parish registers

Inconsistent Spelling?

Over the past month I have been working on 17th century baptism records from the parish of St Peter, Old Brampton. I am slowly working through more than two hundred years of baptisms for my Brampton Old and New website.

To our modern eyes, one striking feature of these older records is that they are often mainly in Latin, or at least an Anglicised version of Latin. The names and relationships of individuals are recorded in that language as opposed to the English which would have been used in everyday life. The second striking feature is the lack of consistency in spelling..

Today we are used to documents regarding our lives being correctly and consistently spelled, and where spellings are incorrect we don’t hesitate to say so, and to demand they be corrected.

In the 17th century, and to some extent until the beginning of the 20th century, spelling was largely the domain of the parish priest or other professional with responsibility for recording key events. There were few if any standardised rules and the clerks inevitably recorded names etc as they heard them pronounced. Even relatively straight forward names like ‘Hill’ were spelled in different ways according to the period, or the training of the clerk concerned. On my sites alone you can find Hyll, Hylle, and Hill, not to mention possible variations such as Hull, Hall etc. Add to this mix the effect of regional and local accents, and a priest who had been classically educated in an institutionalised form of English and Latin. The potential for variations in spelling must have been virtually endless.

As a general rule, I try to record all names as I find them recorded in original documents, with the exception of Latin names which I have anglicised in order to help with the search functions. That might mean that a father’s name is spelled differently to those of his children, or even that an individuals name is recorded differently in various documents over the course of a lifetime. This is however, only a general rule, and you will certainly find the examples which break it!

My purpose in posting this note is to remind you that if you don’t find who you are expecting to see on this (or any other) genealogy site, it may be because you haven’t searched all the variations of the name. I have learned over the years that when looking for a name I should look through as many potential variations as possible. On my sites you can search for names using several pre set functions, for example ‘starts with..’ will return all names beginning with the characters you enter. Similarly, ‘ends with..’ returns names ending in the entered characters. You can also use ‘Contains..’ which is a powerful tool for searching all names containing any group of characters you might specify. If all these searches fail, then use the Soundex search function which will return names sounding similar to that you have specified.

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