One issue that can be a trap for the person new to family history is
the fact that in the past surnames were not always spelt as we now
expect. There can be various reasons for this. Not everyone could
read or write, so they may not know that their name had been spelt
"wrong". Regional accents can also lead different people to "hear" a
name differently, which can becomes evident when a new minister or
clerk takes over a parish. An example of this is the name "Breaks"
which became "Briggs". People may also think that spelling is
unimportant and flexible, meaning that a name may be spelt more than
one way in a single document. Over time this can mean that a name
has changed considerably from when it originally appeared.
In addition to names being spelt in various ways, they can also be misread, especially by indexers unfamiliar with the local names, e.g. the name Sawyer being indexed when it should be Tawyer.
The list below contains real examples of different ways of writing a name. It is not a list of variants that I think MIGHT occur – only ones I know HAVE occurred. It does not take into account any mis-readings of a name by a transcriber or indexer as listed above.
If you have any other names to add to this list, please feel free to email me at email@example.com