It is particularly frustrating trying to locate an ancestor in online records when we know exactly where and when to look—like the US Census records for the county we know they lived in—only, they are nowhere to be found.
We look again. And again. We pour another cup of coffee, and look again.
We invent a story in our head—maybe they were not at home when the census taker came by. We are never going to find them in this record.
There has to be an explanation. Maybe the county lines were redrawn, maybe the county gave up land to form a new county, maybe …
We talk ourselves into checking the nearby counties.
William of Ockham whispers in our ear …
Rule 2: Spell Like a 9-Year-Old
Our ancestors were not necessarily the most literate bunch—public schooling beyond the 8th grade was not widely available until the mid-1900’s. And the DMV was not issuing driver’s licenses yet.
When records were created, the person writing the record (also often with limited spelling skills) wrote down phonetically what they heard. Throw in accents, poor handwriting, older handwriting styles, poor record transcriptions, and, yes, even honest mistakes.
So get creative. Think like a 9-year-old. How could our ancestor’s name be spelled.
To demonstrate our point, and with thanks to the Weatherbee Round-Up: A Newsletter for Weatherbee Descendents, here is a short list of the ways the last name Wetherbee is correctly spelled (and this is before we throw in totally mangled misspelling of these) …