The past is the present for future generations who do not know their history

Posts tagged “spellings for family names


and given names as far as that goes, often are changed, misspelled, incorrectly written, incorrectly reported and just plain changed from family unit to family unit. If you are into family history, you learn this first thing. It is Genealogy 101. Sometimes, in my case, you learn it over and over and over and over again.

In family documents, on family photos, on marriage licenses, and in government records variant spellings of names, surnames and given names, are incorrect and sometimes butchered. And from record to record with information provided by the SAME person, names are different. I will provide illustrations of this in my own family history.

There was Grandpa Dick on my maternal side. Nowhere did his name appear as Dick Peebles. So, aunts discovered him on one census in the early 1900s listing himself as Richard Peoples. Exhaustive research of all those who were then still living proved no help. Family members kept reciting, well we always called him “Grandpa Dick.” Nope, he was not Dick, or Richard, or anything remotely resembling either. He was George Henry Peebles. That is not even to mention that the Peebles name was given as Peblis, Peeples, Peoples, Peoplis, Peebles, and other incoherent variations. DNA testing proved that we are matches to descendants of ALL the various spellings of the surname.

Another example is my great-grandpa McGregor on my paternal side. Grandpa McGregor, as we called him, buried Grandma McGregor as a McGregor. They died about a year apart. The children buried Grandpa McGregor as a Gregory. I can testify that he would have hated that. Various factions of the family called themselves McGregor while others called themselves Gregory, and possibly others called themselves Gregor. I had always considered our name spelled as MacGregor because I know that we are of Scot descent. Some cousins on the McGregor side even called themselves McGregor and then changed their names to Gregory as adults. Each side would bristle when the ‘other’ name was mentioned.

And do not even get me started on my given name. Even family members have misspelled it. My grandson asked his Mom when he was in school if he could drop the ‘h’ from his given name Zach because even some of his teachers were spelling it with a ‘k’ as in Zack.  The first lesson a salesperson learns is that a person’s name is important to them; they are instructed to call the person by name – and do it often.

A succinct example would be a descendant who contacted me about an article published at Remembering the Shoals. The article was about Ned Hays. I was informed that the name was spelled Hayes. My response to the Hayes descendant was sincere in that there was never any intention to insult anyone; rather, the intention was to inform about ancestors and to share the info so those who thought it important could preserve it and the photo. If I recall correctly, the name was first spelled as Hays in America; but it has certainly been spelled both ways by family members. The 1910 Census record and the 1920 Census Record that is in the photo below indicate what I mean:

1920 Census Record for Sallie and Charly N Hays

1920 Census Record for Sallie and Charly N Hays, Page 4 of 16, Dickson, Colbert County, Alabama. They lived on Riverton Road.

To be clear, Charles Nathaniel Hays’ name on his gravemarker is given as C. N. Hayes. He lived from 1885-1935. The senior Hayes is buried at Riverton Cemetery. His son’s name on his gravemarker is Charlie N Hayes. He lived from 1885-1977 and is buried at Margerum Cemetery.

The surname has been spelled by different family/descendants over the centuries both ways. So, for the most part, when I find a photo, the name associated with it is spelled the way it is spelled associated with the photo. Variations in spelling surnames may be for many reasons: the government official taking the information from the person may have spelled it incorrectly; the person writing it spelled it incorrectly; the name may be wrong because the census taker, for example, may use phonetics to spell it the way it is pronounced since the person relaying the information may not have been able to read or write; or maybe all parties had it wrong.

Please know that my intention was not to upset family, but to provide the family members with memories of their ancestors. I sincerely hope that everyone who reads the articles knows that; and knows that articles are based upon research that is as accurate as the records that have been preserved. Human error is always possible, as well. Any correction, input, additions, or more photos are always welcome. Just email them to us at