Monday, December 17, 2007

Spanish Variant Spellings and Interchangable Letters

Have you ever heard the saying: "There is more than one way to skin a cat.?" I believe a similar saying could be said in genealogy too..."There is more than on way to spell a name."

I have been thinking a lot about my last post on the Argetina 1895 census, especially the part about variant spellings of names. Variant spellings show their ugly face in individual's names (both first and last names), place names, and in their written language in general. Variant spellings are even more fun to deal with when you include a language barrier. Like a census taker from Argentina spelling a French, Italian, or German name.

Interchangeable letters can also make things interesting. I spent the better part of six months (on and off, mostly off) trying to find some towns in Spain, only to find that the town's name was actually spelled (in gazetteers and on maps) completely different. Here are a couple of general rules for variant spellings and interchangeable letters, then I will discuss some specific examples that I have come across in my research, and show you how I solved...hopefully giving you some ideas on solving some of your own problems.

The following interchangeable letters seem to be the most common in Hispanic genealogy. I feel these are the most important ones to be aware of when searching for your ancestors.
  • i and y - Two examples come to mind:
    • Iglesia vs. Yglesia
    • Hoya, Hoia (also see it spelled: Joya, Joia, Oya, Oia) - don't forget the de Hoya or de la Hoya.
  • j-x-g-h - Here are a few examples...I'm sure you could add to the list
    • Jimenez/Gimenez/Ximenez
    • Javier/Xavier
    • Mujer/Muger
  • v and b - v pequeña y b grande - the most confused letters in the Spanish language
    • Villa/Billa
    • Valle/Balle
    • Bautista/Vautista
  • c-s-z -Here are a couple of examples
    • Garcia/Garsia/Garzia
    • Lezuza, Lesuza, Lesusa
Searching indexes

These interchangeable letters can cause major headaches when searching indexes, especially computer databases. I've been researching in Granada, Spain for nearly 3 years now. Most of the parish records have been destroyed, however, the diocesan marriage petitions still exist, and have been indexed by FamilySearch (on microfiche). Searching for the surname Valle I had to search for the following combinations.
  • Valle, Balle, de Valle, de Balle, de la Valle, de la Balle (Hoya was just as much fun)
I would have never would have been as successful as I have been if I hadn't checked all the possible variant spellings of the name. This is an important principle in genealogy/family history: Always try spelling the name at least a couple of different ways.

A Couple of Case Studies

If I'm working with a family that migrated a lot; I find myself referring back to a map or gazetteer. Parish registers and civil registration records often give places of birth for individuals, however, those town names are often misspelled. This can cause frustration and slow down your research. Here are a couple of examples.
  • About a year ago I was working with a lady on your family history. The birth certificate we had (civil registration from Spain) said that the maternal grandmother of the child (being registered) was from "Baloria" in the province of Soria. In hind site this problem should have been easy for me, but it took me some time to figure it out.
    • The first place I looked was online. A Google search did not help me (I know that comes to a suprise to many of you). I checked my favorite map site for Spain, but still couldn't find Baloria.
    • The second place I went to was the Madoz gazetteer/geographical dictionary of Spain (not online). Still no Baloria in the province of Soria.
    • Next I tried some variant spellings: after some work I finally figured it out...Valloria.
  • The other day I received an email from a colleague. She was working with some individuals and couldn't find the following (I went through the same steps, so I'll save you the pain of me explaining them again).
    • A U.S. newspaper obituary said that the deceased was born in: Laquatis, Spain (in the Basque region). My recommendation for this one was: Lauquiz (Spanish) or Laukiz (Basque). If you do a Place Search in the Family History Library Catalog you will need to search for: Laquíniz. In this case we had to work through a bad English translation/interpretation of the town's name, then fight with Spanish and Basque, an extra degree of difficulty, but not unique to Basque problems.
    • A U.S. WW1 draft registration listed a place of birth as: Bancarlos, Navarra, Spain. After some digging in the resources listed above I believe I found it spelled as: Valcarlos, Navarra, Spain. I know that the n and v aren't interchangeable, but this is a good example of being careful of believing the spelling a name.
Do you have an ancestral town you just cannot find in a Hispanic country? Let others help you. Go ahead and post a comment with background information and we'll see if we can figure it out for you. Please provide the town's name and any background information that might be helpful.

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