Canada census, Tiny Township, Simcoe North, Ontario, population schedule, p. 61, family 254, Household of John Hutton; digital image, ( : accessed 27 Sep 2013); citing Library and Archives Canada microfilm C-13251

The enumerator wrote the last name as Hutton. Probably just as he heard it and since he might not have known the family he wrote it the way he thought it was spelled. Once again the children are back to being born in Ireland. If it wasn't for their son Noble I would have probably not recognized that this was the family of John and Jane Haughton.

Let's revisit the marriage registration of their son John. If I had actually paid attention to what was actually written on the document (the read and analyze steps) I might have saved myself hours of manually stepping through the census records. The clue was right there ... some of the authorities were writing the Haughton name as "Hutton". Just like it might have sounded!

Tip for the day #1: When stuck finding a name, try saying it out loud and have someone else write what they just heard.

Tip of the day #2: Never, ever skip the read and analyze step when looking at records. Many times the brick wall you have can be solved by reviewing your records that you already have.


  1. Once again, Excellent advice. I have ran into the problem with the spelling of names in my tree over and over again. Not only with last names but also first names as well. One thing I have found with first names is if you can't find the person try searching by their middle name for quite often the middle name was used as the first name.
    And the advice about read and analyze before recording, this deserves a blog by itself. I have learned this hard lesson from you Ken. When I first started researching I would record the information on the record I found for what it was... eg... birth, marriage, death... and almost always missed the wealth of the other information that was included within the record such as address, sibling information, and other important info that would lead to other information. After learning this valuable piece of advice from you Ken, I found myself revisiting all the old records I found and learning so much more.
    Thank you again for another great blog

  2. Sound Advice. One of the tools that I use to help me consistently to remember this is OneNote; every document, newspaper article, etc. that I locate, I attach to OneNote and then literally transcribe it - by reading and typing the document out word for word, I often come across clues that I initially missed at first glance.