Saturday, August 3, 2013
Surname Saturday/ Endless Variations
All of you who've been doing your family history for any length of time have come across it-- a completely off the wall spelling of your surname. I find this is particularly irritating when using one of those lame search engines that insist on a precise spelling. The first ancestor I researched was James O'Hara. At least that is what my grandmother told me her family name was. She prevaricated. Sometime around 1920, O'Hora was changed to O'Hara by Grandma's branch, (a move I can totally understand given the implications). The branch of the family that remained in Auburn, NY still uses the O'Hora spelling today.
That's the least of it however. The name started out as Hore in Ireland, and I've seen it spelled in myriad ways over the years, to wit: Hoare, Hoar, Hora, O'Hoar, O'Hore, O'Hora and O'Hara. The O'Hara spelling is especially annoying since there is a separate family with that surname and it's sometimes difficult to distinguish which is which. Then there is the matter of the disappearing and reappearing prefixes like Mc and O. In an unsuccessful, (thank God), attempt to Anglicize the Irish, at one point the use of Irish prefixes was proscribed. Some families resumed using them when it became possible, others did not.
The second group I looked at was the McGarr family of Kildare. You'd think that was a pretty hard name to mess up, but if anything it was worse than Hore. I've seen this surname spelled McGar, Megar, Magar, McGa, Mcghaa, McGah, McGra, McGare, and Mgaa. And when you think of it, thanks to the penal laws most Irishmen and women were illiterate. If they couldn't spell their own names how could others be expected to?
Which conveniently brings us to misspelled, misinterpreted transcriptions. Old handwriting can be a bear to decipher, especially when you get a spelling of a surname that makes no sense, like Mgaa. The index of the Tithe Applotments lists my Hore relatives as "Hoan" even though when I look at the actual document, I clearly see Hoar on line 5. I find this inexcusable since on line 3 is the surname Brown, clearly demonstrating how whoever wrote this page formed the letters r and n.
Once again proving, it's always a good idea to take a look at the original for yourself if you can. You are familiar with the various incarnations of your surname and can spot it much more easily than a transcriber who is unfamiliar with it.